Thursday, June 17, 2010

It has become a common say that the media is the fourth estate of a nation besides the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The media is suppose to bridge the rift between the government and the governed, providing a platform for social debate and consensus building as well as the stage for diverse ideologies on the best development prospects for the nation.
Many international organizations in formulating their index variables for measuring the development of a country don’t fail to consider the “freedom of expression” in each country. Due to the pivotal role of the media in the worldwide campaign for greater freedom, the expression freedom of speech is frequently used interchangeably with freedom of the media.
Freedom of speech has never been practiced in its absolute form but has been curtailed by various forms of limitations from governments, agencies and trade associations.
In its broad sense it isn’t just the liberty towards verbal speech but also the will to seek, receive and to impart ideas or facts on a subject.
In Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of speech forms part of the fundamental human rights of an individual likewise in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights where it stands for “the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.”
Reporters without borders, a team of global media monitors in a publication in the first quarter of the year ranked Ghana as first in terms of press freedom in Africa and the twenty seventh in the world. This comes as an indication of the increasing respect for freedom in the country.
Indeed Ghana has come a long way in terms of press libration. Backtracking to the regime of the first President of the republic, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, informed by his socialist ideas intended to make the media a partner of the government in their development efforts. The media will associate with the government and communicate the intent of policies so it can galvanize mass support from the governed.
Though many who buy into such socialist ideas believe it was the best thing for a young independence, it can equally be argued that it places some undesirable limitations on the practice of journalism. Particularly, it does not allow public debate and stifles the quest for alternative developmental ideas.
Subsequently, the country witnessed even more stringent limitations under different regimes through the enactment of draconian laws and jurisprudence. A classic example of such a law is the Criminal Libel Law to which many media practitioners have fallen victim.
In May 1999, an Accra High court leveled civil damages to the tune of 40 million cedis (4,000 Ghana cedis) against the publishers of the Ghanaian Chronicle after the court found libelous a report by the paper alleging self-dealing and other misconduct by the then Minister of Roads.
While public officials could resort to the law to protect their reputation to provided no excuse of libel for journalists, not even for those who genuinely err in practice without the share intent to do so.
Thankfully, 2001 saw the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law through a unanimous vote by parliament and the passage of the Criminal Code (Repeal of the Criminal and Seditious Laws-Amendment Bill) Act 2001
On the flip side of the coin, there is the need for some form of regulation for any kind of profession. This helps to wean off unprofessional tendencies as well as maintain decency within the profession.
In the first quarter of this year, Ghanaians were stupendously dismayed by the confessions of Baby Ansabah, (whose real name is Ebenezer Ato Sam) the editor of the ‘Punch newspaper’ about how he deliberately published maligning stories about the health of the then candidate Mills now president of Ghana.
He was relentless in publishing how sick his subject (President Mills) was, suggesting that the professor was going to drop dead anytime. This sought to score point for an opposing candidate and render Mills unpopular.
So the question still remains as to the best way to maintain checks and balances in the media practice. One suggestion is self regulation and the observation of ethics in the media.
The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), a professional body for media practitioners is championing this course with its adoption of the code of conduct for the media.
Article 1 for instance stipulates that, “the duty of every journalist is to write and report the truth, bearing in mind his/her duty to serve the public. The public have the right to unbiased, accurate, balanced and comprehensive information as well as express themselves freely through the media. A journalist should make adequate enquiries and cross-check his/her facts.”
But can an organization whose membership is wholly voluntary and again without any legal enforcement powers manage such a vibrant and devise industry like the media. Either way, the media excruciatingly cries for some regulation.
To prevent the reoccurrence of the earlier mentioned external regulation, the media must be seen to be performing it’s duties with every iota of professionalism. After all, it’s the fear of the media that leads governments to take protective measures.
As put by Napoleon Bonaparte, "I fear the newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets."
ARCHIBALD MANU OWUSU-ANSAH JNR

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I am a Creative Arts Writer who is also into Strategic Communications, Public Relations, Photography and IT consultancy. I am also Social media enthusiast and an alumni of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ).

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