Samson's Take: Just don’t attack journalists

Samson's Take: Just don’t attack journalists
Source: Samson Lardy ANYENINI
Date: 14-05-2018 Time: 08:05:47:am

Just don’t attack journalists! It is wrong, a criminal offence, a violation of constitutional and fundamental human rights and a big disincentive to this democracy. It comes with the terrain that media practitioners suffer as much verbal abuse as they are praised.

Many praise them for giving them a voice, telling their stories and flooding the light on good and evil. But some hate them for being the reason a relative caught in a criminal offence is in jail. In Ghana, some have been named and shamed or jailed because of criminal wrong exposed by an Anas or a Manasseh. What they do will naturally hurt and those who get hurt rain abuses and curse them. Some decide to physically attack a journalist. But the pen shall remain mightier than the sword!

The attacks have become worrying as they seem to be carried out with impunity even by those expected to know better. The sub-regional media think tank cum watchdog, MFWA, a most reliable chronicler of these abuses, issued a statement last week urging to “rise up against [the] tyranny [and] intimidation” as it joined the ASWIM, GJA,

OccupyGhana, and well-meaning citizens, generally, in deploring the alarming spate of attacks by state and non-state actors. It reported as many as 17 journalists had been physically assaulted within 15 months. It found the NPP headquarters particularly unsafe for recording a number of such abuses in recent times.

I wrote about the importance of the media last week, but today, I am in this brief piece, pleading with all to do all we can to curb the criminal attacks and protect journalists. Let’s all be reminded about these two facts:

First, our democracy and the people will be the bigger losers if journalists are unable to exercise their profession for fear of being harmed. Some journalists, admittedly, engage in unprofessional conduct and excesses that ought to be discouraged and punished. But it is journalists who get citizens to know what they deserve to know about how the country is run on their behalf. They do the job handed them by the constitution in article 165 (5) to hold leadership accountable to citizens. It has taken the media to get government focus attention on eradicating or minimising galamsey to protect the environment and water bodies. Citizens have and will continue to use the media to get their problems fixed. Leadership uses and will continue to need the media to communicate to citizens including delivering vital information and educating citizens about the duties and responsibilities to pay tax, sanitation, avoiding and fighting diseases that breakout from time to time, etc.

Some journalists who have been abused in recent times

Second, attacking journalists, just as attacking anyone at all, is conduct punishable as crime. Unless there is justifiable provocation as the apprehension of harm or actual harm or attack, an attack, generally, fails to constitute self-defence in law. Some have sought to defend these attacks claiming the victims either didn’t properly identify themselves or failed to seek permission or consent before recording or taking pictures of their abusers. The point to note is that those cannot form justifiable basis for attacking a journalist or anybody. You are not to refrain from attacking someone because they are journalists. Again, journalists do not require permission to conduct their work in a public place. A number of those attacked in the line of duty recently fully identified themselves and were never engaged in any wrong.

I have written and spoken about two judgments on such matters in 2017. The Court of Appeal’s Justice Angelina Domaakyare held in the Afia Pokua Case that you have an obligation to protect a journalist who comes onto your premises and also to protect that journalist from being attacked by third parties. The court stressed that journalists have the right to resort to not-straightforward means to obtain information if they are being denied access to information which is in the public interest. Justice Anthony Yeboah, now appointed to the Court of Appeal, also gave the media and journalists a lot more in the Joojo Cobbinah Case. He set clear boundaries for the police in doing their work of arresting persons suspected of committing a crime. The test, according to the court is that there must be “legal or objectively reasonable justification for the suspicion that [someone is] committing an offence or attempting to do so."

I mentioned last week that Ghana’s Supreme Court has jealously guarded the constitutional protections for a thriving media in the overall interest of promoting our democracy in many cases including the famous NPP v GBC (i.e. determined just a year after the Constitution was promulgated) and the Radio Eye Case. It has stressed that that objective was only possible if the media as the central vehicle for free ventilation of views was empowered to act without interference in discharging its rather onerous duty which has earned it the accolade as “the fourth estate of the realm.”

Citizens have the right to sue journalists and media organisations for defamation and they do so so frequently nowadays. They exercise their right to a rejoinder, demand and get inaccurate publications retracted and apologies duly rendered. In some instances, they demand and receive monetary compensation. If a journalist engages in conduct that is criminal, the right thing to do is allow the law to deal with them. Just don’t attack journalists!

President Nana Akufo-Addo, a known fighter for press freedom, has very good reason for reiterating his preference for a ‘noisy’ and ‘boisterous’ media to a monotonous, praise-singing, sycophantic one, when he addressed the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018, held in Accra.

Samson Lardy ANYENINI

May 12, 2018





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