Thursday, 4 May 2017

To Safeguard Freedom Of Expression In Ghana Must We Perforce Tolerate The Relatively Few Irresponsible Journalists In Society?

Yesterday was World Press Freedom Day. It was marked extensively across the nation by media houses - and quite rightly too.

Speaking personally, one took the liberty of listening to some of the  interviews conducted by a number of radio stations  that focused on the  standard and quality of the output of media houses and journalists.

This blog was alarmed that the many sins  of the  few irresponsible journalists and unethical media houses that form part of Ghana's media landscape exercised so many minds - and seemed to generate calls for legislation to curb irresponsible journalism.

In light  of the casualties sustained in the long and determined fight for the restoration of the right to freedom of expression in our country - that culminated in finally bringing an end to the days of the culture of silence in Ghana - it will be a grave error of  judgement on our part today to  provide future despots  with the building-blocks for instituting tomorrow's  tyranny successfully.

In response to those who want to give it more powers, this blog is of the view that as a people we do not need to provide any more additional powers for the National Media Commission to enable it somehow  control the media in Ghana more effectively  That is totally unnecessary.

After all, is public opprobrium not a powerful enough deterrent to contain the excesses of irresponsible journalists and mercenary media houses?

Some of us will never forget the  fact that decades ago, a number of prominent media personalities such as Tommy Thompson ended up sacrificing  their lives in that fight for freedom of expression in Ghana - whiles others luckier to get away with their lives, such as the Kweku Baakos, the Kwesi Pratts and the Kabral Blay-Amiheres, were incacerated for their defiance of the authorities.

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Indeed.  There are many examples one can point to from our chequered history - such as the egregious abuse of  the criminal libel laws for political purposes that some still hanker after. Incredible.

And need it be pointed out that it is also no accident that it is  societies with unfettered media that are the most innovative -  in which  cutting-edge ideas often come to the fore to disrupt the status quo and constantly drive positive-change? Wherever there is a free exchange of ideas openly society progresses rapidly.

Clearly, it is far better that we tolerate the yellow journalism of the relatively few irresponsible journalists and mercenary media houses in our homeland Ghana, today, than agree to the passage of well-meant laws that the secret enemies of democracy will pounce on whenever it suits their purposes.

Today, we might be lucky to have a crop of sincere politicians who are genuinely committed  to democracy and will always be supportive of individuals and organisations dedicated to protecting freedom of expression in Ghana.

But what happens -  at some point in the distant future - when Ghanaians are lumbered  with  super-ruthless and powerful extremist-politicians who in order to consolidate their hold on power decide to use those selfsame laws passed with the best of intentions: to either muzzle sections of the media opposed to them or  effectively close down media houses constantly shining  spotlights on their regime?

Alas, to safeguard freedom of expression in Ghanaian society, we must perforce tolerate the few irresponsible journalists in the midst of our nation's  fraternity of media professionals, and of necessity put up with the mendacity of the unethical media houses they often work for (which Martin Amidu once famously referred to as the "rented press").
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