An editorial by Pulse Ghana to mark World Press Freedom Day.
Undoubtedly, the media landscape in Ghana counts as one of the freest in the world, to the envy of many neighbouring countries. Within the past year, the Ghanaian media has chalked many successes.
First off, the media distinguished itself by informing and educating the public of the happenings ahead of the December 2016 elections and its aftermath. The vociferous nature of the reports and fact-checking ensured that the electoral management body, the Electoral Commission, the security agencies, the political parties and candidates themselves were put on their toes to deliver the utmost best to the citizenry.
By organising town hall meetings, debates, floats and educational campaigns – such as the one we here at Pulse Ghana did in collaboration with IEA Ghana dubbed I Want to Know – the media ensured that the public were adequately informed about voting processes, the candidates and the plans they have for their constituents when elected.
Because of our collective efforts, the fears expressed ahead of the elections about fake news were largely extinguished by countering false information with the truth to ensure a peaceful handover of power once again in this country.
Again, the media through the courts, fought tirelessly to ensure that plans by the National Media Commission to screen programming content by Ghana’s broadcasters did not materialise. A ruling by the Supreme Court ensured that the risk of censorship, which had been fought against in the past, did not rear its ugly head again. The courts also ensured that violence against journalists does not go unpunished by fining the assaulters of three journalists working on a story about access to Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme. The office of Accra’s mayor and that of the Inspector General of Police were also forced to apologise for harassing two journalists and their driver while they were covering a demolition of homes.
In the last year, Ghana’s media has led a strong campaign for the protection of the environment by dedicating precious airtime and space to covering the destruction being caused by illegal mining in the country, commonly known as galamsey. Galamsey has led to the pollution of water bodies, destruction of trees, a slump in agriculture production, an increase in health problems and served as a lure to young people to abandon the classroom for illegal mines, where risk of mine pits collapsing is always present.
The unabated attention on galamsey by the media has forced the hand of government to announce tough measures to curb the situation including an ultimatum for galamsey to cease, which has largely been respected by the miners, and a freeze on the issuance of small scale mining licences.
Despite these successes, the press in Ghana, remains constrained in their efforts to serve the nation effectively as the watchdogs of society.
Last minute, quite frankly insincere, efforts by the majority side in the last Parliament to pass the Right to Information Bill failed ensuring that once again, after 18 years and five presidents later, the bills has still not been passed.
When passed, journalists in the country would have greater access to government information, comb through it and expose state corruption and wrongdoing. Over the years, the media has had to rely on leaks and anonymous sources in their efforts towards exposing wrongdoing by the arms of government, a situation although commended, is not ideal.
Pulse Ghana urges the current administration, aided by its majority in Parliament, to honour its promise to pass the bill in its first year of office.
The press in Ghana continues to suffer from harassment and brutal violence for doing their jobs. Impunity against journalists perpetrated by state and non-state actors have been recorded within the last year.
In September 2016, a citizen journalist, Fadi Dabboussi, was arrested for posting a photo online that showed the misappropriation of state vehicles by the government for campaign purposes.
In June 2016, journalist Fred Tettey-Djabanor of Accra-based Citi FM together with many others, was assaulted in court by the family members of trio involved in the infamous Montie 3 saga.
In March 2017, freelancer Kendrick Ofei Ansah was physically assaulted by soldiers after he videoed them physically assaulting a member of the public. The actions of the soldiers were defended by Major Derek Oduro went on national television to praise the actions of the journalists by saying Mr Ansah deserved it because he had a big mouth.
In April 2017, journalist Ridwan Karim Dini Osman, was assaulted while reporting on the scene of a fire outbreak at Ashfoam in Accra.
With very little achieved by way of prosecution in previous assault cases, the seed of impunity has flourished to become the main impediment to media freedom in Ghana. Pulse Ghana calls for the strict enforcement of laws to protect journalists in the country whether it is perpetrated by members of the security forces or by members of the ordinary public.
Ghana’s journalists have and continue to pay their dues to the country, and on this day, while we celebrate the journalists of this publication and many others across the country, we call for the deserved protection and tools to aid their work because after all journalism is not a crime.