In a democracy, the freedom of the press stands as one of the bedrock principles upon which the edifice of good governance is built. It serves as a cornerstone of civil society, guarding transparency, and providing a conduit for the expression of diverse voices and opinions.
However, the delicate interplay between media freedom, expression, and the responsibility to remain impartial presents a complex challenge that journalists and media houses must adeptly navigate.
A recent event on Saturday, October 7, has served as a poignant reminder of the intricate dynamics within this equation.
A group of individuals stormed the studio of United Television (UTV), leading to subsequent arrests by the police. This incident was triggered by musician Kwame A-Plus tearing up a letter during a live television broadcast, purportedly from the Communication wing of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), which had expressed concerns about the selection of panel members on the United Showbiz programme.
This incident underscores the urgent need to revisit the principles of media freedom and assess the role of media outlets in a democratic society.
Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, in Article 162, firmly enshrines the principles of media freedom, explicitly stating that “freedom and independence of the media are hereby guaranteed”.
This constitutional provision acknowledges the indispensable role of a free and independent media in the proper functioning of a democracy. It empowers journalists to hold those in positions of power accountable, to scrutinize government policies, and to amplify the voices of marginalized and disenfranchised communities.
Article 162(4) is even more explicit, stating that “editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by Government, nor shall they be penalised or harrased for their editorial opinions and views, or the content of their publications”.
Furthermore, the Constitution places significant emphasis on the fundamental human right to freedom of expression, as articulated in Article 21(1)(a).
It unequivocally proclaims that “all persons shall have the right to–freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media”. This reaffirms the intrinsic value of free expression as a fundamental right bestowed upon every Ghanaian citizen, including journalists.
Nonetheless, it is vital to acknowledge that this freedom is not an unbridled license.
The Constitution in Article 164 places certain restrictions on media freedom, such as the need to respect the rights and reputation of others, safeguard national security, uphold public safety, and maintain public order. These limitations are intended to strike a balance between the imperative of media freedom and the necessity to ensure responsible journalism that does not harm the greater good.
In light of these constitutional provisions, the incident at the television station prompts a series of pertinent questions regarding the media’s duty to remain impartial.
Should media outlets, particularly those with considerable influence, be expected to maintain neutrality and refrain from taking positions on political matters?
The answer to this complex question lies in a nuanced interpretation of both the Constitution and international principles of journalism ethics. While it is imperative for journalists to provide fair and balanced coverage of political events and issues, the media should not be stripped of its right to editorialize and express opinions.
Editorial pieces, commentary, and analysis constitute legitimate forms of journalistic expression and contribute significantly to the marketplace of ideas.
However, the key distinction rests in the transparent labeling of such content. When media outlets clearly differentiate between news reporting and editorial content, they empower their audience to distinguish factual reporting from opinion pieces. This transparency ensures that the public can make informed judgments about the information they consume, aligning with the spirit of Article 162.
Additionally, the incident involving the political party’s supporters storming the television station raises concerns about the freedom of expression. In a thriving democracy, the right to express dissenting opinions, protest, and engage in peaceful demonstrations is regarded as sacrosanct.
The actions of the party’s members, regardless of their grievances, constitute a violation of this fundamental democratic principle and the protection of civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution.
A robust democracy is one that not only tolerates but encourages dissent, facilitates dialogue, and respects the freedom of expression, even when it is critical of the government or media outlets. While disagreements and disputes are inevitable within the public discourse, resorting to force and intimidation undermines the very foundations of democracy.
Clearly, Ghana’s Constitution, while not explicitly mandating media impartiality, emphasizes media freedom and freedom of expression as fundamental rights. In practice, media outlets are generally expected to adhere to ethical standards of journalism that encompass principles such as accuracy, fairness, and balance in their reporting.
To further reinforce these principles and promote responsible journalism, media regulatory bodies and industry associations in Ghana, including the National Media Commission (NMC) and the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), often provide guidelines and codes of ethics. These guidelines aim to encourage media outlets to maintain high professional standards, fostering impartiality and responsible journalism in service of Ghana’s vibrant democracy.
Story by Adwoa S. Danso