Taking liberties With our freedoms
By Charles Y. Wereko-Brobby
continued from yesterday’s issue
29. When the media is not acting as surrogate pugilists for the political classes, it descends into shameless prosecution of the private interests of individuals with axes to grind against others. The media is used as an avenue to destroy people’s reputations on the premise of “YOU ARE GUILTY UNLESS YOU CAN PROVE OTHERWISE”. The time worn premise is “Innocence before guilt is established” has been thrown off the platform of good and wholesome media practice, replaced by HATCHET JOBS PAID FOR BY POLITICAL OPPONETS OR PROTAGONISTS IN A DISPUTE The unfortunate bullying tactic of calling friends from the barracks to beat up and harass your opponent in a dispute, has been replaced by the threat of “ I WILL GO TO THE PRESS” and the blackmail of “WE HAVE THIS STORY ON YOU AND ……………………….”
30. Let me seek solace once again from my 1995 lectures to sum up my beef with where we are with the media in Ghana today, I do so largely because of my finding every opportunity to peddle my pet philosophy of NNUTS (Nothing New Under The Sun) and showing that the warning signs were erected but nobody took any damn notice and just drove into the MESSY PILEUP OF SLEAZE & CORRUPTION.
31. In 1852, Robert Lowe wrote in The Times of London and warned of the dangers of the governors and the press getting into bed together:
“The purpose and duties of the two powers are constantly separate, generally independent and sometimes diametrically opposite. The dignity and the freedom of the Press are trammeled from the moment it accepts an ancillary position. To perform its duties with entire independence m and consequently with the utmost public advantage, the Press can enter into no close or binding alliances with the statesmen of the day, nor can it surrender its permanent interests to the convenience of the ephemeral powers of any Government”
IV. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
32. When the natural protagonists in a democracy fall into bed with each other, it is the beginning of the end of the CHECKS & BALANCES DEMOCRACY envisaged and enshrined in the opening sentence of the Constitution of the 4th Republic, (”The sovereignty of Ghana lies with the People of Ghana in whose name and for whose welfare the powers of Government are to be exercised in the manner and within the limits laid down in the constitution”) and Doris Barber’s elegantly put watchman role for the media, set out in paragraph 14 of this essay.
33. The political class do not ever need to pass oppressive and draconian laws to trample on the rights and the freedoms of the people as long as they can get a suppliant press to assist them in dressing the denials in the clothes of strengthening democracy and grassroots participation ( whatever that means). All that a smart government needs to do is to adopt a carrot and stick strategy of threatening to throw the bucket at any itinerant media house, if they believe they are not playing ball, (withdrawal of juicy advertising contracts) but actually taking no specific actions that may be construed as suppression of press freedom.
34. The examples of the travails of JOY FM in the former and OMAN FM in the latter should serve as a timely warning to Ghana’s media that COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR OWN SHADOWS , and that unless the media takes urgent steps to get out of the same bed with the political class and return to its noble role as the PEOPLE’S WATCHMAN, which is to spend the considerable amount of its tome and energies between General Elections, focusing on what the elected government is doing to improve the people’s welfare and protect their freedoms, and not waste its energies as the avenues and arbiters partisan political propaganda masquerading as offering pluralism and choice .
35. Let Ghana’s media concentrate on mounting an aggressive support for
- The passage of THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION BILL, which governments of all suasions have promised and dribbled around because of the liberating import of entrenching the people taking ownership of the constitution.
- Establishing the real reasons behind the failure of successive Governments to improve the basic needs and utilities of the people and taking the political class to cleaners for its collective non-performance rather than pandering to paid partisan posturing
- Entrenching, Promoting and enforcement the guarantees rights of the people under the constitution and various laws such as TROKOSI, THE DISABILITY ACT, PROTECTION OF THE GHANA CHILD AGAINST FORCED MARRIAGES & FEMALE GENITAL MANIPULATION, etc.
- V. THE SCORE CARD
- 36. John Tusa, one of Britain’s most celebrated journalists ( anchor of the flagship TODAY Morning Show on Radio 4 for many years and later Director-General of the BBC World Service, summed up the role of the media and its relationship with the governors in a vibrant democracy as:
“A free press is the mark of a confident nation; an accountable press is the sign of a mature people; a press which can criticise governments temperately and governments which can react rationally are evidence of a civilized state. Arrest warrants for editors who point to the gap between the words and deeds expose frightened rulers. The response to media which trivialise and sensationalise is best left to the audience”
- TODAY, Ghana has a FREE PRESS; Ghana does not have an ACCOUNTABLE PRESS; Ghana’s Press is NOT TEMPERATE in its criticism of Government; OUR Governments have become REASONABLY TOLERANT of the press over the years, with occasional lapses; ARREST WARRANTS for Editors is mercifully fading into the realms of anecdotal raconteuring , although again there are a few lapses “here and there”; Ghanaians have plenty of choice of media and many are exercising that choice and walking away from trivia
- The scorecard for Ghana’s democracy, evidenced by the twenty uninterrupted years of the 4th Republic, is akin to the assessment of my Form 1 dormitory mate, Joe Watusi, who wrote and supplanted his own version of the official school report, in the very immodest manner of: “A+++, COULD DO BETTER”. We in Ghana have fallen for our illusion and self delusion that democracy has well and truly taken roots here. We have taken the freedoms won for the media with the blood of JOHN KUGBLENU and the hardships endured by UNCLE TOMMY THOMPSON. KOFI COOMSON, KABRAL BLAY AMIHERE, KWAME KARIKARI, AKOTO AMPAW, HARUNNA ATTA, BOMBAY KWEKU BAAKO , for granted. Instead of using those freedoms to prosecute the people’s interests, they have been succumbed to the selfish agenda of the political class.
- I have not had time to digest and interpret the threats and dangers posed by a secret and unaccountably opaque National Security apparatus which devotes the overwhelming portion of its time to prosecuting the power preservation agenda of the political classes when they should be focusing on the protection of the state of Ghana against external aggression. There can be no deadlier danger to Ghana’s democracy than the governors drawing the media into a voluntary subjugation into the lair of THE DICTATORSHIP OF A FEW IN A SEEMINGLY TRANQUIL SEA COATED WITH A VENEER OF DEMOCRACY FLOWING CALMLY ON THE TOP.
- Joe Watusi was turfed out of school at the end of the 3rd form, and we never found out what explanations he managed to give to his clearly bemused and baffled father. Let us not let our guard down that after20 years, democracy is entrenched and will surpass the 100 years postulated in my John Kugblenu Lectures. The OMENS of a DESCENT INTO ACQUIECENT DICTATORSHIP are real and pose a clear and present danger. We must stop dead in our tracks now and return to the biblical ROAD TO DAMASCUS, TO PRSERVE AND PROSECUTE OUR DEMOCRACY OF THE PEOPLE IN WHOSE NAME GOVERNANCE IS EXERCISED.
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