Alban Bagbin, the Speaker of Parliament, has stated that it is necessary to amend the law that established the National Media Commission (NMC) in order for it to be more strong in dealing with situations involving journalists in the country rather than the Police entering that arena.
This, he argued, would allow the commission to do a better job of keeping journalists in check in accordance with the law.
The speaker expressed skepticism about politicians’ efforts to regulate the media through the police, claiming that the police cannot be trusted to provide responsible and ethical journalism.
“Often times, in your quest as journalists to try and disseminate the information in a timely manner to beat the deadline you make some mistakes. Information sometimes turn out not to be entirely accurate , you end up making some misrepresentations, at times impugning the integrity and reputation of others.
“The legal space and the legal regime for the media anticipated this and has prescribed a way out. That is why we have the National media commission (NMC) and Parliament will focus on the NMC. We need to urgently revise the law for the NMC for the commission to be effective.
“As a lawyer, in the early days of my practice and also my political life, I was compelled to take a number of media houses to court using the rule of law, not the rule of man.
“I dare say that any attempt by any politician hiding behind the Police institution to act as the standard bearer of ethical and professional journalism or a regulator of journalism practice in this country is not only a pretender, but also megalomaniac.”
“The Police cannot assume the responsibility for responsible media practice in Ghana by scanning newspapers and news portals and arresting journalists for errors and misrepresentations,” the Speaker said while speaking at the inauguration of the media centre in parliament on Friday February 18.
Kwame Karikari, a journalism professor, has also stated that the Ghana Police Service is not the appropriate entity to evaluate what is fake news.
He said that the police are likely to be arbitrary in identifying what is fake news, and that this should not be their role.
Reacting to the recent arrests of some journalists in the country, the Former Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) said “The law has been around for ages. Let me just say that there has been a lot of recklessness in our media and in public communication by too many people, both the media and politicians.
“There is a lot of recklessness. When we are defending people’s freedoms of speech and media that is not to say that we are unaware of the unprofessionalism, the recklessness and the abuses of those freedoms.
“We are aware of them and we don’t condone them but this law has been around for a very long time, why is it now that the Police are waking up this law and arresting journalists left and right? The kind of things or expressions that the Police are basing the law on to arrest these people, examples abound.
“When the Police is policing speeches, the tendency is for them to be arbitrary because in the cases we are talking about, you will notice that these expressions, based on which the people had been arrested, are all targeted at the Executive or government. But is the Police telling us that those media that belong to politicians favouring the government don’t make any reckless statements against people in opposition and so on? In other words, in using such a law , the Police is the not right instrument to define what is false news.
“The Police intervening in matters of speech will almost always tend to be arbitrary and selective. In our part of the world, they are likely to do so only when it is in the interest and favour of the ruling government.”
With these arrests, he also denied assertions that Ghana is back to the dark days of the culture of silence.
“I will not say we are going back necessarily, to the very dark days of the culture of silence but when the Police intervene in policing speech their very participation in such an act drives so many people into silence because the image of the police is fear. I do not know what has happened that our police, especially now that Dr Dampare’s administration, are beginning to gain quite some public approval and acclaim, they are suddenly on this mission of silencing media,” he told Accra-based Citi on Monday, February 14.
Meanwhile, the police have stated that they are not intimidating journalists or stopping them from performing their jobs as a result of the arrests.
ACP Kwesi Ofori, Director of Public Affairs for the Ghana Police Service, said the police are merely trying to guarantee responsible journalism in the country.
“The Police is not doing anything to put fear into the media or to prevent the media in its operations. All that we are saying is that the journalists must be responsible, should make sure that things put out are in line with good practices,” he also said on the same platform.
The police have come under fire for detaining journalists such as Accra FM’s Bobie Ansah and Media General’s Captain Smart for comments made while on duty.
Three Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), IMANI Africa, and the Africa Center for International Law & Accountability (ACILA), for example, have expressed concerns about what they believe is the reintroduction of Ghana’s abolished Criminal Libel Law.
“We are deeply troubled by the growing use of the prosecutorial and judicial power of the State to punish criminally speech that allegedly falsely injures or damages the reputation of other persons or of an institution of State.
“Instructively, during the heyday of the criminal libel law in the 1990s, the criminal law was used in precisely the way it is now being used: to prosecute and punish journalists and public speakers for allegedly false or defamatory statements against certain family members or associates of the President,” a statement issued by the three CSOs said.