Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin, has said there is the need to amend the law that established the National Media Commission (NMC) to make it more powerful in handling matters relating to journalists in the country rather than the Police getting into that space.
This, he said would enable the commission function well in keeping journalists checked in accordance with the laws of the land.
The speaker raised concerns against attempt by politicians to regulate the media through the Police, saying the Police cannot assume the role of ensuring 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.
A Professor of Journalism, Kwame Karikari, has also said the Ghana Police Service is not the right institution to determine what false news is.
He indicated that the Police is likely to be arbitrary in the act of determining what false news is hence, that should not be their function.
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.”
He also refuted claims that Ghana is returning to the dark days of the culture of silence with these arrests.
“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 has said it is not putting fear into journalists and preventing them from doing their work following the arrests.
The Director of Public Affairs of the Ghana Police Service, ACP Kwesi Ofori for his part said the Police is only seeking to ensure 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 received flak for arresting journalists including Accra FM’s Bobie Ansah and Media General’s Captain Smart for utterances they made in the line with their duties.
For instance, three Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), IMANI Africa and Africa Center for International Law & Accountability (ACILA) expressed concerns about what they believed was the subtle re-introduction of the abolished Criminal Libel Law in Ghana.
“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.
By Laud Nartey|3news.com|Ghana