Ghana’s standing on media credentials has recently witnessed a declining trend. Nothing illustrates this better than the findings of the latest report on World Press Freedom Index.
The report by Reporters Without Borders shows that Ghana slumped to position 27, compared to 23 in the preceding period. Her position has been taken by Namibia, which at position 23, now becomes Africa’s best-ranked country.
Given the recent happenings within the media industry – the investigative journalist, Ahmed Suale’s gruesome murder, government’s poor handling of recent violent attacks on journalists, and the recent detention of two journalists with an online news portal in Ghana – one would safely conclude that this year’s ranking is a true reflection of the state of affairs in our country, as far as the media space is concerned.
The arrest of the two journalists is believed to be linked to a critical article on the National Security Minister, Albert Kan Dapaah, and the governing NPP’s Member of Parliament for Effutu Constituency, Alexander Afenyo-Markin on the website.
Anyone following these recent developments would concur that Ghana’s media freedom is gradually being undermined. Arresting journalists for publishing an article that seeks to challenge and hold those in power to account is enough reason to believe that the governing NPP has every intention to muzzle press freedom, a feat that a leader of Nana Akufo-Addo’s standing would not want to be associated with given that over the years, he has always projected himself as a human rights defender.
The Akufo-Addo government has not only adopted subtle strategies of undermining press freedom,but it has also shown a high form of insouciance in relation with ensuring the protection of reporters in the country. Case in point is government’s sheer failure to devise strategies aimed at protecting journalists, after the gruesome murder of Ahmed Suale.
Another evidence of subtle media suppression is epitomized by the recent closure of some radio stations in the country by the National Communications Authority (NCA) weeks ago. The government had insisted that the closure was due to non-compliance with the NCA regulations but that was discounted by the leadership of some of the affected radio stations.
While dismissing the claims by the State, James Agyenim Boateng, the CEO of Radio Gold, described the NCA’s action as “unprecedented in the history of Ghana.” The most saddening aspect of this development was the vandalism of a vehicle belonging to convener of a group; Free Media Vanguard that protested the closure. Government’s response to this was shocking – Information Minister, a former broadcast journalist himself, suggested that the reporter cum activist might have orchestrated it himself!
As a country, we ought to realize that suppression of media freedom in countries such as Uganda, Zimbabwe, Tanzania did not happen out of the blue. It started on a very subtle and gradual note and escalated partly because citizens in those countries remained mum in the wake of government’s increased clamp down on the media. And partly because the state agencies tasked with checking on state excesses have also continued to behave in a manner akin to approving those excesses. The time is now for citizens to reject the harassment. We ought to draw lessons from these developments and take the necessary steps to reverse the recent trend.
Government must show its commitment to free press by sanctioning Kan Dapaah for this asinine decision. The only thing which could save him should be the institution of a forensic investigation into the matter to signal his abhorrence of the detention and alleged torture. But more than a week after the incident, I am not sure if he is to initiate such a move, it will be genuine and enough to save him. He must be shown the door!
The more worrying aspect of the whole incident is government’s attempt at changing the narrative to ostensibly discredit one of the journalists. It is also obvious the state is working hard to get the other victim of the attack to deny being brutalized, just so the account corroborates government’s earlier’s denial of torturing the press men while under detention. Their arraignment and the subsequent events are clear to expose the length government is willing to go just to save its face.
Under no circumstance should a journalist or any other citizen be subjected to such inhumane torture. In light of these developments, the only way for Nana Addo to convince us of not presiding over an autocratic regime is by doing the needful – dismissing Mr. Dapaah or asking him to resign. If this case is swept under the carpet, then our fears of media suppression and by extension, the shrinking of the democratic space in Ghana might just become the norm. May the day break!