Sometimes one wonders what happened to journalism which stood out tall during our dictatorship days.We had journalists like Audrey Gadzekpo, a brave woman who chose to proclaim the truth rather than kowtow to the whims and caprice of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) government. Where are the likes of Kofi Coomson who started the publication of the Ghanaian Chronicle-The Spear of the Nation (Umkhonto We Sizwe), a newspaper that brought out whatever was hidden from the public and became a nightmarish worry to the then government? How it exposed the PNDC government on the clandestine liquidation of Ghana Co-operative Bank and Bank for Housing and Construction, and how government functionaries benefited from the sales of landed properties on BHC at next to nothing; and about the PNDC/National Democratic Congress (NDC) governments in the outboard motor for votes in 1992, but turned round to chase the Agric Development Bank credit officers out of their offices to demand payments from the fishermen.
Where are the likes of Haruna Atta who made it his journalistic responsibility to present and defend the truth and crossed swords with his in-laws, the Rawlingses? What about Eben Quarcoo, Tommy Thompson and Kugblenu, all of blessed memories, who sacrificed to put governments on their toes by publishing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
During those eras, there was something called Criminal Libel, and it was by this Criminal Libel that after a journalist pointed out an error and deceit in a judge’s verdict, he was hurled into prison, because, according to another judge, the truth was not necessary in the case in court.
Gone were those days when brave and dedicated journalists would not succumb to the powers that be, but came out with questions that bordered on national and state affairs. During the military junta of the Supreme Military Council II (SMC II), some members of the inky fraternity asked the government to confirm or deny news making rounds in international circles about a wife of a senior government official who went on a shopping spree abroad, while poverty and hardship visited the land. The government and the military high command did not deal with them kindly, same as they did to BlayAmihere’s on a report which he only wanted to know.
There was this journalist/publisher who also dared to ask the Rawlings and the erstwhile Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) junta what happened to the monies collected from task evaders and paid into the now infamous Account 42; monies meant for the state, but disappeared when the AFRC exited office, and President Hilla Limann had been insisting, right through to his grave, that he was never bequeathed any such money to use in ruling the country. For asking such a harmless, yet very important question, this publisher was hurled into jail via Criminal Libel.
Can we also forget the last such case of Criminal Libel in our democratic Fourth Republic, when Kofi Coomson, Haruna Atta and Kweku Baako Jnr believed they heard and read somewhere in international circles about either the then government sponsoring drug trade, or something to do with the then First Lady owning a big gold trading business and jewellery shop in faraway Switzerland. The three tasted some life in prison, locked up in cells with hardened criminals.
Now, just like how chickens rush out of their pen to celebrate freedom when it is opened in the morning, all media practitioners leapt up and down with joy, and celebrated the moment the then Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Justice, now H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, announced the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law.
Instead of taking advantage of this new era and acting more professionally, some journalists took advantage of this fresh beginning and started to libel people left, right and center. Soon, some journalists would plant a story on you and force you to accept it as the truth. Questions from some of such actors could be so annoying, and if you dare respond with the same gesture, you face your doom.
And, yet, we now hear that toady some journalists would exchange stories with a few hard currency notes to dump what they may have on a person or persons; such an act, which was rather extremely rare during the Criminal Libel Days, with only one famous example about the mystery of the black polythene bag. That was one of the few cases that created a scar on the good old days of journalism.
But, we are here today, eighteen years and counting after the Criminal Libel Law was scrapped, and some people are now asking whether it was a good idea. Those days, you come out with something you know is true and damn the consequences, but, these days, a journalist can plot the story and plant it on the innocent and create some sensationalism, as top headline news, to blow everything out of proportion. After all, when he or she is found out they would only be asked to retract and apologise in a rejoinder, which they will publish, but conveniently make it compete with the inside pages advert columns.
I need to add that some were made to pay heavy fines, and they screamed that it was a way of government to snuff out democracy and freedom of speech.
Today, we have on hand sensationalism being used as a tool by some journalists to sell their stories and look big and important in society. Now it is the age of the journalist, and what these people fail to realise is that as they are serving us with a buffet of trash, deceit and misconceptions, they would be leading this country into civil strife and civil war. And let no one say that Ghana is too peaceful to toe that line. Ghana was more peaceful until June 4 came, and with arms and ammunitions still in the system that were let loose and given to ordinary men and women who supported the revolution, we only have relative peace.
The media practitioners must up their game and condemn sensationalism in journalism; we do not have to become fully developed, and become a pride of Africa and the world, by first going the Rwanda way.
Hon. Daniel Dugan