Let us use RTI to justify the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law

The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) yesterday launched its platinum celebrations to mark 70 years of its existence.

Initially christened “Africa Press Association”, the institution birthed on August 15, 1949, has transitioned through different identities such as the “Ghana Press Club”, “Association of Journalists and Writers”, to its present name, the GJA.

The road to the ‘top’ hasn’t been a smooth one. It is one that has been fraught with intense oppression against the media from past dictatorial and oppressive governments leading to the prosecution and detention of journalists who dared to give a voice to the voiceless much to the displeasure of the ruling class.

The year 2001 however, turned out to be a watershed-a turning point that remains indelible in the minds and heart of Ghanaians, as the then President, John Agyekum Kufuor, made history in the media space by repealing the criminal libel law, one that sought to suppress the development of media freedom and practice in Ghana.

 “Set free, I have no doubt that our media will play their honourable role with a heightened sense of responsibility,” he then said in his maiden State of the Nation Address to Parliament.

The add-on, “we shall expand the boundaries of freedom of speech by repealing that law which criminalises speech and expression,” was just what the forbears of media freedom in the country had put their life on the line for.

Almost 18 years after the repeal of the obnoxious law and delivering the keynote address at the launch, yesterday, which brought together veteran and practising journalists among other dignitaries, the astute Statesman, reiterated his believe in “freedom and justice” expressing no regret, whatsoever, over the decision he took to repeal the criminal libel law.

To him, “an empowered and responsible media” was the bedrock to realising freedom and justice “and that is why I did what I did when members of your association approached me then.”

The former President, however, did not hide his disappointment about recent happenings in the media space; from declining standards in news gathering and reporting, rise in defamation, fake news, among other actions that undermined responsible journalism.

He was of the view that if urgent steps were not taken to avert rising threats in the industry, it could spell doom not only for the profession but the democracy which the country currently enjoys.

The Ghanaian Times shares in the concern of the former President, especially in this era of media plurality which exposes the public, whose interest we owe it a duty to serve, to feed on wrong information and fake news.

The phenomenon is gradually leading to a rise in mistrust, apathy and low confidence in the media, which is undermining the role of the media to serve the public good and discharge its gate keeping role to hold duty bearers accountable, effectively.

Although the over two decades old Right to Information law (RTI) passed recently by the Parliament further consolidates the country’s efforts to promote media freedom, journalists now have a greater responsibility to ensure responsible journalism as Ghanaians may no longer tolerate irresponsible journalism.

We owe allegiance to the truth and nothing else and in doing that, our primary focus must be to uphold the public good and national interest, no matter the challenges that may confront us.

The blood of our forbears would be wasted and posterity would be unkind to us if we fail to justify the opportunities made available to us to build a better society.

Let us speak truth to power, let us justify the passage of the RTI law as we await its full implementation.

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