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Opinions of Sunday, 1 August 2010

Columnist: King Kove jr.

Mills, The Media And The Law

There are times when noise can be distracting, but silence sometimes becomes intolerably oppressive. The media in Ghana is currently suffering the intolerable oppressiveness of silence; silence from President Mills.

Having shown an exceptional interest in the media and its operations with some notable gestures in the past, his current silence on apparent abuses on the media is startling. Exactly a year ago, President Mills personally called to apologize to Joy FM’s Cyrus De-Graft Johnson and another reporter from radio Gold, who got beaten mercilessly by an Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) task force with policemen looking on.

Over the past few months, the Mills-led administration has seen the activation of the anti-free press provision of Section 208 of the Criminal code (1960), which criminalizes the publication of “any statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb public peace, knowing or having reason to believe that the statement, rumour or report is false”. The activation of this law has brought in its wake several objectionable actions by some state institutions against the media.

Joy FM’s acting News Editor, Ato Kwamena Dadzie was recently charged by the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) of the Ghana Police Service with the “publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm” for the station’s publication of a news story that the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) withdrew its position on a petition to parliament against the STX housing deal after some of its members were threatened either with death or the abrogation of government contracts. That was it.

The charges came after the news editor refused to name his sources when government issued a statement that the story was false and concocted. Needless to say, a similar story on “threats” to GREDA bosses appeared in a Daily Searchlight report on Friday, June 25, 2010 after a scheduled press conference was canceled by GREDA officials the previous day.

While Ato Kwamena Dadzie’s refusal to name his sources is in line with journalistic conventions; the circumstances leading to the twists and turns of GREDA’s position on the STX deal gives anyone following this story food for an hour of anxious thought.

The rights of the media must of necessity be accompanied with responsibility, but such actions being carried out against the media by the current administration could leave stains on our budding democracy. As far as the law is concerned, we cannot overemphasize its role as a social engineering tool. However, matters of jurisprudence must not be neglected in terms of our current reality.

Pitching the current developments in the Mills-led administration’s relationship with the media against the irresponsible actions of some pro-NDC media towards the immediate past administration, and the fact that most of the journalists in those pro-NDC media outlets hold offices in the current administration, one cannot hold back the words of Vicentio to Angelo in Shakespeare’s* Measure for Measure*. To wit: *“He who the sword of heaven will bear, Should be as holy as severe; Pattern in himself to know, Grace to stand, and virtue go; More nor less to other paying Than by self-offenses weighing”. * Another word or gesture from the President on this matter can make a difference for his government’s future in our history books. While many others would not risk the inevitable reduction of value to such grave issues by political aficionados, we must always speak in defense of our national freedom.

In the light of these issues, President Mills, the Media and the Law, collectively need time to mull over this quote from US Senator John McCain’s book, *Why Courage Matters*: “ We do have to be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. We have to value our freedom. We have to love it, not for the ease of material riches it provides, not for the autonomy it guarantees us, but for the goodness it makes possible”. Together, we can make Ghana better.

Written by King Kove jr.