Here I stand

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
Press freedom goes with responsibility
Press freedom goes with responsibility

It is enough to say that I came to the profession with certain firmly held passionate beliefs. I was convinced that good governance was only possible with a free, vigorous and well-educated press. I was convinced that our development needs were much better prosecuted under constitutional government instead of military rule. I was convinced that Ghana was best served by a competent, hard-working public service in which there was no place for corruption.

This paragraph comes from the Foreword that I wrote in September, 2006 to the compilation of a column titled Thinking Allowed, that I wrote in the Daily Graphic. I was trying to explain the credo under which I operated as a young journalist at the time I wrote the articles under reference. 

I have been asking some tough questions of myself these past few weeks. If you spend a lifetime campaigning for a set of values that you believe to be good for your society and you discover that there are quite a number of your compatriots (I have no statistics to determine what percentage of my compatriots I refer to, but they are loud and they seem to dominate the public discourse), who want violence, dishonesty, incompetence and peddle untruths, should you in such circumstances continue or should you throw in the towel and consider the possibility that you are the odd one out and you probably do not know or understand your country and its people? 

Press freedom?

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That a couple of young Ghanaians can sit in a studio and shout threats of harm towards judges of our courts would have seemed unbelievable to me, but that is a reality in current Ghana. 

So, are these so-called communicators, journalists, “media practitioners” or in Ghanaian parlance, are they “pressmen”? Could this be the press freedom that I have spent a lifetime fighting for? 

I notice that we have probably made some progress because there have been a few howls of outrage against what was said on MuntieFM. The last time we heard chants of “let the blood flow” in this country, it was dangerous to come out against the crowds that were calling for people to be killed. You contradicted the popular chants at your peril. 

When I wrote condemning the bloodletting that had started with the June 4 coup d’etat, university students were organised to march into town to ask for my head. It is almost 37 years to the day, July , 1979 to be exact, that university students went on demonstrations with placards urging “Let the blood flow”, E. Ohene must die” etc. 

There were many who opted to keep their heads below the parapet and keep silent because it was not safe to challenge the popular chant. On the 33rd anniversary of the murder of three High Court judges and Major Acquah, a radio station entertains a panel of discussants who seek to justify this infamy in our history and to suggest that the current judges too should be killed because the judges had made findings they disagree with. 

It would seem one of the speakers on the radio claims to know why the judges were murdered; all these years I had been unaware that the reason for the murders was a widely known fact.

Reason for murders known? 

I wonder where these people were, when the government of the day was pronouncing bewilderment at the murders. Since they knew that the judges were murdered because they had tampered with Transitional Provisions that protected every action of the military junta that had handed power to the civilian elected government, why did they not appear before the Azu Crabbe committee that investigated the murders to enlighten everybody? 

Since they knew that the judges were murdered because people wanted vengeance for the courts having thrown out a case Captain Kojo Tsikata had brought of harassment by the security agencies, why did they not appear before the investigative committee to provide a motive for the murder?

I have been hearing so many false accounts of events of what might be regarded as contemporary history that I no longer bother to listen to the radio. There are those who now believe their own concocted versions of events that there are people still alive can testify to.          

I am beginning to think that rather than to have spent my life campaigning for press freedom, I should have spent my energies propagating the importance of history. And that history should be faithfully recorded and ought to be a truthful accounting of events. 

I have no idea where the young men who were asking for Supreme Court judges to be killed learnt the details of the events they claimed to be recounting. I do know that the murder of the judges was, for me, one of the most odious things that blighted Ghanaian political history. 

All those on whose behalf these contemptible men claim to be speaking must repudiate them or they willd be guilty by association. I stopped calling myself a journalist quite some time ago, and since I am no longer a paid up member of the Ghana Journalists Association, I consider it a great relief just in case these men are counted among journalists in this country. 

But maybe it is time to make the unambiguous point that my faith in my compatriots might be shaken every once in a while, but whilst I still have breath, I shall fight for the things that have kept me going all my life. I shall fight for the safety and protection of all judges. 

When judges are at risk, we are all at risk.