Politics of silencing the media or selective justice?
An Akan adage literally translated to mean if you think good, think evil as well, comes to mind relative to the successful election of new executives for the Ghana Football Association in Tamale. Congratulations to the winners and best luck to the losers next time.
The successful election brings to mind a popular saying that ‘the end justifies the means’. But in a democracy, the means are as important as the ends because they give meaning to the relevance of institutions of state and respect for due process.
Prior to the Tamale congress of the governing body of football in Ghana, talk in town was that a court injunction had been secured but the bailiff could not serve the officials because the offices of the GFA were closed or something like that. To be fair to the GFA, this is not the first time ‘smart or powerful’ individuals or groups have used technicalities to outsmart the law.
The Electoral Commission tried it and succeeded by all intent and purpose, the Assin North Member of Parliament (MP) tried it and it took the court to stamp its authority on substituted services to have him served. Many parliamentary primaries have taken place despite court injunctions. The list is actually tall, but my focus today is on the dastardly and barbaric attacks on United Television in Accra by some members and sympathisers of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP).
It is hoped that the increasing attacks on the media and the use of extra-judicial means to achieve some ends by some individuals, sometimes highly educated and politically connected, is not a subtle way of demonstrating that people have less confidence in our judiciary system. We have even seen instances where people resort to shrines or other forms of mediums to invoke curses.
The media has been described as the fourth branch of government and mouthpiece of the masses in every democracy in view of its oversight role in the state. Its role in informing people of happenings around the world, controlling those in power, and checking abuses of power of all forms including corruption, cannot be underestimated.
Any attempt to muzzle the media must, therefore, be resisted beyond the usual statements condemning the perpetrators. A weak and fear-ridden media can lead to Election Day fraud, manipulation of electoral outcomes, and institutional autonomy, which have the potential to erode the gains we made since 1992. That we have seen a rise over the years in a seemingly gradual sustained ‘state-supported’ weakening of the media space through intimidation by ruling party supporters, state security operatives, and others who disagree with editorial opinion, through death threats, verbal and physical attacks, either overly or covertly, is disturbing to say the least.
Freedom of the media
After 30 years of sustained democratic rule and the claim of media pluralism in Ghana, it is evident that freedom of the media to report is not fully guaranteed. In fact, some areas that require critical journalism are deemed ‘no go areas’ for some media houses for fear of attacks.
It would be naive to expect that because Ghana is a democracy, there will be no such incidence of attacks by any group whether loyal to governing parties or not. However, the state response to such attacks is critical. For instance, can we say the state has done enough in this area since 2019 when we got to the peak in recent times with the murder of Tiger Eyes PI investigative journalist, Ahmed Suale?
The interesting thing is that the President appears to be in support of absolute media freedom through his pronouncements on the subject and yet the exact opposite is what we see. Could it be that the appointees of the President and state institutions are not really helping him in this direction or such claims are mere rhetoric?
Rome, they say, was not build in a day but we know how long it is taking to build Palestine. It should not be in the interest of any government to have a bleak history of media freedom because of the electoral consequences of such to future activists of the party.
The practice of avoiding being served a court injunction and shielding of hooligans because of partisan interest may be part of the politics of the game but will not help anyone. Such sins have no space in civilised democracies.
It may be in order to congratulate the leadership of the NPP for distancing the party from the demonic attack on UTV and the subsequent apology by the national chairman. But this will be meaningless unless it is linked to total support for the prosecution of those involved. It is, therefore, expected that the Ghana Police Service will keep us updated on the case. We can use this as a litmus test to end all such attacks on the media. Anything short of this will open the floodgates for senseless attacks to continue by mere disagreement of opinions of other citizens.
The writer is a lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Education, Winneba