“The media need to disabuse their mind of the misconception that their freedom is without bounds. The removal of the criminal libel law only removed the criminal element which could send journalists to jail.”
OTUMFUO OSEI TUTU II, Asantehene
OTUMFUO OSEI TUTU II, the Asantehene on Monday spoke the minds of peace-lovers and this country’s unifiers at the inauguration of the Media Capacity Enhancement Programme 2022.
It was an assemblage of the brainy top brass of journalism and the media in the country. The Minister for Information Honourable Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, was present with the Chairman of the National Media Commission, Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafo
The Daily Graphic captured the forum with the enchanting words: “Preserve country’s unity” while Daily Guide colorfully reported same under the heading “Serve as Links to Peace”.
This maiden “capacity” training for journalists was spearheaded by the government and its allied partners which include the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), the National Media Commission (NMC) and the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA). It involved 60 participants. In all, it is expected that 250 media practitioners will be trained annually under a scholarship.
Touching on the incidents of conflict around the globe, Otumfuo noted that the Ghanaian media “stood tall” because they could point to their country with pride for its stability and increasing success. This fact “should inspire us to persevere and work hard to douse the fires of conflict, forge unity and generosity of heart”.
Otumfuo recalled an aspect of the history of journalism and the media landscape, and noted: “We remember the period when all media, both print and electronic, were owned and controlled by the state. The contrast today is mind – boggling. The media terrain today reflects a diversity of opinion and journalists feel free to operate without the constraints of the now deceased criminal libel law.
He had some misgivings about how some journalists are “toying” with this freedom, and noted: “…while we celebrate the liberation of the media, we cannot ignore the sight of fresh debris thrown onto the terrain by the explosion of freedom”.
On “facts and opinions”, Otumfuo noted: “There is a thin line between fact and comment or conjecture that the profession must always respect and the media must never forget that they lose credibility whenever they publish material which turns out to be untrue or substantially inaccurate”. He reminded the media about the existence of the laws on libel and defamation saying civil action could be brought by persons whose rights have been infringed upon by journalists: it is only the “criminal” aspect of the law on libel and defamation that have been expunged from our laws. “The laws of libel and defamation are alive and there are still laws against incitement, offences likely to cause a breach of peace and security of the state. Any of these laws can have relevance to the operation of the media”.
At the forum, Honourable Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, the Minister of Information, mentioned the training of 250 media practitioners, including editors, reporters, producers and others drawn from across the country.
Honourable Kojo Oppong Nkrumah in elaborating the theme “Equipping the media to play an effective role in our nation building” noted that the government cannot do without the media for the purposes of informing the citizenry about development programmes and also getting a feedback on the needs of the citizenry. He added: “…. the assumption that the media necessarily have the capacity to handle all matters that pop up daily, from archaeology to zoology only because they have been recruited to work in media houses is false. This falsehood is further aggravated by the reality that a significant proportion of practicing journalists are not recruited because they have graduated from prior journalism training from institutions established for the purpose”. Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafo, the Chairman of the NMC was upbeat about the Ministry of Information and its partners teaming up for the training programme. The desideratum of the NMC is that they would not be called upon to rule on complaints from the citizenry bordering on the work of the media.
It is expected that the participation of the programme would be enhanced by participants’ knowledge of Article 162 to 173 of the 1992 Constitution which spell out the “Freedom and Independence of the Media”. They are expected to be abreast of the provisions of Article 163: “All state – owned media shall afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions” and Article 164: “The provisions of Articles 162 and 163 of this Constitution are subject to laws that are reasonably required in the interest of national security, public order, public morality and for the purpose of protecting the reputation, rights and freedoms of other persons”.
One can recall the arrest of three Ghanaian journalists and their remand into custody in 1996, namely Nana Kofi Coomson, editor-in-chief of the Ghanaian Chronicle, Ebenezer Quarcoo and Tommy Thompson editor and publisher respectively of the Free Press. They were charged with “publishing false news with the intent of injuring the reputation of the state”. AND the incarceration of advocates of freedom of expression: Haruna Atta, Kweku Baako Jnr. and Ato Sam who were later separated into Akuse Prison, Winneba Prison and Anomabu Prisons respectively, from Nsawam Prison so as to “break their spirits” and prevent people from visiting them.
The situation is now different: people can openly chastise the government, and Johnnie Hughes of TV3 is archetypal of such journalists. On December 22, 2021, Dr. Stephen Amoah, MP for Nhyiaeso threatened to walk out of the studio for what he saw as “heckling”. Being paired with NDC’s Edudzi Tamakloe, Dr Stephen Amoah lamented: “…. every second you interrupt. This is not one-on-one; can you allow me to flow a bit? All along you are not making me flow as if it is a one-on-one. Let me put my thoughts together. Stop being cheeky. You are a moderator not part of the discussion. So allow me to flow and you can ask your questions later. Your style is outmoded and old so stop it. If you like, take your show”. Dennis Miracles Aboagye had previously noted: “In 2022, we will leave you and the NDC …“Johnny Hughes: You are putting a slant on this …” Dennis Miracles-Aboagye further remarked: “You are interjecting … you are biased, sensational, you are doing the work of the NDC…” Johnnie Hughes tried to defend himself elaborately.
And Bridget Otoo comes to Johnnie Hughes’s defense; “the year is 2016, the result is they succeeded and had their way… Every journalist has a right to their opinion… I pray more stations to stand firm against such unwarranted political interference….”
Whatever we do or say, we should be guided by Article 4 of the 1992 Constitution: “the Sovereign State of Ghana is a unitary republic consisting of those territories comprised in the regions which, immediately before the coming into force of this Constitution, existed in Ghana, including the territorial sea and the air space”.
So, as urged by the Asantehene, journalists have a great role to play. We swim or sink together. Otumfuo’s speech reinforces the position of chiefs in present-day Ghana. Those who see chieftaincy as an archaic, antiquated and moribund institution need to revise their notes. One king can make a bewildering difference. What can we say to Otumfuo?
By Africanus Owusu-Ansah