Preserving media freedom

BY: Arku Jasmine

Will the demarcation of the touchline by the Supreme Court, beyond which lawyers, journalists and social commentators cross at their own risk, restore order to social discourse in the country?

Long before the Supreme Court decided to invoke the ‘Riots Act’, there was total confusion on the media landscape, as politicians, journalists and social commentators abused their rights to free speech.

The use of insulting and intemperate language, bad mouthing and character assassination dominated the airwaves without anybody blinking an eye.

It is very unfortunate that the decision by the Supreme Court to punish two persons for contemptuous behaviour has given the impression that the court has criminalised free speech after the repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Libel Law in 2001.

The Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC), Mr Kabral Blay-Amihere, had warned on many occasions that the threat to media freedom would come from within and that he expected all journalists to take heed before society used any means to stop the emerging tyranny of the media.

“The media have a duty to perverse the unity and peace of the nation through an unbiased coverage of the (Supreme Court) proceedings in such a manner that does not make the media judges in a matter that can only be determined by the Supreme Court,” he said at the swearing in of three new members of the NMC in May.

Our democratic dispensation has brought in its wake the enjoyment of all kinds of civil liberties that offer false hopes to many that there is something called absolute freedom in our country.

For us journalists, we have to exercise the independence and freedom of the media with some responsibility or self-regulation.

Our President and other leaders are sent to the cleaners every day, all in the name of partisan politics that has nurtured a mass of social commentators called communications teams sponsored by political parties. These teams supposedly speak on behalf of the political parties but, unfortunately, when they go overboard the party leaders are unable to call them to order.

Newspaper columns, radio talk shows and morning show platforms have become the battleground to smear political opponents without justification, with the social commentators forgetting that the Constitution that guarantees freedom and independence of the press gave certain conditions under which those rights can be curtailed.

Going forward, the Daily Graphic invites all journalists and freedom lovers to take a look at the eminent British jurist Lord Denning’s expose on press freedom in order to avoid the land mines in the practice of journalism worldwide.

He said: “The freedom of the press is extolled as one of the greatest bulwarks of history. It is entrenched in the constitution of the world. But it is often misunderstood. I will first say what it does not mean. It does not mean the press is free to ruin the reputation or to break a confidence or to pollute the course of justice or to do anything that is unlawful. It means that there should not be censorship. No restraint should be placed on the press as to what they should publish.

Not by licensing system. Nor  by executive direction.  Nor by court injunction.

Even as we show solidarity with one of our own for the misfortune that has befallen him and another   person who have been jailed for contempt, we hope the media fraternity will learn useful lessons from the experiences of those who have had brushes with the law over free speech.

Daily Graphic/Ghana