The Ghanaian Media: A Muzzled Watchdog?

The media is regarded as the fourth estate of the realm and obliged to serve as a watchdog of society, encouraging transparency and accountability of governance in a democratic country.

Over the years, the media in Ghana has passed through the hands of several governments, some of which tried to gag and strip the media off its liberty.

Despite the freedom and independence of the media being guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, there was still the existence of the Criminal libel law enacted during the colonial period, which hindered journalists and media organisations from working especially in terms of criticising the government due to the fear of being thrown into jail. The Criminal libel law was however repealed on July 27, 2001 after many years of campaign against it.

Last year, the Right to Information Bill after decades of protests was finally passed to promote transparency and fight corruption in public institutions.

In spite of this, the Act’s exemptions, thus information that cannot be accessed by the public, go beyond what is permitted at the international level and include information that does not harm the legitimate interest. For instance the law exempts information prepared for the president, vice president or cabinet, information about methodology used as recruitment or selection process in a public institution. National security and public safety have been capitalized to restrict wealth of public information from being accessed.

The Right to Information law upon it passage, still remains quiescent since parliament has not passed the legislative Instrument to determine the fees applicable to public information request.

As the mouthpiece of the society, the media has the right as well as the responsibility to expose corrupt activities affecting the social, civil, economic and political well-being of the people.

The media in Ghana has been described as “one of the most unfettered” in Africa; freed from the bound of the shackles of government and political parties and by extension, unrestricted in terms of delivering their duties.

Media organisations and journalists are even encouraged by the constitution to “uphold the responsibility and accountability of government to the people of Ghana”.

However, the questions still remain that; are media workers in the country free to objectively criticise government and perform their rightful duties without any fear of being brutalised? Is the media free from political influence? Can media houses objectively report the truth and not face chastisement directly or indirectly from government?

Even though the government may boast of freedom of the media in the country, it however employs various techniques such as petitions, law suits, causing companies’ withdrawal of advertisements, closure of media house and threat, to suppress media organisations that do not align with its interest.

Journalists and media workers are not spared. The country has recorded several attacks and harassments on journalists. Typical examples are the murder of Ahmed Hussein Suale, a member of the Tiger Eye PI investigative team, the assault on Latif Iddrissu, Joy News reporter, and GBC’s Yahyah Kwamoh among others.

The media in the country is largely controlled by politicians, business organisations and even religious bodies. Some editors and journalists have strong ties with politicians and this leads to bias reporting especially on issues pertaining to government policies, bribery and corruption.

Instead of being the “Messiah” of the society, some media houses are now lapdogs of political parties and a threat to good governance and democracy.

In theory, the Ghanaian media is seemingly free and independent but in reality can one boldly say that?

Cinderella Arhinful-Mensah                                                                                    

Student, Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ)

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