Of the various forms of media intimidation (1); The Sledgehammer Tactic Still Rules!

BY: By Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Recent happenings on the media front, notably the ‘Citi FM matter’, is being seen by some people as yet another attempt to intimidate the media.

A heavy-handed response to a probable error of judgement by a media person, is akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a fly.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the preferred tactic of some state security officers and the police, in an age-old quest to teach the media a lesson.

It makes one wonder at the extent of animosity they sometimes show against the media.

Nevertheless, hostile reaction to a journalist’s work is not strange because usually media reports expose things that others prefer to remain hidden.

So at some point in their career, many journalists will be subjected to, or come across attempted, intimidation.

Nonetheless, it’s not always that the intimidation is dramatic.

There are other methods which could be quite simple but which are equally threatening psychologically – such as warning messages to a journalist’s relatives or friends to pass on to that person; or subjecting them to other forms of malicious harassment.

I have a few personal examples of the malicious which I will be narrating in two or three instalments.

For me, in the midst of the continuing controversy generated by the arrest of Caleb Kudah, the Citi FM reporter, and what has been described as “the Rambo-style invasion” of the Citi FM premises by armed state security officers, something highly disturbing stands out:

Surprisingly, the reports and video images of the armed officers storming Citi FM, in search of one reporter, a woman, hasn’t drawn much widespread strong condemnation.

Yet, earlier this year, on January 7, the presence in Parliament of armed soldiers on duty there who had rushed in to help stop the shocking disorder over the election of a new Speaker of Parliament, is referred to by some people as the darkest day in the country’s democratic practice.

So, armed state security officers invading a media house to arrest a reporter, is less of a threat to the country’s democratic culture?

Anyhow, my long-standing belief is that journalists are not supposed to make the news; we’re supposed to report the news.

Whenever a journalist is in the headlines, most likely it’s for a negative reason, often because they are in conflict with people in authority or state security, as in the case of Mr. Kudah.

A report in the Daily Graphic of May 18 summed it up thus:

“Last week, operatives of the National Security Council Secretariat detained Caleb Kudah of Citi FM/TV for filming in a No Photography zone at the secretariat.

“The operatives also besieged the premises of the Accra-based radio station to arrest another journalist Zoe Abu-Baidoo Addo because Kudah had sent the files to her via WhatsApp. They were subsequently compelled by the operatives to delete all multimedia materials on their phones,” the report stated.

Naturally, as happens in such cases, the accounts of the incident vary, but was it really necessary for the armed operatives to storm that media house?

Couldn’t the management of the media house have been contacted to help resolve the matter?

And if it is true that Kudah was assaulted, why that show of force? Intimidation, of course!

But, on the other hand, why film or take photographs in a Security Zone, a ‘No Photography’ area?

An unnecessarily risky venture!

I had a firsthand experience of the sledgehammer type of intimidation years ago, when the ‘offence’, if it was one, was not even committed by me!

It was October, 1989 when I was a freelance journalist and also a BBC correspondent, and it happened apparently because of an innocuous word used not by me, but by the BBC presenter in London who introduced a report I had filed. That word was “several”.

The report was about the arrest of Major Courage Quashigah and others who were alleged to have attempted to overthrow the Provisional National Defence Council Government.

Ironically, the story I filed for the BBC, broadcast in the evening of Friday, October 6, 1989, was just a copy of a Ghana News Agency report.

I had told the BBC that there was no time for me to investigate and add a fresh angle before the time they needed the story.

However, in introducing my report, the presenter stated that “several” senior army officers had been arrested.

Apparently that infuriated some people in authority, or the PNDC Government of Head of State and Chairman Jerry John Rawlings.

As I recall, from the 1 p.m. news bulletin on Saturday, October 7, through Sunday and Monday morning, every newscast on Radio Ghana in particular, included the alarming announcement that I and fellow BBC correspondent Ben Ephson were to report at the Public Relations Directorate of the Ghana Armed Forces on Monday, October 9, at 8 a.m.

But what offence were we supposed to have committed?

A GNA news item published on October 9 provided the clue.

Under the headline “BBC reports unfounded”, it stated: “A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence has described BBC reports of the arrest of “several high ranking army officers of the Ghana Armed Forces” as unfounded and mischievous.

“The spokesman added that … only three military officers of the rank of Major and below were named as being among those arrested.

“Meanwhile, Miss Ajoa Yeboah-Afari and Mr. Ben Ephson are requested to report at the Public Relations Directorate of the Armed Forces at 8 a.m. today.”

Imagine having one’s name and the menacing directive broadcast countless times nationwide, for more than two days!

Unthinkable today; but it happened.

No wonder it was a weekend of stress, particularly having to deal with the apprehension of family and friends.

Nevertheless, I don’t remember that I was afraid of what would happen on Monday at Burma Camp as my conscience was clear.

To be continued.

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