It is a running joke in some media circles that journalists are the people who bring to light the grievances of all sectors of society except their own. A cynical observation, perhaps, but the experience earlier this week amply illustrates the truth in that witticism!
Last Wednesday, November 2, the Ghana Journalists Association organized what I call a “double action” ceremony, the launch of a “Journalists Support Fund (JSF)” and the celebration of a annual memorial, the “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists” – a United Nations Day.
In his address to the Ghana International Press Centre, GJA Chairman Mr. Albert Dwumfour explained that the aim of the JSF is to raise GHȼ2 million, primarily to help journalists who are attacked in the line of duty. “The days when journalists were attacked but did not get justice due to lack of funds to take legal action will soon be history.”
According to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: “This year already, 70 journalists have had to pay the ultimate price. Nine out of 10 murders go unpunished. The murderers get off with impunity.
It was the determination to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes against journalists that led to the institution of the UN observance of 2 November.
However, on Wednesday, if a media watch enthusiast were looking for a mention of this important media story in our three main dailies, Daily Chart, Ghana Times and daily guide they would have been very disappointed. I certainly was!
I scanned the November 2 issue of all three newspapers, but none mentioned the global commemoration, let alone what would happen that day at the Press Center, the headquarters of the GJA.
Yet, notably, this year’s commemoration also marks the tenth anniversary of the “UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists”.
During Wednesday’s ceremony at the Press Center in Accra, some memorable expressions caught my attention. One was a poster from the UNESCO office in Accra, the haunting message of which was:Since war begins in the minds of men and women, it is (in) the minds of men and women that the (defenses) of peace must be built.
Another was a statement by the Chairman of the National Media Commission, Mr. Yaw Boadu Ayeboafoh, when he expressed the frustration of the NMC at the refusal of some victims of assaults to provide information to the NMC. Obviously, the NMC cannot act without informing the victims: “We cannot fight against impunity with total impunity”, he said.
Delivering the keynote address, His Lordship Justice Yonny Kulendi, who represented Chief Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah, stressed the need to eradicate the underlying causes of impunity, linked to the “insidious degeneration” of values that engulf society. Nevertheless, “no violence is justifiable in a democracy… I dare say that violence against the media and journalists is an offense to God,” he said.
As expected at a journalists’ safety event, the name of the slain Ahmed Hussein Suale featured in all key speeches and messages. Mr. Suale was an investigative journalist working with notorious undercover investigator Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ Tiger Eye team. He was shot dead in January 2019 while driving in a suburb of Accra.
Almost four years after the brutal murder of Mr Suale, it appears the police have not made much progress in solving his murder.
But the success of the police is backed up by useful information from the public. There must be people who could provide clues, or reliable information, to the police to solve the Suale case, but where are they?
Naturally, in discussions of murders and attacks on journalists, the tendency is to focus on physical and violent attacks. However, almost as damaging is emotional abuse: intimidation by various means, all aimed at silencing a journalist considered by some people or officials to be too independent or a threat.
As I stated in this column last year, my personal experience of this type of psychological warfare has included state security agents implying to my family or friends that I was being “watched.” . In the case of one friend in particular, the warning was that if he wanted to progress in his career, he should reconsider his relationship with me!
And it is an unfortunate fact that journalists in this country have faced attacks and intimidation from police and other state security agents. However, for me, journalists and police/state security are two sides of the same coin. Both groups are responsible for the harmony, well-being and safety of society.
It is therefore regrettable that there is a tendency on the part of certain police officers, in particular, to consider journalists as the natural enemy of the police. Indeed, there have been reported instances of journalists being assaulted while nearby police officers watched indifferently.
The irony is that November 2 also happens to be the day the Ghanaian police observe a Remembrance Day in honor of police officers killed in the line of duty.
During the Press Center ceremony, I found it interesting that the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Commissioner of Police Christian Tetteh Yohuno, who represented the IGP, said that the reason why Dr. George Akuffo Dampare of the IGP was not himself at the press center was that the police, too, were holding their memorial event.
Two similar monuments! If journalists and the Ghanaian police hold annual commemorative events on the same November 2, to honor the memory of deceased colleagues, I see the possibility of a connection, an opening to build on.
As improving police-media relations is seen as a work in progress, perhaps there will come a time when the two ceremonies will be marked jointly.
And, in theory, joining forces in this way, a start, would improve the ability of the two groups to work together to build in the minds the essential defenses necessary for peace for the good of society.