THE power of the media to shape behaviour and public opinion has never been in doubt. It is said that the media have the power to do good in society, but it has equal power to wreak havoc on the people.
THAT is why, in many autocratic societies, governments initiate legislation to muzzle the media, while in constitutional democracies, governments put in place regulatory mechanisms to direct the actions of media practitioners.
IN the 61-year-history of Ghana, the media have passed through many phases. In some regimes, draconian laws were enacted to gag the media. There have been periods in our history when the governments introduced newspaper licensing laws to regulate the operations of newspapers. The electronic media, especially radio and television, were no-go areas for private operators, since they were a strict monopoly for the state.
THE very courageous people, including some politicians, who dared to challenge the status quo had their fingers burnt. The country has also gone through periods when the media were insulated against governmental control, although politicians of those periods made attempts to dictate the way the media were operated.
THERE was also a period in our history when chief executives and editors of state-owned media had no security of tenure. They could be sacked at the whims and caprices of the government, sometimes for the reason that they had the courage to criticise government policies and programmes.
BUT since the inception of the Fourth Republic, various constitutional bodies put in place have been trying to curb the excesses of governmental power.
FOR instance, the policy of separation of powers that defines the role of the Executive that has the power to maintain law and order and the management of our resources, the Legislature that holds the purse string of the government and the Judiciary that serves as the bulwark against dictatorship and abuse of power has helped to set the parameters for the conduct of public affairs in the country.
THE media, also referred to as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, have the authority to hold all these arms of government accountable to the people of Ghana, as entrusted to them by our Constitution. It, therefore, requires that media practitioners exercise freedom of the press and expression on behalf of the people with a sense of responsibility.
IN fact, the media have a crucial role to play in maintaining the peace and stability of the country at any given time. Many people are concerned about the role of the media because, in other jurisdictions, they have been used to cause mayhem in society.
TODAY appeals to media practitioners to strive to abide by their code of ethics which, among other things, enjoin them to be fair, accurate and balanced in the discharge of their duties.
MEDIA practitioners ought to know that there is no absolute freedom and that the freedom and independence of the media is moderated by other regulations in society in the interest of public order and morality, national security and for the purpose of protecting the reputation, rights and freedoms of other persons.