Mr. George Sarpong, the Executive Secretary of the National Media Commission (NMC), has called for stricter legislation to check the rising spate of misinformation in the country.
He said this was necessary to protect the right to freedom of expression and maintain the peace and security and democracy of the country.
Mr Sarpong, who was speaking at a public forum on Misinformation, Peace, and Democratic Consolidation in Ghana, in Accra on Wednesday, said the current spate of disinformation devalued the entire communications experience and undermined the truth and the integrity of public discourse.
He noted that Ghanaians fought so hard for the right to free expression and therefore, must be protected at all cost to ensure that, that was not taken away by an undemocratic government.
“The right to free expression is inalienable. It is something that we fought for, and we need to protect. It is the foundation of all freedoms so, we need to protect it at all costs,” he said.
According to him, “protecting it at all cost” meant that the things that undermined the right to free expression needed to be checked, including harmful and unproductive content.
“We need to look for methods that are effective, and constitutional. And that is the balancer we are calling for,” he said.
Mr. Sarpong added that the “global trend now is towards legislation. And we think that it is the way to go, but whatever law we put together must be democratic and consistent with the requirements of our Constitution.”
The forum, organized by the Media Foundation for West Africa in collaboration with the National Peace Council (NPC) and the National Media Commission (NMC), was to deliberate on the deepening phenomenon of mis/disinformation and its implications on the stability and democratic governance of Ghana.
It was also to make actionable recommendations on how Ghana could improve the human rights situation for its citizens.
Funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the forum was attended by members of the diplomatic corps, ministries, legal experts, CSOs, public/state institutions, UN Agencies, and the media.
Professor Nana S.K.B Asante, Board Member of the National Peace Council (NPC), said the Council was concerned about the indisputable links between disinformation and violent conflicts.
He recognized that freedom of expression and the liberation of the media were guaranteed under the 1992 Constitution.
However, he said, there was a cause to worry about certain unwholesome developments in the media space within the past thirty years, adding that “misinformation is a glaring example.”
“Our fragile social cohesion in our young national entity is complicated by extreme polarization arising from partisan politics. In such an environment, misinformation particularly, in the social media, poses a threat not only to peace, but to the viability of the nation.”
Recognizing the need for some regulation, Prof Asante, who is also the Omanhene of Asante Asokore, however, cautioned Ghanaians to be measured in their call for some of these reforms as they could have dire consequences in future.
Mr. Timothy Coleman, Deputy National Security Coordinator, warned that, over the past few years, violent extremist groups had used mis/disinformation to recruit unsuspecting people into their activities, adding that, it was a cause to worry.
He assured that government was taking the necessary steps to curtail threats of misinformation and disinformation, including empowering relevant State agencies such as the Information Services Department.
Alhaji Alhassan Suhuyini, Member of Parliament for Tamale North, rejected calls for stricter regulations of social media, saying it would infringe on democratic principles.