Former Ghanaian President: I have no regrets over media lawBy FRANCIS KOKUTSE in ACCRA | Tuesday, August 16 2011 at 16:57
A debate is afoot in Ghana about media freedom, but this time with a twist over whether a repealed criminal libel law should not be re-introduced to curb “media excesses.”
The editor of the Daily Palaver, Jojo Bruce Quansah, believes the law which was repealed by the government of former president John Kufuor “was not properly thought through.”
“President Kufuor took the decision because he had made the promise on the campaign trail to expunge the law,” noted Mr Quansah, whose paper is aligned to the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Indeed, his comments are not surprising because the debate seems to be taking shape along political party alignments.
According to the pro-NDC editor, President Kufuor’s “intention was not good because he used the repeal to sway journalists to his party’s side.”
The retired president belongs to the National Patriotic Party (NPP), which is now the main opposition.
As with Mr Quansah, there is a body of opinion in Ghana which feels the removal of media constraints gave rise to a politicised and highly partisan press.
Most newspapers and radio stations overtly support particular political parties. Also, many of the media outlets are owned by politicians.
National Media Commission chairman Kabral Blay-Amihere does not accept that the repeal of the criminal libel law is the cause of the media irresponsibility seen today.
But he admits that “political ownership and politicisation of issues in the media is the main cause of the bad journalism.”
According to Bright Blewu, secretary-general of the Ghana Journalists Association, media partisanship should not be exaggerated. “If you look at the media landscape as a whole, the repeal of the law has greatly contributed to more transparency and has prevented people in authority from taking Ghanaians for granted,” he says.
Former president Kufuor, whose party is angling for a power comeback in elections next year, agrees that there have been “some excesses” on the part of journalists but feels this does not warrant the curbing of press freedom.
Nonetheless, the view that the media in Ghana is totally free is not universally shared.
Ernest Kofi Abotsi, a law lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, notes that even though the criminal libel and sedition laws were expunged, there still exists other laws that the Kufuor government by-passed which stifle press freedom and freedom of expression.
He cites section 208 of the 1960 criminal code, which he argues can be criminally against the press.
Another one in the statutes is the law on causing “fear and panic,” which Mr Abotsi says is too broad and can be “unlawfully applied.”
Though government of President John Atta Mills is not about to repeal any law so that he can clamp down on media freedom, there are some in his NDC as well as among his supporters who are grumbling that sections of the media have taken the freedom they enjoy too far.
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