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Journalists under attack in our democracy!

BY: Collin Essamuah

It is disquieting and shocking to read of real and serious threats to the profession of journalism in Ghana at the moment in the presidency of the acclaimed fighter for and defender of media freedoms, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

And when an important journalist like Manasseh Azure Awine has to flee Ghana for his life, we must ask searching questions and demand of our government credible answers.

Whenever did Kwesi Pratt, Kweku Baako, Nana Kofi Coomson, Ebo Quansah, Kabral Blay Amihere and countless others have to flee this country in fear for their lives in our Fourth Republic?

The atmosphere in which these threats to the profession and its practitioners play out remind me of a job I gave myself while researching for my first degree at the university of Ghana in 1981.

I planned to interview a famous journalist, the late Ebow Godwin of the Punch, then a pro-government private newssheet.

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Ask him the simple question why the paper kept on day after day, publishing scurrilous stories about the main opposition leader, Victor Owusu, instead of similar stories on the Hilla Limann government which was then responsible for Ghana. By the time I got around to it, the coup of 31st December,1981 had happened and Godwin himself had to seek refuge outside Ghana.

Answers

To return, the current situation of media practice and lives should ginger and arouse all democrats and lovers of freedom to rally and compel the government to provide answers, improve media security and investigate the cases of murder, threats and other infractions to the profession, which are fast becoming the norm today.

If a journalist like Manasseh has to leave the country to preserve his own life, then none, journalist or not, is safe.

Democracy is government by consent and the carriers of that consent are our media men and women. To endanger their lives and kill them is, therefore, a threat to democracy itself.

What has happened to the state of personal security in this country?

My readers may remember the same journalist brought to us the Ford vehicle gift saga in the previous regime, and numerous other highly critical reports in the President John Mahama regime and nothing happened to him.

This is a stark difference between regimes or parties we have had running this country for us to ponder over.

We have had Members of Parliament (MPs) openly threatening journalists with harm for their work.

We have had our government complaining loudly about aspects of journalists’ work, as if government is a harmless institution roaming the streets.

We have had party foot soldiers follow suit in this escalating build-up to the ultimate, violence and death visited on journalists.

The inference from all these signs is that those unhappy with the work of journalists have abandoned the democratic ethos of argument, debate and discussion of national issues in a civilised manner and have resorted to violent and criminal resolution of their grudges with the output of journalists.

That says a lot about their tolerance levels and their commitment to our democracy.

But it says much more about the person and known history of our current President who has carved a name for himself defending the open press prior to his current position.

If we did not know that a government headed by him would now be such a danger to media practice, you may be sure the affection he enjoys from the press would be non-existent.

Because of his exalted position as our President, it is civil society which has been put at risk of extinction.

Already various commentators claim some journalists have been co-opted to serve the interests of specific individuals and governments.

Call

I call upon our President to announce the complete safety of Manasseh anywhere in Ghana and ask him to return from exile to enjoy his protection.

That means Manasseh must be seen and encountered as a free person on the streets of Ghana just as before, when his critical works did not endanger his life.

Nothing less would satisfy his pro-press freedom image. As for those who wrongly believe rather erroneously that Manasseh is an opponent of the ruling party, that stance is too elementary and simplistic for educated comfort and unworthy of our past struggles to create a fairer society.

Being a passionate opponent of government and individuals are no crimes in this republic.

Watching one’s back while speaking one’s mind on issues of the day is not the way democratic free societies are run.

We have experienced various types of government in this country since this country was put together by the British in 1874.

We have eventually settled on democratic governance as the best to protect us from over mighty individuals and governments so we pursue our dreams in peace and safety.

It is sad that whereas some of the bad things that happened to some of us can be excused or justified by the type of government we had at the time of those occurrences, our choice of free democratic governance provides no justification for acts of impunity of this violent nature in the current dispensation.

The current government should never be considered by freelancers or demented supporters that anything goes.

This is because no opposition in our free society can benefit from wanton violence unleashed on opponents no matter how described.

This is not to make the claim that government agents are responsible for this sad turn of affairs, but to assert that the government at all times must be held responsible for our freedom and well being.

That is and remains the central responsibility of the government and no one else.

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