Freedom & Responsibility of the media are Siamese twins


Last week was a bad week for Ghana’s media. Foul, intemperate and above all indecorous utterances were made on the airwaves without any attempt by Ghana’s media to rein in or ameliorate the foul mouthed authors. The host of one of our authoritative morning shows was suspended for two weeks.

We are in the run up to another general election. It will be the sixth after the introduction of pluralism and choice into our landscape. It is quite extraordinary that we are still without rules of engagement or laws to regulate the operations of the Ghanaian media.  And the strange thing is that the absence of rules has not been due to a lack of effort.

The first attempt to draw up a broadcasting law began in 1995, six months after I exercised my constitutional right to establish a medium of mass communication without licence. The prime mover of this initiative was then the Deputy to the man who named me Tarzan… That Deputy was one John Dramani Mahama. Almost twenty years later, the man who had metamorphosed into the President of Ghana, joined us in celebrating the anniversary of Radio Eye by promising to sign the pending Broadcasting Law the minute Parliament passed it.

When the Deputy became the oga minister, he made the first attempt to sanitise the airwaves by introducing the one minute delay devise that is almost obligatory in all advanced democracies. Guess what, Ghana’s media practitioners rose unanimously against this eminently sensible intent by seeing it as a blatant attempt to gag a free press in Ghana. He had to beat a hasty retreat.

Enter Nana Akufo-Addo after the Kufuor government came into power. He was quick to abolish the criminal libel law and was festooned with the universal accolades of the media. However, when he attempted to make legislative instruments to give teeth to the National Media Commission’s powers to reprimand and punish the media, the same people who had hailed him descended on him like a ton of bricks as another oppressive wolf of the media in sheep’s clothing.

So let us now request that both of the gentlemen who are competing for our vote at least come together to pledge a joint initiative that will introduce sanity and rationality through rules of engagement that balance freedom & responsibility in Ghana’s media. But what should be the components of such a joint initiative? Here is my take:

First and foremost, it is time for all of us to base our views, opinions and assertions on established laws of the land rather than personal opinions, no matter how learned those opinions are.  Our contestants should first work together to pass the long overdue Broadcasting Bill on the basis of what is in the best interest of Ghana, and not to push the agenda of particular partisan interests. From this law should flow various legislative Instruments that give greater teeth to the NMC to regulate Ghana’s media in a manner consistent with the power given them in the 1992 constitution.

Beyond the law, it is important for all media owners and practitioners to know and clearly understand that they cannot hide behind the lack of specific broadcasting laws and regulations to misbehave. All media houses should know that they are subjected to all the laws of Ghana so far as decency, decorum and criminal conduct is concerned. For example, a common mistake is for media houses to think that they can simply get away with the disclaimer that they are not responsible for the comments of guests on their shows. On the contrary, they are equally guilty for allowing their airwaves to be used to facilitate the breaches of the existing laws of Ghana.

In the above respect, it is important that media owners draw up and implement their own internal rules of engagement that promote both freedom and responsibility within the existing laws of the land. I put the onus on owners because they will ultimately be held accountable and punished for any misdemeanour on their platforms.

When I enquired from the late Komla Dumor why he seemed to have lost his verve for improvisation after he joined the BBC, his simple and honest answer was that he was trying to adapt to the fact that every word he had to utter on air had been written down, and more importantly subjected to a legal fine comb before being allowed to be aired. Yes, this is the BBC, the media platform universally recognised as the most reliable source of credible and informed news.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) published its latest report on the most filthy-mouthed political parties and platforms. What is the point of the MFWA work if their findings cannot be used as the basis for taking disciplinary action against recalcitrant media persons and houses? It finishes up as an academic study whose output simply acts as resource material for radio and television pundits to out scream each other with “I THINK”; “AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED”; ““IN MY OPINION”; and all the various forms of views that are founded on opinion rather than law.

At the end of all such exercises, all we have is that so much heat has been generated to “waste the ears” of Ghanaians. However and most sadly they are less enlightened on whatever the subject under discussion is.  I hope that when the next MFWA report is passed we would examine them in the context of an applicable Broadcasting Law and LIs to guide our discussion to better inform Ghanaians.

Chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution is on Freedom and Independence of the Media. Its first article says (1) Freedom and independence of the media are hereby guaranteed. Its second says (2) Subject to this Constitution and any other law not inconsistent with this Constitution, there shall be no censorship in Ghana. However article 164 goes on to say “the provisions of articles 162 and 163 of this Constitution are subject to laws that are reasonably required in the interest of national security, public order, public morality and for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons.

I use to live under the illusion it was giving us freedoms in one hand and then taking them away with the other. I have since learnt that the above construct is enshrined in the laws and conventions of all democratic states and international conventions that guide the conduct of globalised world of nations. In other words, Freedom & Responsibility must always go together or we will be overtaken by chaos and anarchy.


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