It’s a standing joke in some media circles that journalists are the people who highlight the grievances of every sector of the society, except theirs. A cynical observation, perhaps, but the experience earlier this week amply illustrates the truth in that witticism!
Last Wednesday, November 2, the Ghana Journalists Association held what I term a ‘double-do’ ceremony, the launch of a ‘Journalists Support Fund (JSF)’ and the observance of an annual memorial, the ‘International Day to end impunity for crimes against journalists’ – a UN Day.
In his address at the Ghana International Press Centre function, GJA President Mr Albert Dwumfour explained that the objective of the JSF is raise GHȼ2 million, mainly to assist journalists who are assaulted in the line of duty. “The era when journalists were assaulted but they did not get justice due to lack of funds to pursue legal action will soon be history.”
According to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: “Already this year 70 journalists have had to pay the ultimate price. Nine out of 10 killings go unpunished.” The murderers get away with their impunity.
It is the determination to make sure that perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes against journalists, that has led to the institution of the November 2 UN observance.
However, on Wednesday if any media watch enthusiast was looking for any mention of this important media story in our three main dailies, Daily Graphic, Ghanaian Times and Daily Guide they would have been sorely disappointed. I certainly was!
I looked through the November 2 issue of all the three newspapers, but none had any mention of the global commemoration, much less what would be taking place that day at the Press Centre, the GJA headquarters.
Yet, notably, this year’s commemoration also marks the tenth anniversary of the ‘UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists’.
At the Wednesday function at the Press Centre, in Accra, some memorable expressions caught my attention. One was a poster by the UNESCO Accra office, whose haunting message was: “Since war begins in the minds of men and women, it is (in) the minds of men and women that the (defences) of peace must be constructed.”
Another one was a statement by the Chairperson of the National Media Commission, Mr Yaw Boadu Ayeboafoh, when he expressed the NMC’s frustration that some victims of assaults refuse to provide information to the NMC. Obviously, the NMC can’t take action without information from the victims: “You can’t fight impunity with impunity,” he said.
Delivering the keynote address, His Lordship Justice Yonny Kulendi, who represented Chief Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah, underscored the need to uproot the underlining causes of impunity, related to the “insidious degeneration” of values engulfing the society. Nevertheless, “no violence is justifiable in a democracy … I dare to say that violence against the media and journalists is an offence to God,” he stated.
As expected at an event on the safety of journalists, the name of the murdered Ahmed Hussein Suale featured in all the main speeches and messages. Mr Suale was an investigative journalist working with the Tiger Eye team of renowned undercover investigator Anas Aremeyaw Anas. He was shot to death in January, 2019, while driving in a suburb of Accra.
Nearly four years after Mr Suale’s brutal killing, it appears that the police have not made much progress in solving his murder.
But police success is underpinned by useful information from the public. There must be people who could provide clues, or reliable information, to the police to solve the Suale case, but where are they?
Naturally, in discussing murders and assaults of journalists, the tendency is to focus on the physical, violent attacks. However, almost as damaging is psychological violence: intimidation by various means, all aimed at silencing a journalist who is seen by some people or officials as too independent, or a threat.
As I stated in this column last year, my personal experience of this kind of psychological warfare included state security operatives dropping ominous hints to my family or friends that I was “being watched”. In the case of one particular friend, the warning was that if he wanted to progress in his career, he should reconsider his relationship with me!
And it’s an unfortunate fact that journalists in this country have suffered assaults and intimidation by the police and other state security operatives. However, to me journalists and the police/state security are two sides of the same coin. Both groups are responsible for the harmony, well-being and safety of the society.
Therefore, it’s regrettable that there is a tendency on the part of some police officers, especially, to view journalists as the natural enemy of the police. Indeed, there have been reported occasions when journalists have been assaulted while police officers nearby looked on unconcerned.
The irony is that November 2 also happens to be the day the Ghana Police observes a Remembrance Day in honour of police officers killed in the line of duty.
At the Press Centre ceremony, I found it interesting that Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Commissioner of Police Christian Tetteh Yohuno, who represented the IGP, said the reason IGP Dr George Akuffo Dampare was not at the Press Centre himself was because the police, too, were holding their memorial event.
Two similar memorials! If both journalists and the Ghana Police hold annual commemorative events on the same November 2, to honour the memory of fallen colleagues, I see the possibility of a linkage, an opening to build on.
As police-media relations improvement is deemed a work in progress, perhaps there will come a time when the two ceremonies will be marked jointly.
And, conceivably, joining forces that way, a start, would improve the ability of both groups to collaborate to construct in minds the critical defences needed for peace for the betterment of the society.