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Quarrel with the Press

Governments and politicians quarrel with the foreign and domestic press throughout world history almost every other day.  Some endure.  Others are ephemeral.  But there is always a rapprochement. 

The reason is the mutual dependency—each on the other, willy-nilly.  It comes as no surprise that simmering feuding between the country-media and the government broke open mid-week when Information Minister stated a flat denial of government intimidation of the press and uncaring about the security of Journalists—whether or not they are killed by fugitive offenders, forced to flee and constantly stalked, reportedly. 

There have been increasing instances recently; at least one case is sub-judice.  But priorly, some apologists and other do-gooders were urging the press to take self-protection.  I wonder how the media can raise a gendarme or vigilantes.  That would inwardly make the media special citizen—unconstitutional.  I think it is enough said to dismiss those mouthfuls of impractical.  The Minister’s rejection also accused the Opposition NDC for fanning the belief.  The NDC contradicted the Minister at a news conference, promising solidarity with the press.  Times have changed.

 I recall that by the close of the Rawlings presidency, the NDC was bête noire for media and the hostilities run long until after Prof. Atta-Mills’ pre-election “2012” initiatives achieved a modicum of reach out for a working d’accord between the party and the press.  For the record, the NDC did not indict the NPP in the reverse scenario throughout that period of their discomfiture.  It was alleged the NDC was not-media friendly.

What sparked this new three-way confrontation—Government on one side; and the press ostensibly backed by the NDC on the opposite, are a death and a run-for-life of journalists; and government is under fire for either doing nothing or too little in the clear behalf of journalists, the industry and freedom of the press and speech, a most indispensable quality for democracy.  It would be invidious to single out one press person despite being central in the current casus belli; because it limits the narrative to a per se; and blocks even a brief back grounding from goings-on generally to boost perspectives on relative issues and claw in greater understanding to appreciate the dominoes, once those are the foci in the core of the public-duty responsibility of the press. 

With regard to the present however, it is reasonable to truncate the full narration because the country is seized with its political and socio-economic environment inclusive of the state of the nation bearing on actions, stand-stills and reactions.  These have largely led to reflecting the complaints which no government accepts with equanimity.  Governments everywhere panic when the criticisms become a barrage. 

It looks like that happening here because we have in our history the regular trend blaming others including subtle and crude cajoling to scorch and clamp down on those respectively.  The charge against government in the press, politics and country derive in that development.  I prefer to expand expatiating borrowing three prism-questionnaire I had been asked to address in one telephone interview soon after the Minister’s riposte and the NDC’s pressing the charge:  Are journalists safe; what do you make of the NDC saying government is intimidating press and has the media played its watchdog role well?

I would be repeating my responses ex-tempore then to be consistent, I hope.  I believe that it is fair to state that the safety of journalists at any given time and or date since long-back and all over the world is a “never hundred percent guaranteed” matter.  The security runs parallel with the type of governance terrain the Reporter operates and the press institution is located.  But we know without dispute that one is closest to safe and indeed free as practically possible working in liberal democracies in some varying degrees, none of which both threatens or compels for non-compliance to (a) government with criticism that ruffles and could either dent its public credibility or deepen its difficulties and or both. 

Invariably, successive governments from colonial [“Has the African a God” to the “Big Six”], the First Republic through the NLC [dismissed state-owned media Editors], the PP Second Republic ditto plus its last appointed Editor for dissent editorial against Ghana dialoguing with apartheid South Africa through the military rules of NRC-SMC I & II to AFRC, and the Third Republic to PNDC into this Fourth, have from frowned on through removals to jailing press men for one reason or another.  Some explaining tangents with existing law as others contrived political covers.  The first assault on these was the exit of the criminal libel law and finally capped by the 1992 Constitution’s Chapter 12 which established the independence and freedom of the press. 

This also implicitly makes the safety of all in the exercise of the freedom, private or canned for mass public information as news subject to no ordinary interference from even Government which is specifically mentioned in the document.  Of course the practitioners are also wont to be circumspect; but virtual carte blanche wants nothing that is inconsistent with the constitution.  My contention besides is that whereas no government likes and in most cases may not sit idly-by for what it deems nasty to be said about it, the better truth is that trust of that government would have or might be wobbly.  That is the commodity whose apparent dive informs suspicions and leads to erroneous rush to deny, pointing scapegoats and clamp down. 

So this preamble leaves one hard to accept the government’s repudiation.  You see “intimidation” can be overt and covert.  My experience back to the signature tune or introductory remark during early post-independence in every news room: “this is the flagstaff house” or its variant “this is the castle” and the finale instruct was “its order from above”.  The second is the listing of names of Reporters who the government would work with at flagstaff house to press houses in the country.  The government was not yet seated officially then.

 That request which was obliged left the outsider with a bad hunch.  Its offspring is looking over the shoulder all along.  That turns imaginations and reading of actualities into truths.  Therefore the need to examine at all is surfeit.  Part of this would have contributed to the crisis today in accusations and denials and name-calling as in the CPP days’ heritage for successors—politicians and the press, maintained.  Unless the analysis’ sum up is wrong then litmus test is “what do journalists say”? ; and whose news conference it was on “world press freedom day”.

 Cumulatively, the country press   have not stood on its own over the years—NMC or not. There is a lot in there to ponder; the Minister’s faux discounted for betraying panic.  Historically, it used to be boasted the NPP better handles the media than the NDC PR-wise.   

(c) Prof nana essilfieconduah

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