Attacks, intimidation of journalists: Govt sets up complaints office …to investigate, sanction culprits

An office for the co-ordinated mechanism for the safety of journalists in the country has been set upin Accra and ready for use, the Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, has announced.

He said it would receive complaints of alleged attacks and intimidation on journalists, validate same, follow up and push for conclusion of investigations and the sanctioning of culprits.

Speaking at this year’s commemoration of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) and flag hoisting ceremony in Accra yesterday, he said, the office, set up by the National Media Commission (NMC) with support from the Ministry, would also support journalists with the necessary skills on their safety.

WPFD is marked every May 3, to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and press home the need to protect journalists from attacks.

This year’s celebration was on the theme “30 Years after the Windhoek Declaration: Information as a Public Good.” The commemoration in Ghana was spearheaded by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA).

On the Rights to Information (RTI) Law, Mr Nkrumah said it was in full implementation and 100 RTI officers had been trained and posted to the various ministries to receive requests from various quarters.

He said before June ends, he would present the first annual report on the Act to the parliament and therefore urged all to take advantage of the law to access any information.

Mr Nkrumah said the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) impacted on the finances of media houses and had exposed them to the risk of paymasters with ill motives who capitalised on the financial difficulties to call the tunes for public media to follow.

Coupled with inability of the public interest media to build capacity to detect, track disinformation and misinformation, he said, these two risks needed to be confronted to safeguard information as public good.

To help ease the financial constraints faced by the media as part of a larger COVID-19 alleviation plan, he said, the Ministry of Finance had been notified that the media qualified for COVID-19 incentives and tax rebates instituted by the government.

Mr Nkrumah, therefore, appealed to media owners not to lay off or cut pay but support them to, together, overcome the pandemic.

He reminded journalists of the value of information, saying they should churn out “information not liaised with various interest or tints of disinformation, but information that is pure and sacrosanct in its truth to the democratic exercise and to the development of the country.”

The Country Director of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Diallo Abdourahamane, said although the country maintained its 30th position out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom index and second in Africa, the performance could be improved.

While calling on the government to ensure full implementation of the RTI, he said the UNESCO was ready to support the country in the form of capacity building.

The Chairman of the NMC, Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafo, said efforts being made to safeguard the freedom of the media should be complemented with responsible journalism.

He said if the media wanted to remain significant they should not be appendages, be willing to publish rejoinders and corrections when they err as well as uphold high standards of journalist ethics.

The Vice President of the GJA, Linda Asante-Adjei, in a welcome address, called on the government to protect the freedom of the press especially from attacks and ensure the perpetrators of the murder of Ahmed Suale, a journalist, were brought to book as promised by the government.

Present at the ceremony were representatives of the European Union delegation in Ghana, the United States Embassy, United Nations and sister organisations of the GJA.

BY JONATHAN DONKOR

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