Samson’s Take: The winning argument for free press

Samson’s Take: The winning argument for free press
Source: Ghana| Samson Lardy Anyenini
Date: 05-05-2018 Time: 12:05:16:pm
Samson Lardy Anyenini

On 1st May, I put up this post “[n]ow that we shall have a referendum for district assembly elections, it should make sense to ‘conclude’ the CRC’s work and take advantage to ensure the over 6m dollars review project does not go to waste.” I soon decided the subject will form My Take this Saturday. I then remembered Ghana was playing host, for the first time, to a gathering of journalists from across the globe on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018. Deciding what to write about no longer posed a dilemma. I share some profound statements I have used in making winning arguments fighting for journalists in court.

First, our Constitution provides in article 21 (1) (a) that “[a]ll persons shall have the right to - freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media”. You have heard me state that the reason I still do this job is article 162 (5) that“[a]ll agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this Constitution, and shall uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of Ghana.” 

Prof. Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu writing in the book: The Law And The Media In Ghana (edited by Kwame Karikari and Prof. Kofi Kumado) underscored that “[t]he need to uphold the freedom of speech and expression is considered fundamental to democratic governance and the operations of a democratic society. Such protection ensures the nurturing and growth of a market in ideas which guarantees the free flow of information from the governors to the governed and vice versa.”

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.”

The lawful limitations of the exercise of these freedoms notwithstanding, such actions as the repeal of the criminal libel regime represent ample manifestations of the aspirations of the country in this regard. Justice Holme of the US Supreme Court was succinct as far back as 1919 observing and drawing peoples’ attention to what they stand to lose is they did not promote free press. He said: “When men have realised that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe that the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is reached by free trade in ideas – that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition on the market and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes can be safely carried out.”

In 1992, Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice Sharvananda echoed the point even better thus:“Freedom of speech and expression consists primarily not only in the liberty of the citizen to speak and write what he chooses but in the liberty of the public to hear and read, what it needs. No one can doubt that if democracy is to work satisfactorily then the ordinary man and woman should feel that they have some share in Government.” 

The sub-regional media watchdog, Media Foundation for West Africa, in one of its quarterly “Ghana ALERT” report released on the 9th of September 2014 named as many as eleven journalists as suffering separate attacks. Journalists and media are getting attacked in various forms in recent times. What we must never allow is to let perpetrators feel there is a willingness of authorities to uncover the truth and punish wrongdoers. Let’s do more to ensure responsible journalism. Give citizens the RTI Law now!

Samson Lardy ANYENINI

May 5, 2018

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