Press Freedom – a recipe for national development
This year, 2023, marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. Three decades have passed since it was proclaimed in 1993, in which substantial progress towards achieving a free press and freedom of expression around the world has been made.
The proliferation of independent media in many countries including Ghana and the rise of digital technologies have enabled the free flow of information. However, media freedom, the safety of journalists and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack, which impacts the fulfilment of other human rights.
The theme for this year’s international Press Freedom Day as “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for all other human rights” is timely and more relevant than ever.
The actual event is observed on the 3rd of May every year to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom. Among other things, it is used to evaluate press freedom around the world and also strategise to help in the defence of the global media from attacks as well as paying tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
May 3 acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom. It also provides an opportunity to assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and importantly pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
The United Kingdom hosted the first event in May 1998 in London, under the theme “Press Freedom is a Cornerstone of Human Rights. Senegal was the first African country to host the event in the year 2005 in Dakar. Then in 2008 Maputo the capital of Mozambique hosted it followed by Accra, Ghana last year under the theme, “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law.
At the celebration in Accra, in 2018, over 700 delegates considered what was known as the Accra Declaration which among other things “Recognising that freedom of expression, including media freedom, is a fundamental underpinning for the successful operation of all democratic mechanisms which keep power in check and hold it to account.”
It also looked at “Emphasising States’ obligations to create an enabling legal and policy environment so as to foster an independent and diverse media sector and to promote respect for freedom of expression”
Within a year, Ghana passed, with apprehension, its Right to Information bill into law act. The law seeks chiefly to create for the public, a reasonable right of access to all forms of information held by public and private authorities. This is done with the public authorities being obliged to publish certain information about their activities, and also empowering members of the public to request information from public and private authorities.
The right to information is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the country’s 1992 Constitution and recognized as a right under International Conventions on Human Rights and chiefly promotes press freedom.
Unfortunately, it is also within this same period that Ghana’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index dropped. Ghana’s global score of 1386 appears so appalling on the index and also discouraging, while its indexing figures also fell by 2.4 points sending the nation to 27th out of 180 countries from 23rd and has since not improved.
This was because of the brutalities meted out to journalists while on duty, which is still going on as per the first-ever State of the Media Report launched recently.
It is a shame that Ghana would decline on this prestigious ladder rather than improve upon the feat chalked. As a result of unexplainable hatred for the journalist by certain self-aggrandised individuals, the nation would lose it enviable position on such a world-esteemed ranking.
It is more serious and sadder that public officers and security personnel whose religious duty is to protect citizens, rather turn to be found guilty of this shameful act of molestation and killing of journalists.
The need for the state to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference therefore cannot be overemphasized. Media owners must also ensure better and safer plans for their workers as whatever the case, journalists cannot stop providing society with what they need to know.
Therefore, the absolute end to Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on this planet must seize.
Why is freedom of the press so important? Simply put, you can’t have much of a democracy without a free press. That’s because democracy’s strength rests in the hands of the people, meaning they have to be knowledgeable and informed to make the right decisions when they go to vote.
A country’s press freedom depends largely on the kind of news outlets and other publications, produced freely without intimidation and direction from nowhere.
In modern history, a shared understanding of the principle of a free press was outlined by the United Nations in 1948. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights codifies it along with the right to free speech.
Does this sound good, by way of reasoning, that EU nations account for a large portion of the top 10, with one notable exception: Costa Rica, which comes in at No. 8?
The work of journalists all over the world is considered one of the most dangerous among other known professions. This is primarily because journalists owe it as a committed duty to expose evil doings in society among other functions. By so doing they incur the undue displeasure of the masses, especially people of influence and power who have skeletons in their cupboards or would want the journalist to tow a particular direction.
As a result, they are unduly attacked, molested and in some cases killed for delivering their services to society. Many journalists have been hated and killed for performing their roles as committed and dedicated members of society.
Besides, an unusually high proportion of journalists are killed in relation to their work as they cross borders to cover conflict and dangerous situations in conflict zones and in some cases within their own backyard. They are molested, humiliated, banished, abused and in some cases killed by the powers that be with high impudence.
Journalists must have absolute freedom to work, bearing in mind the responsibility that goes with it. Such freedom will pave the way for the journalist to take centre stage in a frank and objective national public sphere thus ensuring holistic national development.
BY NANA SIFA TWUM (PHD)