HUNDREDS of Ghanaians yesterday poured onto the streets of Accra to protest against what they say is the attack on press freedom by the government, using the National Communications Authority (NCA) as the vehicle.
To them, the shutdown of two pro-opposition media outlets a fortnight ago, Radio Gold and Radio XYZ by the NCA, was a calculated move by the government to suppress free speech.
Clad in red with plastered mouths, the demonstrators displayed placards with inscriptions like, ‘Only corrupt regimes crucify free speech’, ‘My voice, their freedom’, ‘Enough is enough’, ‘Stop the war on truth’, ‘Stop the tyranny’ amongst others to express their feelings about development on the media landscape in the country.
Even without brass band music or any form of public announcement system in observation of the ban on drumming and noise making, the demonstrators, led by the Free Media Vanguard, a non-political pressure group, made themselves heard by the hundreds who stood on the shoulders of the road to catch a glimpse of the protestors.
The march which commenced at the El-Wak Stadium and ended at the offices of the NCA, a journey which should last less than twenty minutes by foot lasted almost three hours amidst its attending traffic congestion which inconvenienced other road users.
Moving at a snail pace, the police and the organisers of the march had a difficult time controlling the otherwise orderly crowd about thirty minutes into the 4km journey as they struggled to contain the protestors who wanted to use all three lanes instead of two of the 37 to the Opeibea stretch of the Liberation Road which links Accra and Madina.
After a lengthy engagement with the defiant section of the crowd at the Akuafo Circle, the crowd eventually obliged but not without reservations as one of them told the Ghanaian Times that “we must make them feel the impact of the demonstration”.
To avoid any security breach, armed policemen were stationed at all traffic intersections and entrances to offices on the street that leads to the NCA office complex from the Opeibea traffic light.
Intermittently sitting on the road, the ever swelling crowd which included members of the Minority caucus in Parliament and executives of the opposition National Democratic Congress, dramatically wailed with their hands around their heads in a bid to communicate their frustration.
Notable among the opposition figures who graced the occasion included Mr Sylvester Mensah, a former presidential candidate,Mr Kojo Bonsu, a former mayor of Kumasi, Ms Joyce Bawa Mogtari, Aide to former President Mahama, Mr Joshua Akamba, National Organiser, Edem Agbana, and Deputy National Youth Organiser amongst others.
The lawmakers included Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, North Tongu, Alhassan Suhuyini, Tamale North, Alhaji ABA Fusseini, Sagnarigu, Felicia Adjei, Kintampo South and Sam George, Ningo Prampram.
At the entrance to the NCA office complex in the serene airport city environment, the police had to mount two layers of human walls to avoid the charged crowd, led by Salifu Maase, also known as Mogaabe, a staff of Radio XYZ, in a jama from accessing the office building of the Authority.
After about ten minutes of discussions with the leadership of the Free Media Vanguard, it was agreed that only the leaders would be allowed into the space, about 100 metres from the NCA office, to present the petition as the armed police keep a tab on the jama-singing crowd.
Presenting the petition to the Authority, Prince Minkah, Convener, Free Media Vanguard and Morning Show host of Radio XYZ called on officers of the Authority not to “allow yourselves to be used by the political class”.
Stating that Radio XYZ had made several but unsuccessful efforts to have their authorisation to broadcast, he said, “We are worried. We are worried that media freedom is being suppressed. We are worried that it is losing its enviable stature as a place where media freedom is guaranteed.”
He said the January murder of Ahmed Husein-Suale, the ‘attacks’ on Manasseh Azuri, Joy FM, Edward Adeti, Starr FM, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Tiger Eye PI, following their documentaries which put the government in a bad light must be a concern to all well-meaning Ghanaians.
Prince Minkah said the two closed-down radio stations were law abiding entities and were willing to sit with the NCA for the necessary arrangements but urged the Authority not to be capricious in the application of the law which in the end infringes on the God-given freedom of expression.
The Deputy Director General of the Authority in charge of Managerial Operations, Olivia Quartey, receiving the petition on behalf of the NCA said it was willing to engage all stakeholders and that it would study the petition and act accordingly.
With a grin, Madam Quartey gestured by the thumb and index finger to her ear and told Prince Minkah that, “We will talk”.
After the presentation, the place turned into a mini political rally ground where the organisers took turn to address the crowd.
BY JULIUS YAO PETETSI