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Opinions of Sunday, 16 August 2015

Columnist: Daily Guide Network

Ghana should not force Government 'minders' on foreign journalists

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The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) spoke for all cherishers of freedom of expression when it fired a petition to government over the subtle media censorship it had uncovered in a directive from the Communications Ministry.

The petition has been triggered by the demand of government that foreign media establishments wishing to film activities in the country abide by certain laid-down rules and should be accompanied by officials of the Information Services Department (ISD), if you like, government minders. It reminds us about what obtains in police states.

We did not know that such guidelines exist anyway and were just taken aback when the Communications Ministry alluded to them.

Although it is not specifically directed at the local media, it is bad enough to attract public opprobrium. Not doing so prepares the grounds for similar treatment of local media in the future.

If this is not a censorship and therefore something which can have negative impact on the freedom of expression, we do not know what else it is. The inhibition of the freedom of expression is not limited to unfurling elaborate restrictions on local media practice such as the acquisition of licences, before engaging in the occupation or even sending copies of newspaper contents to a state controlled censorship board prior to distribution.

No it involves the introduction of measures that have the tendency of impeding the acquisition or dissemination of happenings in a country outside its borders, be they positive or negative by foreign media.

The dissemination of information about Ghana is not the preserve of local media. It is an international absurdity to close our doors to foreign media when we especially incessantly seek donor support for our budgets and another routine current and capital expenditures. There have been instances of foreign media outlets such as the BBC, churning out more detailed reports about local developments than indigenous radio stations and newspapers. Any attempt therefore at muffling these foreign media organisaions is a means of closing our country to the outside world. That is why we are concerned about the burgeoning press restriction which if not curbed now, can cast a shadow over our developing democracy.

Instances of editors and journalists held in notorious state dungeons only to be released after a few days in detention have been documented.

That is why many find the demand that ISD officials accompany foreign media persons on filming missions absurd and restrictive. There cannot be worse affronts to the best practise of free expression than this.

We shall soon earn a bad name for our country in the international comity of democratic countries – if we have not done so already – if the communications ministry does not withdraw this obnoxious directive.

We sure do not want to be regarded with the same lens as the fat boy’s North Korea or even Azerbaijan. We must have something to hide if we are resorting to such restrictive arrangements.

Corruption and the other attributes of bad governance cannot easily be filmed. So why the fuss?

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