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Opinions of Friday, 4 May 2018

Columnist: Benjamin Osei Boateng

'Fourth estate of the realm' under attack

There is an alarming rate of attacks on journalists in Ghana There is an alarming rate of attacks on journalists in Ghana

The media has been referred to by several scholars as the fourth estate of the realm which presupposes that the relevance of the press in any polity is generally drawn from the fact that information is necessary for effective governance. To others, the press however, seem to have served as a conduit to push the ideas of radical democracy.

In other jurisdictions, the press has been accused of fomenting troubles in Africa and the world at large. Is the press by default the voice of the citizenry of states when same citizens become “king makers” by default under a constitutional democratic arrangement?; does the changing socio-cultural setting due to urbanization affect the lifestyle of Ghanaians and further shape their perception in elections in eclectic communities ?. The above notwithstanding, in Ghana, the press has over the years served as a driving force that instigates social and political change.

The contributions of the media in Ghana to the socio economic and political transformation cannot be over-emphasized. Ghana has made significant strides in its political dispensation partly because the media landscape has seen consistent progress over the last two decades. It is therefore not surprising that Ghana has been described as a beacon of democracy in Africa. It is therefore worth mentioning that Ghana has maintained its enviable reputation as the beacon of democracy in Africa and beyond.

However, careful studies of the media landscape seem to point to unfortunate attacks on journalists. The trend over the past decade is quite worrying and needs much attention. It is against this background that the “World Press Freedom Day” has become very significant to journalists in Ghana. Under the theme, 'Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,' this year’s celebration will focus on transparency of the political process, independence and media literacy of the judicial system and the accountability of state institutions towards the public.

Although Ghana can boast of considerable progress in press freedom, there are still some concerns when it comes to brutality and attacks on journalists, especially by some law enforcement agencies. The vicious and shameful attack on Ghanaian journalists is fast becoming the order of the day. Unfortunately, the Ghana Police Service has been cited for leading these attacks on the journalism profession. If pragmatic steps are taking to nip this canker in the bud, it will erode all the gains we have chalked as a nation with regards to press freedom.

Now, the alarming rate at which these attacks are carried out with impunity requires drastic measures. It’s high time we began calling a spade a spade, not a big spoon. Available statistics show that a total of one hundred and five (105) media practitioners (journalists) were subjected to physical assault in Ghana between January 2012 and July 2014 with about eight-five (85) out of the number sustaining various degrees of injuries.

On March 27, 2018, one of Ghana’s prolific journalists, Latif Iddris of the Multimedia Group Limited, was brutally beaten to near death at the headquarters of the Ghana Police Service. Indeed, this is not an isolated incident but rather it paints a gloomy picture of a tall list of 11 other incidents of attacks involving a total of 16 other journalists in Ghana in the last 15 months alone. Ironically, the leading perpetrators of attacks against journalists include the Ghana Police Service. Latif Idris’ attack, is a manifestation of the deteriorating conditions of safety of journalists in Ghana.

Several factors have been adduced by security experts as the cause of these wanton brutalities. Key among these include upsurge in the culture of impunity, poor or lack of safety training for journalists, lack of solidarity within the media enclave, among others.

Undoubtedly, the media landscape in Ghana is liberalized. Journalism has played significant roles in safeguarding Ghana's constitution and other democratic efforts. The repeal of the criminal libel law on Friday, 27 July 2001 brought more freedom to journalists but we have come to the crossroads where the nature of our political dispensation requires the passing of the much awaited “Right To Information Bill” (RTI) into Law.

Well-meaning Ghanaians including some non-governmental organizations have bemoaned the failure of successive governments to pass the 17-year-old Right To Information Bill, RTI into Law. Many believe that the RTI Bill, if passed, will give true meaning to the constitutional provision that guarantees freedom and independence of the media.

Though Ghana must be applauded for maintaining its democratic credentials since the inception of the 4th republic, I find it quite disturbing that governmental accountability, transparency and responsiveness have virtually remained highly insufficient. Public perception about corruption remains pervasive. Though I am of the opinion that the passing of the RTI bill into law is not the panacea to our fight against corruption, it will go a long way to empower journalists to demand transparency and accountability from authorities..

To this end, the security agencies must recognise the important role the media plays in the socio-economic development of every country and accord them the necessary respect they deserve. The Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) and the National Media Commission (NMC) must be seen playing the monitoring and advocacy roles in dealing with issues concerning journalists and also ensure higher level of professionalism among media houses.

Every year, May 3, is a day which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom - a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered. It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide.

Benjamin Osei Boateng (Bennymore)