Well, this is not a personal opinion but my constitutional right to contribute to national discourse. The president called me and every other Ghanaian to be citizens and not spectators. Well, maybe this call by the president was declared because it was in a plagiarized or stolen presidential speech. I doubt if the president would have included this important call if he had written his “inaugural speech” all by himself with the support of his advisors. I also doubt if the president went through his “inaugural speech” before delivering it. If the president did, was it to wow citizens and the world because he was being hailed as a “well-educated” person or it was a principle of governance he outlined for Ghanaians?
Ever since this call was made, events characterizing governance process afterwards point to different directions
Under a ”competent” president, the media, one of the most important governance tools has come under attack, harassment, intimidation, resulted in near exile of journalists, detention, torture, media close downs, and deaths. Today, several media organizations remained lock down as journalists operate in fear. The silence over the death of an investigative team member of Tiger Eye begs for answers and brutalities meted out to journalists by the police are but few disturbing governance issues under the show-boy president Nana Addo’s leadership.
The question is, do we still need journalists in our governance processes? An answer to this question is based on “personified interests”.
Enter: Speaker, Moralist Professor Mike Ocquaye.
Is Mike Ocquaye, speaker of Ghanaian parliament a moralist or dictator? I have watched the speaker for closed to three years now since he became the speaker of parliament. He spoke tough especially against pro-gays and lesbians lobbyists and had repeatedly done so using the media. As a moralist, I had the feeling that we have had one of the “finest leaders” who may block stupid laws, bills, and government contracts from getting through in parliament. I thought, this is the time we will get value for money for this country with a moralist at the helm of national affairs. Alas, I was wrong. Anyway we are told gays and lesbians are planning their first ever conference in Ghana?
The recent order directing journalists to be “loyal” only to the parliamentary proceedings as accredited agents to cover the Parliamentary proceedings is one of the lowest reasoning of a Professor Emeritus, Mike Ocquaye.
“Ordering Journalists not to cover any other events while parliamentary proceeding is ongoing” is below the belt of a professor who should know better. I guest Moralist Prof. Ocquaye was kidding right! Let’s pretend so.
But for the fact that, he made this pronouncement upon the majority leader’s request point to the fact that, it was a planned motion by the majority side of the parliament to control, intimidate and harass journalists from exercising their constitutional rights and responsibilities to citizens. Per the claimed by a member of the majority side, perhaps, the speaker wanted to demonstrate to Ghanaians that, indeed “the real owners of Ghana” have taken over the country and everybody including journalists must pay key attention to what they do and mark it as “importance” and “interesting” than any other things else.
What’s this constitutional responsibilities? Providing NEWS to citizens. Parliamentary debates and businesses may passed as news but not all the proceedings can be passed as news and may not be of interest to the people.
The shorter Oxford Dictionary defined news as “Tidings; new information of recent events; event occurrences as a subject of report or talk. The word information is important because it is the information of an event rather than the event itself that news is concerned with. Moralist Mike Ocquaye should have known that inviting journalists to cover event/information which is already known to the public does not constitute “new information” though “news” but not “new” to prepare citizens to stay informed. The subject matter here was on the president’s State of the Nation’s Address (SONA). SONA was live on majority of national broadcasters’ network, debating same address does not constitute “new information” though news but not new.
Journalism thrives on news and news must contain information that ordinary people would want to know not what leaders want them to known. “News is people” says Harold Evans, former editor of The Time This is true because news involve people, discoveries, secret information, legislation, and social and political changes. The newness of news is a topmost priority of working journalists and functional media.
What passed news should be surprising, shocking, and dramatic with all the qualities to arouse people’s emotions and as said by an American editor, make people say ‘Gee whizz’. Other writers defined news as any information people want it suppressed or people do not want it published and that those information that they want it published or get to the public are but advertising.
So what Professor Emeritus Mike Ocquaye and the majority in Parliament want journalists to do is provide them free “advertising” to boost their political fortunes not necessarily to provide new information to citizens. The speaker and majority leader can’t pretend that they did not to know too well what news is all about and whose allegiance journalist’s hold. As an independent agents, journalists’ allegiance is to the “people”, “state” and the media house and not powers. The framers provided this to ensure that those wielding powers do not abuse same. The state represents a national independence “body” but powers are a group of individuals exercising power using state institutions.
In a functional democracy, the executives, judiciary, parliamentary and media work hand in hand and holding one another to account and responsible to ensure checks and balances in state management while remaining independent from one another.
Maybe, the speaker didn’t mean what he ordered journalists to respect and obey. Maybe, his vitamin C deficient head prevented him from thinking through or maybe that is his nature; a dictator. Whichever description that fits him, Moralist Mike Ocquaye had forgotten that, there is a constitution that provided rights and privileges to every citizens including journalists to act and behave morally. And that include ‘freedom of speech, expression, and association” among others.
Editors and journalists are free to select their interest based news and provide comprehensive coverage including an editorial if need be. In doing so, they are guided by fairness, objectivity, truth and accuracy as cardinal pillars in the practice of journalism. Journalists have responsibilities to inform citizens about happenings in the country whether within the parliament or outside the parliament. It is through media reportage that, citizens access information to make informed decisions about life, business, social and cultural and political issues.
Directing journalists to focus on one-sided of events is depriving ordinary person the right to alternative information for an informed decision making. And this is what Ocquaye has done. Inasmuch as the speaker wields some constitutional powers, does not mean he should recklessnessily apply it for political gains. Doing this is immoral and a moralist like Ocquaye should have resisted temptation to exercise restraint in the application of his powers.
If the speaker and his majority had a concern regarding operation of journalists within the house, they should refer this to constitutionally mandated institutions such as the National Media Commission, Ghana Journalists Association, and the Court (including privileges committee of parliament). Maybe the speaker had planned to establish a “parliamentary precedence” and this came handy.
No matter the magnitude of the sins of the parliamentary press corps, the speaker has no power to direct them on what, when and how to cover parliamentary proceedings. Based on parliamentary proceeding protocols, what can be doe justifiably is to asked journalists out of the parliamentary chamber if their activities are destructive enough to ongoing parliamentary proceedings. Directing them to concentrate and report on specific activity within Parliament is tantamount to prevent, control and stifle free press, good governance and invariably deny citizens to new information. This can only be possible in autocratic regimes.
Is Mike Ocquaye and his majority in parliament enemies of free press, freedom of information, expression and opinion? Their demeanors point to that fact.
In the practice of journalism, nothing bars a journalist from soliciting new information to feed his/her “flock”/audience. Nothing also prevents a journalist from going extra-mile to uncover news or twist old information to look newer. Creativity, innovation, nose for news, determination, and fearlessness are but the embedded characteristics of a good journalist.
Ghana has come far in the practice of democracy, but the freedom of the press/media is deteriorating so fast and worse than what happened in the military regime (remember in rule of law, democracy and human rights era). The Speaker and his majority maybe you felt the impact of the coverage journalists gave to the opposition’s walk-out, and press conference and so it is that bad news enough for the ruling party’s future fortunes. But the “parliamentary precedence” speaker with the support of the majority established will go down in the history of this country that, the NPP government attempted to control, prevent and stifle media freedom, free press, democracy and invariably deny citizens access to information in Ghana. Ghanaians will remember this government or administration for being the enemies to freedom of the press, democracy and good governance.