Yafo Media Under Attack

Press Freedom Under Threat: Who Fights for The Fourth Estate?

Ghana has had a long tradition of state ownership and control of the media, dating back to pre-independence times. It is believed that since the introduction of radio in Gold Coast in 1935 and television in 1965 until the airwaves were liberalized in 1996, radio and television were controlled by the colonial and the post-colonial states. Private print media was almost absent from the Ghanaian media landscape until 1992 when the current constitution was enforced. 

During the regime of Dr. Nkrumah, the government worked to ensure that capitalist influences connected to private ownership would not creep into the media. This was with the aim of eradicating all private newspapers from the system. This contributed to the introduction of the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) where people were detained without trial for up to 5 years and the National Licensing Act which prevented non-governmental officials from owning newspapers. 

These governments’ control over the newspapers (media) under the reign of Dr. Nkrumah enabled them to push through with their political agendas by using them as mouthpieces. Through all these times, many interventions and laws were introduced to change certain norms by subsequent regimes. However, it took The Peoples’ National Party of Dr. Hilla Limann to establish an independent press council in accordance with the 1979 constitution, which resulted in the formation of the Press Commission. 

The state and private newspapers began to enjoy unprecedented freedom during the fourth republic where the Ghana private press got the reputation of being the opposition press due to its act of holding government accountable and in check between 1993 and 1996.

Although Ghana is considered a regional model of democratic stability, journalists have experienced growing pressures in recent years. These are a result of many media houses being owned by political gurus or owners being politically tied to some political parties making content production more partisan. 

Article 162 (4) of the 1992 constitution of Ghana which clarifies the freedom of the press states that:

Editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by Government, nor shall they be penalized or harassed for their editorial opinions and views, or the content of their publications’. 

Article 162(4), 1992 Constitution of Ghana

Even as media outlets are given the freedom to operate subject to the National Media Commission’s regulations, a section in the law [Section 75, Right to Information Act, 2019 (Act 989), and Miscellaneous Provision Act, 2022 (Act 1080)] allows a fee to be charged if the information requested is in a language other than English which is deemed as a barrier for journalists to access the information they seek. The safety of journalists has been at stake in recent times. According to Reporters Sans Frontiéres (Reporters Without Borders), three journalists were detained in the space of eight days and a fourth was very violently attacked in February 2022.

In May 2022, three unidentified individuals stormed into a radio station, smashed equipment, and attacked the host and the producer of the show. Politicians also continue to make death threats against journalists. Again, police violence against journalists also distorts their safety. However, on the 7th of October, 2023, there was media interference in one of Ghana’s media houses (UTV) which was purported to be politically influenced. These acts became so common feature that in July 2021, the Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA) mobilized more than 600 people, including journalists and supporters of press freedom, to petition the country’s Parliament to do something about the situation as stated by Neiman Reports.

These actions against the media are meant to intimidate them into silence so that they do not expose the corruption of government officials or their sponsors and broadcast stories critical of people in public offices. According to the Press Freedom Index 2022, Ghana fell from the third (3rd) position to the tenth (10th) position in Africa and from the thirtieth (30th) to the sixtieth (60th) position globally due to the rising rate of press freedom violations in Ghana.

Is the press free as presumed? Has this lived up to expectations?  Again, are we allowing these acts to go unpunished? These are the questions that keep on reflecting on the minds of individuals in the country living under the reign of President Nana Addo. This highlights that freedom of expression is not limited to the media alone but to the entire citizenry. 

I hereby appeal to the National Media Commission to ensure that their function pursuant to Article 167 (a) and (b) of the 1992 constitution, is hardly pushed in order to ensure the safety of the press. This indicates that the National Media Commission should make sure the perpetrators are made to face the law and allow the law to take its own cause rather than just releasing statements and letting these issues slip off. 

Asamoah Kwaku Junior

He is a free market enthusiast and holds a degree in Economics. He is also a researcher at the Center for Economic Freedom Policy and Development at YAFO Institute. He is also the Development Manager at the Institute and liaises with the entire team to oversee growth projects by creating development plans and identifying market opportunities. 

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