By: Tim Hinchliffe

The 2012 edition of World Press Freedom Day was celebrated with a symposium at the Ghana International Press Center in Accra yesterday. The global theme for this year’s celebration, which was also the topic for the symposium, was “Media Freedom has the Power to Transform Society.”

The purpose of the symposium was to recognise the sacrifices journalists have made while bringing news and information to the public, as well as the responsibility of the media to provide transparency, which is crucial to any democracy, and to develop and assess the freedom of the media.

Present at the symposium were a dozen speakers representing various media groups, businesses, the government, and the United Nations.
One of the main themes throughout the symposium was the subject of the media’s influence on the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, with an emphasis on promoting peace and curbing violence. The Ghana Journalists Association President and Editor of the Daily Graphic, Ransford Tetteh, reminded that we must “reflect on the roll of the media on enhancing the transparency and credibility of the 2012 elections,” to make the elections “credible and peaceful.”
The Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC), Ambassador Kabral Blay-Amihere, presented his opening remarks with a quote from a concerned Ghanaian about the condition of the media, written one year ago. He quoted, “Today, our media landscape has the media appearance of a war zone (…) Rocket rounds of insults are fired across voter lines without care for the youth caught in the crossfire. Profanity drops like bombs on us without any prior warning. There are no shelters of refuge from this national patricide (…) Let us call a time out; take a big break and think. Can’t we see the damage we are doing to ourselves?”
After reviewing the positive and negative developments made in the media during the past year, the NMC Chairman remarked, “I dare say that after 19 years of the Constitution, what is clear to me is that the same society that gave us our freedoms is coming to the conclusion that there should be restrictions.”

The UN Secretary General’s message was presented by the UNDP Resident Coordinator and Representative. She explained: “The freedom of the press must be protected, and the United Nations works hard with stakeholders to make sure that we keep that freedom intact.” Fortunately, Ghana is not on the list of countries with problems with freedom of the press, but other problems do exist.

The UN representative went on to say that she had even heard that “Ghana’s media is too free – that sufficient checks and balances do not exist to assure that the press in Ghana is held to the highest standards.”

“No right of freedom comes without a corresponding duty, responsibility or obligation,” the UN Rep declared. “The freedom of the press is not absolute. It comes with an obligation to serve the broader public interest through professionalism and conduct that promotes public confidence in the institution of the media.”
The UN Resident Coordinator added that a perverse media can lead to deadly effects. She cited Radio Rwanda and its roll in the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, as an example of the media directly inciting the killing of an entire race. She expressed her concerns that systematic media monitoring was still not in place in Ghana, and that was crucial to keeping politicians in check and preventing violence before the upcoming elections in December.
On his part, the Deputy Minister of Information, James Agyenim Boateng, said the government would soon put before Parliament a new bill “to standardise the industry and increase professionalism.” Apart from the journalists’ code of conduct, this bill would further regulate content to ensure accuracy and transparency without magnifying conflict.

He added, “Ghana is the only country that we have. We must, therefore, resist from using hate speech, inflammatory and abusive and intemperate language, ethnicity, and any acts of conduct calculated to breach the peace in our country as we go into election 2012.”
Also present at the symposium were representatives from Accra Brewery Limited and Voltic Water Company, which have sponsored the event for the past five years. A representative from the company explained that having a free media provides for a stable and transparent democracy, and that democracies attract business.
“Our company believes in the idea of free media and the freedom of expression. Media freedom and freedom of expression have benefits for economic development. A free and independent media shows that there is fair play in business,” said the Accra Brewery representative.
To show their appreciation for what the media has done and continues to do, Accra Brewery made a check donation of GH¢10,000 to the Ghana Journalists Association to help facelift the Ghana International Press Center.

A representative from the Independent Ghana Broadcasting Association eloquently echoed the topic of the day, when he said, “As media practitioners, we carry the responsibility to ensure sanity in the society and nation at large.” We must not “contaminate the flow of information. Information is life! The freedom of information is our hope. Let us continue to sustain the flow of more information in our society, so as to keep our democracy.” He went on to say that the freedom of opinion and expression was the best thing to happen to humanity, but stressed that it must be exercised with some restraint and responsibility.
The Chairperson of the Editors Forum, Ghana (EFG), Ms. Adjoa Yeboah-Afari, added that “the Ghanaian media is generally acknowledged to be one of the freest on our continent. Therefore, it would seem that we have a lot of power in our hands, underscored by the protection offered by our national Constitution. However, the question that we hear being asked all the time is how we are using that power that has been entrusted to us?”
The ceremony concluded with some words from the Coalition for Transparency of the Airwaves (COTA), while a group of COTA demonstrators ringing bells and wearing orange handkerchiefs around their mouths marched towards the symposium carrying signs saying, “COTA transparency voice walk,” “Voice for Voiceless” and “Remove my gag,” among others, as an appeal to make their voices heard.

There was a flag-raising ceremony to top off the event, whose message basically implied that Ghana has a strong and free media landscape.

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