Feature Article of Wednesday, 28 March 2012
Columnist: Quaicoe, Nana Attobrah
Nana Attobrah Quaicoe
The first sure step to silencing the people in a modern democracy is to silence the media. And in less than 3 years of his tenure as Ghana’s President, Prof Mills has succeeded albeit shamefully done enough to be exclusively crowned as the country’s all time 4th republican dictator with his government’s seeming growing intolerance of the media and dissenting views. An unenviable feat which has usually taken notorious dictators like the Sanni Abacha’s, Samuel Doe, Mugabe and Mobutu Sese Seko a minimum of 7 to 10 years to build has been attained by President Mills in a matter of less than 3yrs!
Ghana’s media landscape which had increasingly been the envy of the rest of Africa and only recently touted as the most free on the continent has been on a steep downward glide since the NDC led by Prof Mills assumed office in 2009. The wanton disregard for the rule of law that ensures the peoples freedom to expression, the intolerance of dissenting views and abuse of incumbency is unparalleled under the NDC. For an Associate Prof of law as a President and a Communications specialist as a Vice President, the NDC led government’s conduct with regard to its communication and media relations is appalling and leaves much to be desired. Though it is easy to assume that such traits of intolerance and abuse of power would be witnessed in a typical NDC led government due to its peculiar history and genesis, it could also be easily taken for granted that judging from our most recent evolution in the 4th republic, such display of brute force and intolerance by any government are long gone.
Not even the governance of former President Rawlings between the years 1993 and 2000 which was consistently bashed by a vociferous opposition led media witnessed such intolerance as is happening in Ghana today. For a man who had been given the credit as a notorious coup plotter, his tenure as Ghana’s democratically elected leader was noted with the liberalization of the airwaves and had nothing close to the current attempt at gagging the media by his party once again in government. The media even enjoyed further freedoms under President Kufuor when his government moved quickly to scrap the notorious criminal libel law from our statutes as they solemnly kept that campaign promise to Ghanaians.
But then, it would yet again take another NDC led government ironically by an associate Prof of Law to search, dig out and activate a ‘law of causing fear and panic’ from the statutes all in its attempt to stifle media it considers unfriendly. Will it therefore be so farfetched to conclude that the sentiments expressed by the NDC’s former Propaganda Secretary and deputy minister of information demanding from state sponsored information service officers that they should always ‘paint the government in good light or else lose their jobs ’ falls within the government’s grand strategy to force the media into doing PR for it? The former deputy Minister demanded that these state funded information officers tell lies including saying ‘black is white’ and a ‘sheep is a goat’ when it’s not, just so to ensure government was constantly seen for what it was not. And when a current deputy minister of information announces a barring of all ministries, departments, and agencies (MDA’s) from granting access, interview and reporting opportunities to the multimedia group, it cannot be taken for granted as just another idle threat. It should be resisted by every legitimate means possible. It is not only a threat to our young and burgeoning democracy but to every freedom loving person. What is the crime of the multimedia group to evoke such ugly response from the mighty NDC government? Interestingly, this same media group has been accused and tagged to be in bed with the two main parties’ interestingly by these very two parties i.e NPP and NDC while they are in opposition and similarly tagging the media group as anti government. To some of us, this can only be a credit to the multimedia group as it is a major characteristic of every objective media. Yes, Multimedia’s tag as a media that is very critical of and scrutinizes governments can only be to the benefit of the Ghanaian citizenry. The truth which would be fair to the facts suggest that Joy FM and its multimedia group are more critical of governments and expectedly so because it holds and exercise the public’s trust. Mr. Agyenim Boateng now minister but formerly a broadcast journalist at Radio Gold would easily and quickly want to forget about his personal conduct and expressions in the lead up to, during and after the 2008 elections which many civil minded persons have condemned. Even the manner in which Nana Darkwa was arrested at a radio station for expressing his view leaves a sour taste in our mouths. From the clergy to civil society, professional associations and political opponents, the NDC and Mills led government have consistently attacked every individual and group that has expressed views critical of their conduct. But this sort of media gagging is what we have fought against all these years for which reason many were imprisoned and even died.
And the growing business of rhetoric’s from his praise singers that President Mills is never aware of the negative development under his nose and leadership is complete balderdash. There is a deliberate orchestration by the President’s image builders and handlers to project him as a saintly ‘see no evil, hear no evil and a speak no evil’ president which cannot be supported by the manifest evidence of his incompetence and gaffes. Indeed, some of these attempts to exploit the incompetence of his leadership like the claim he knew nothing about the Woyome judgment debt sequence only to suddenly appeal that he had earlier ordered to stop the payment have turned around to make him look even worse off. Within his short stay in office, the enormous gains Ghana has made as a country that protects media freedoms has been eroded under the leadership of the law Professor and President. It makes one wonder who are the President’s advisors. Like the NDC has done with the Ghanaian economy, it’s been one case of misdiagnosis upon the other and a corresponding wrong prescription since President Mills assumed office. President Mills and his government has amply demonstrated to the world that they are intolerant of dissenting views and media, and will crush platforms for such endeavors when it feels uncomfortable about their operations. Even within his own government, Prof Mills has shown to be intolerant. For expressing a dissenting view, he descended heavily on his attorney general Martin Amidu and sacked him. When President Mills’ government felt threatened by a reportage on Joy FM on a public interest story regarding a deal on affordable housing for the public and security forces, it had to invoke the ‘law on causing fear and panic ’ to prosecute its agenda.
The media landscape in Ghana is certainly not perfect, thus a lot more can be done and indeed needs to be done. The quality of investigation, writing and reportage by journalist can be further enhanced just as their access to information to keep the public constantly informed and government on its toes must be unfettered. It is a welcome development that the government has ended its boycott of the multimedia platforms perhaps due to the cries, calls and pressures from discerning voices. And may Ghana never go back on that road like it almost started a few days ago.