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Opinions of Monday, 13 May 2019

Columnist: Native Daughter

Appeal to President Akufo-Addo: speak to check the ‘rogue elements’

Last week, at a media forum in Accra, participants heard with consternation a revelation by Professor Kwame Karikari, about death threats against investigative reporter Manasseh Azure Awuni.

Awuni had needed police protection and had even had to flee the country.

Consequently, and citing other, increasing “disturbing developments threatening seriously to undermine press freedom”, Prof. Karikari, founder and Board Member of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), appealed to President Nana Akufo-Addo to come out and address the issue publicly and emphatically.

In a statement on ‘Press Freedom in Ghana 2018 - 2019’, Prof Karikari called on the Government and the political parties to “publicly condemn these threats and censure their individual comrades whose utterances and actions tend to support violence against the media and journalists.”

He referred to the still unsolved, shocking murder earlier this year of investigative reporter Ahmed Suale, noting that: “the respected investigative journalist of Multimedia fame, Manasseh Azure spent virtually all of March and April this year running and hiding from rogue elements of unknown identity bent on a campaign to murder him.”

The police had to provide Awuni with bodyguards. Eventually, “the Media Foundation for West Africa had to step in to find a refuge or safe haven for him in a foreign country,” Prof Karikari said.

It was apparent to the gathering that the cited death threats related to Awuni’s controversial documentary broadcast in March this year by Multimedia outlet Joy News.

The documentary had claimed that the Government of President Akufo-Addo knew about the training of a militia at a Government facility, the Osu Castle, despite the Government’s public stance against such formations.

For the record, the Government has strongly disputed Awuni’s conclusions and has since lodged a complaint with the National Media Commission (NMC) about the documentary.

The forum was organised on May 2 by the MFWA and the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) ahead of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, marked on May 3. Significantly, this year’s observance, themed ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation’, also focused on the safety of journalists.

The “disturbing developments” referred to also include assaults of three journalists of the Ghanaian Times by some police officers over a traffic issue and alleged death threats against the Upper East Regional Correspondent of Starr FM, Edward Adeti.

Mr Adeti’s investigative report, of an alleged bribery case, led to the recent resignation of Minister of State Mr Rockson Bukari.

As underscored by Prof Karikari, if President Akufo-Addo, and other political party heads and opinion leaders come out to condemn the menacing developments, it will send a clear message to the “rogue elements” that their actions are not helping Ghana’s advancement – or their cause.

Why death threats and brutalities?

I think that every Ghanaian should be worried about any emerging threats to the country’s freedoms – because a threat to free media practice is a threat to all the other freedoms citizens enjoy, as well as Ghana’s reputation as a democratic country.

Therefore, this concerns everybody.

Equally disturbing, in recent times the threat to press freedom has come seemingly from diverse sources, not from state or political actors alone.

Recently, Timothy Gobah, a reporter of the Daily Graphic in Cape Coast, was reportedly subjected to intimidation, humiliation and mistreatment by some chiefs there who accused him of filing a factually wrong report about an incident in Cape Coast.

As reported by the Graphic of April 27, on Friday, April 26, after the launch of this year’s Fetu festival of the people of Cape Coast, the paper’s online platform had published a report by Mr Gobah that created the wrong impression about an incident that coincided with the festival launch.

The report, had stated that some angry youth had tried to attack the Paramount Chief, Osabarima Kwesi Atta II, which apparently was not the case.

After Mr Gobah’s report appeared on Graphic Online, he was “arrested and detained” by chiefs from the palace in Cape Coast, who expressed displeasure with the report. Some of the chiefs had gone to the Graphic Cape Coast office and reportedly “dragged” the reporter out of the office to the palace, located nearby.

At the palace, the chiefs allegedly detained Gobah and confiscated his phone. After about an hour, he was released following the intervention of the Central Regional Police Command, the Graphic reported.

Some of us have grown up with the belief that the palace is even a place of refuge should one be fleeing from assailants.

How did we come to this sorry stage, where chiefs who should understand the need for cool heads and composure even under strong provocation, decide to do otherwise?

Surely a chief should know that any reporter in their jurisdiction is there as a representative of a media house.

Assuming that a reporter gets something wrong, the reporter’s media house could be contacted for a correction to be made and the reporter sanctioned by his office.
Complaints against journalists can also be lodged with the GJA or the NMC.

The irony is that the Cape Coast incident happened just a week before this year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD).

It will be recalled that last year, Ghana had the honour of hosting the global media family for the 2018 WPFD, partly attributed to Ghana’s high press freedom reputation.

Incidentally, what right has anybody to confiscate a reporter’s phone? At the May 2 event, Assistant Commissioner of Police Mr David Eklu, Director General of the Police Public Affairs Directorate, confirmed that not even the police have the right to seize anybody’s phone.

Intriguingly, in Gobah’s report about his arrest and detention, he left out the names of the chiefs who allegedly “dragged” him to the palace.

However, I believe that he knew their names, or could have found out, but he chose not to identify them. This doesn’t seem to be the behaviour of a malicious person.

Surely, traditional rulers know that ‘it is the one who goes to fetch water who is likely to break the water pot’. Intimidation and death threats to journalists can’t be allowed to be part of Ghana’s coveted democracy.

I hope that President Akufo-Addo will act swiftly on the appeal for his personal intervention in view of his established credentials as an avowed advocate of press freedom.