Speaking at the annual conference of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) in Takoradi, the President said the Fourth Republican Constitution guaranteed freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, as a fundamental human right, and made elaborate provisions to protect the freedom and independence of the media.
The opening day of the three-day conference, on the theme: “Enhancing national security through the rule of law: Prospects and challenges”, saw about 1,500 members of the bar and the bench in attendance.
Freedom of expression
“No effort is being made to suppress freedom of expression in Ghana. Indeed, the continuing vitality of the Ghanaian media and the intense diversity of our public discourse remain some of the most internationally admired traits of Ghanaian democracy,” the President stated.
He called on Ghanaian media practitioners to take a second look at the power they wielded and the responsibility they owed society, so that they would not sacrifice the integrity and the future of society for today’s headline or breaking news.“However, as I indicated at the World Press Freedom Day event in Accra last year, there is the need for continuous training, self-regulation and an insistence on acceptable media ethics and journalistic standards by media houses, practitioners and their organisations as part of the process of installing a culture of accountable governance, requiring high standards and professionalism in the Ghanaian media,” the President stated.
Committed to press freedom
On his commitment to press freedom and freedom of expression, he said: “That is why, as Attorney General of the second President of the Fourth Republic, I led the process in Parliament for the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law. The repeal, when it occurred on 27th July, 2001, was a very happy day for me, representing one of the high points of my public career.”
The President said in his time as President, again the Right to Information Act, whose passage had, hitherto, become a taboo, was finally enacted by Parliament.
“My attachment to the vital nature of freedom of expression in promoting national progress and security has not changed since I became President,” he stressed.
“Ghanaians are today, as they have been doing for much of the Fourth Republic, able to give boldly and freely their feedback on policies and programmes of the government; civil society organisations are able to interrogate fearlessly government actions and positions, compare them to global best practices and offer views and critiques aimed at complementing the efforts of government; and the political opposition is able to raise dissent openly and canvass without intimidation for alternative viewpoints,” he said.
Self-regulation and following ethical processes, the President said, remained one of the surest ways of addressing the current shortcomings and ills of the media landscape.
“Deliberate misinformation campaigns, which in themselves are not new in politics and war, have now gained added currency with the proliferation of media channels, including social media,” President Akufo-Addo said.
He stated that media practitioners, like all human beings, also made mistakes, saying: “When they do, they should have the humility to acknowledge their error and not have their misdeeds atoned under the guise of ‘media freedom’”. Irresponsible media practice is an abuse of freedom of expression, not its manifestation.”
The media, he said, had immeasurable power to build up the confidence and values of society and its institutions.
Murder of journalist
Commenting on the murdered member of the Tiger Eye P.I. team, President Akufo-Addo said: “It was a sad and unfortunate moment for us all when the journalist, Ahmed Suale, was shot and killed by still unknown assailants. It was equally sad and unfortunate when this heinous act was described, without any evidence, as an attack on media freedom.”
The President, who is also a member of the GBA, said the tragic murder of a Member of Parliament, the late J. B. Danquah Adu, and the prosecution of those alleged assailants, three years later, was still pending and had not been characterised as an attack on Parliament, and for good reason.
“Crime is crime, and our law enforcement agencies are required to ensure that the perpetrators of crime are rapidly apprehended and prosecuted,” he stated.