One of the major concerns of the mass media during the period leading to general elections is the safety of media practitioners as they go about their legitimate professional activities.
The media and, for that matter, journalists are mandated to provide coverage and inform the public about the activities of political parties in a fair and balanced manner but in the process they sometimes face a lot of intimidation and harassment from the very people they are supposed to be providing coverage for.
The affected journalists are often left to fend for themselves in case they suffer any injury during the attack on them.
In fact, without the journalists, free elections and freedom of expression, particularly freedom of political debate, which is the bedrock of any democratic system, would suffer greatly.
Indeed, free election and freedom of expression are two rights that are inter-related and operate to reinforce each other: freedom of expression is one of the conditions necessary to ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in their choice during elections.
For this reason, it is particularly important in the period preceding an election that opinions and information of all kind are permitted to circulate freely.
Nonetheless, the two rights may come into conflict in the period preceding or during an election and it may then degenerate into conflicts that sometimes affect the journalists.
To ensure that journalists are supported financially when they suffer unnecessary attacks, the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and the State Insurance Company (SIC) Limited yesterday signed an agreement to set up a GH¢20-million insurance package for 500 members of the association who will be accredited to cover the upcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
The group personal accident cover, the first of its kind, has been provided to cushion journalists in case of injury, disability, or death in the line of duty.
Effective November 1, 2020 to January 31, 2021, the package gives up to GH¢40,000 to the family of a journalist in the event of death while GH¢300 would be paid per month, for up to 12 months, if a journalist suffers a permanent disability.
According to Mr Faris Attrickie, SIC General Manager – Operations, the package is the company’s support to the media fraternity in undertaking the national assignment, which is deemed as high-risk as it involves accidents that can result in injury, death and damage of equipment.
“Our plans is that while we may not be able to prevent [accidents or attacks during the election], we can prepare because the journalist may have a child or other dependants”, he said.
Describing journalists as an important centre piece and bearers of truth in democracy, Mr Attrickie said it was unfortunate that media practitioners were often the target of people who want to destroy democracy.
The GJA President, Roland Affail Monney, said the package would motivate journalists to work harder towards the maintenance of the democratic gains over the last 28 years.
He advised journalists to heighten their sense of security when covering political events although the GJA, through its Legal Committee, would take on anyone who would assault a journalist during the elections.
“We are going to maintain an obsessive focus on the safety and welfare of journalists. This means that if a single journalist is attacked in the line of duty, we will rally forcefully and furiously to the defence of such a journalist because an attack against one journalist is an attack against all journalists,” he said.
The Ghanaian Times commends the GJA and SIC for coming together to roll out the insurance package for journalists who would be covering the elections.
While we agree with the GJA President that the package would spur on the journalists to work harder, we appeal to our colleagues not to put themselves in harm’s way in the lead-up to the election.
We urge them to take their personal security and safety seriously in order not to fall in the hands of some misguided elements in society.