- National media watchdogs are issuing heavy criticism after the state-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) decided to interdict its TV Director and four journalists over a news item concerning the national carrier Ghana Airways. The interdiction process is characterised as "arbitrary" and as the result of political interference, coming only short before national elections.
The Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) yesterday issued a strong-worded statement, saying it was "seriously dismayed" by the decision of the GBC management to interdict the Director of Ghana Television (GTV) and four journalists over a news item concerning "the obviously moribund state-owned Ghana Airways."
The MFWA was particularly concerned that this "curiously highhanded decision tends to undermine the spirit and constitutional stipulation of the 1992 Constitution" of Ghana for the freedom and editorial independence of state-owned media to express divergent views and ventilate dissenting opinions.
- Coming barely three months to presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana, it must also raise worrying and legitimate concerns that this action would tend to compel journalists working for the state media to acquiesce to direct as well as implicit political manipulation in order to preserve their tenure, the MFWA statement said.
On 26 August, a GTV news bulletin carried a story originally published on the internet and attributed to the Pan African News Agency (Pana) to the effect that negotiations between the national carrier, Ghana Airways, and Ghana International Airlines, a US investor, had been suspended. The following day, the business desk of GTV retracted the story because the report as published was purported to be "doubtful".
Nevertheless, on 30 August, the management of GBC served the five persons with letters of interdiction. The letters, dated 27 August, claimed that the said news item had "caused great embarrassment to the Corporation and the Government of Ghana".
The MFWA said it believed that the process of the interdiction of the five journalists "is arbitrary; that the sanction for the alleged offence is vindictive, and that the consequence of this act bodes negatively for the exercise of the fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed rights to media freedom and freedom of expression in Ghana," according to the group's statement.
- Even granting that the five affected persons erred, we insist that the matter about which they have been interdicted is not so material as to attract imputations of criminal conduct or even libel, the foundation added. "Under the circumstances, we believe that the retraction and apology, which was duly rendered at the very earliest opportunity, was professionally responsible."
The MFWA says it is hard put to wonder whether the government of Ghana complained that the story embarrassed them, "or did the management of GBC merely anticipate and respond to a presumed embarrassment?" Further, the Foundation asks: "Does the interdiction represent the legitimate best interest of the GBC, or are the management more interested in attenuating the image of Ghana Airways, or the foreign investor, or the government?"
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