An Open Letter to President Akufo-Addo on Abuse of Press Freedom under his watch

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Dear Mr President,

I wish to inform you about the key issues, problems and processes related to media and media freedom in Ghana today and to explain my views and attitudes, as well as arguments I based on.

The information provided here will help you understand the complexity and stratification of the problems faced by Ghanaian journalists and media as well as the citizens, whose constitutional right to be informed about matter of public interest is seriously violated. We all need to speak out when we see threats to the freedom of the press because if we don’t, we won’t see any change.

Ghana joined the rest of the world to celebrate freedom of the press under a hostile and uncertain environment for the media. Despite numerous public promises by you and your lieutenants to safeguard press freedom, the situation has continued to deteriorate as police, your party officials and fanatics as well as senior state officials get away with physical and verbal attacks or open threats to journalists writings on sensitive issues.

Mr President, report shows that since 2017, attempts by Ghanaian journalists to conduct independent reporting and analysis in print and in radio have been met by increasing government threats, intimidation, and harassment. In some cases, these threats are overt such as public statements by a top official and financier of the NPP who is also a member of parliament (Ken Agyepong) that a journalist should be beaten or a police summons on charges of incitement to violence for criticising your government’s action. In many cases, the threats are covert, such as phone calls, some anonymous and others from your party operatives- intimidating violence or loss of employment if a journalist pursues a certain issue or story.

Some journalists cope by steering clear of any reporting that may attract government and NPP

fanatics attention, attack or sanction, succumbing to the chilling effect of harassment. Self imposed censorship is especially prevalent among journalists working with our state owned media houses and reporters and talk show hosts based in our cities. The hesitation of those reporters to address sensitive political as well as socio economic issues has a particularly pronounced effect on Ghanaians access to information

Mr President, your government’s action underlines a trend since 2017 when you officially took office. Government officials have harassed and threatened media organisations, journalists and bloggers writing on sensitive subjects. Amnesty international, Human Right watch and other organizations have documented more than 20 incidents in which journalists were physically assaulted by government officials and security personnel acting on behalf of government officials. As Ghana plans for the 2020 elections, freedom of expression across the country is in significant jeopardy. Genuinely free and independent journalism is under threat. Your administration deploys a wide range of tactics to stifle critical reporting, from physical violence to threats,harassment, bureaucratic interference and useless criminal charges. Increasing use of these primitive and obnoxious tactics by your operatives, threatens to fatally undermine media freedom.

Mr President, no degree of imperfection in our media ranks can justify the wanton abuse that your hoodlums and vigilante operatives recruited into our security Institutions, and state officials have visited and visiting on journalists. The other mind boggling issue is the efforts to silence civil society groups who work in the area of governance and accountability.

Mr President, if government its officials and party folks believe that media stories contain falsehoods, there are certain ways through the court or national media commission to challenge those stories rather than abducting, arresting, shooting and harassing journalists or shutting down media.

Mr President, we saw a horrifying video circulated on social media in Ghana. It shows a multimedia reporter, surrounded by some security personnel who beat him as he raised his hands in the air in surrender. He was unarmed and held only he recorder and his camera. The reporter suffered deep cuts. But months after the journalist’s torture, there is no evidence that the security personnel and the state official who sanctioned that dastardly act have been punished.

Mr President, you don’t need anyone to remind you that we need hold those who commit torture to account. A journalist working with Tiger Eye, and organization you constantly praised in opposition for its wonderful performance, Ahmed Suale was cruelly killed after a top official of your party had called on Ghanaians to beat the young journalist wherever they met him. Azure who freely wrote damaging stories about your predecessor, John Mahama, just returned from exile. Your operatives and party folks threatened to finish him and his family for writing a story they deem damaging to your government. Your Communication Minister wickedly closed down perceived pro- NDC radio stations. The minister used its regulations to bring charges against the radio stations, revoked broadcasting licenses without due process of law, and practiced other form of repression.

Mr President, I engage everyday with journalists, reporters and ordinary Ghanaians trying to exercise their right to press freedom, and who face interference and constraint from agents of your government. As such I must disagree with your assertion that journalistic freedom is recognized and respected in Ghana. That was the case before your coming into office. Your made that false claim ignoring the systematic problems facing journalists in the country, and the many violations of press freedom that have occurred between 2017 and 2019.

Mr President, in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, Ghana lost her number one position in the Sub region. Only two years ago, Ghana under John Mahama was ranked the number one making it one of the best countries in the world for journalists to operate. A genuine hard look at the status quo leads to my conclusion that press freedom in Ghana is in serious decline, and that urgent action is required on the part of your good self and your government if it is to be restored.

Mr President, I am surprised and weakened because – I was one of your ardent listeners on BBC between 1982 to 1990. I remember how you aggressively fought against media freedom abuse in the country and read the many articles you authored on the subject. The media, local and international, gave you the support you needed to fight the PNDC administration. Why this sudden U-turn?, why have you ignored billions of calls by Ghanaians to condemn in the strongest possible terms the outdated, draconian and deplorable act by your government to muzzle the media.


TUESDAY, MAY 7, 2019

Ghana News Online

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