Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Press Under Siege
What The Free Press Said...

Hopes of a let-up in the siege on press freedom in Ghana following Chairman Rawlings expressed concern over the prejudiced approach of the national newspapers, radio and television have received a severe blow with the arrest and detention of three journalists since June 19 and also the closure of two newspapers.

The journalists are Mike Adjei, Tommy Thompson and John Kugblenu, correspondent Managing editor and editor respectively of the "Free Press" which together with the Citadel Press has been closed down by the government.

Their incarceration has been linked in an official statement to an "attempt on June 19 to overthrow the government". A number of soldiers have since been either executed, sentenced to long jail terms or to death in absentia by a special tribunal for their part in the abortive attempt.

The nature of the journalists' involvement in the coup plot has not been revealed, neither have they been formally charged in any court of law. Could their alleged involvement therefore be linked to their writings? If so this is the unkindest cut yet to press freedom in the country and the safety of independent minded journalists.

Meanwhile we offer our readers the chance to read some of the contents of the last issue of the 'Free Press' of May 17, 1983 prior to the arrest of the paper's editors.

Whether it is a benevolent society or a local union, the practice is that there is a constitution which spells out the aims and objectives of that organisation. It is, therefore, not surprising that civilian administrations derive their power from a constitution whilst military regimes have to rely on a proclamation of PNDC Law 42 as it is the case with the present Provisional National Defence Council.

In the case of Kwame Nkrumah despite his declaration that the Coussey Constitution was "bogus and fraudulent" Nkrumah decided to give it a trial after the landslide election victory of the CPP which made it possible for him to be released from prison to become the leader of Government Business in the Legislative Council of 1951

Incidentally, the formation of the National Liberation Movement (NLM) sought for a federation instead of a unitary form of government. Thus Britain decided that election's should be held in 1956 to test the popularity of the ruling CPP. Once again it was a landslide victory for Nkrumah.

Perhaps when it became evident that the CPP had majority support, Britain did not hesitate to announce the date of Ghana's independence - March 6, 1957.

Earlier, the Burns Constitution of 1946 made it possible for Ashanti to be represented at the Legislative Council. That was the beginning of a United Ghana having representatives from all the regions of the country since technically Ashanti and the then Northern Territories were never regarded as colonies.

With the sovereignty of independent Ghana, Nkrumah could afford to translate into reality some of his ideas regarding the anti-colonial struggle when he hosted the first Conference of the Heads of Independent African States in 1958 as well as the All-People's Conference which was mainly concerned about the need to intensify the fight for independence.

But quite ironically, whilst Ghana was gaining an international image as the champion of Pan-Africanism, domestically Ghanaians were being deprived of their innate freedom as the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) became an- oppressive political weapon which rendered many people passive for fear of being detained. Gradually, there was hardly any opposition in the country since Ghana became a de jure one-party state in 1964.

Having consolidated his power as head of state and secretary-general of the Central Committee of the ruling CPP, Nkrumah ordered the mock elections of 1965 when the people had no say in electing their representatives to Parliament. Self-styled socialist and party cadres wormed their way into Nkrumah's favour by being nominated to represent areas where they had never visited in their life-time: for example Eric Heymann who was the Editor-in- Chief of the defunct "Evening News" and member of the erstwhile Central Committee of the CPP was supposed to be the candidate for Buem in the northern part of Volta Region.

Surely, the only period in Ghana's history that there was no political detainee can well be the Busia and Limann administrations in the Second and Third Republics.

Although the brief period that the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) ruled in 1979 demonstrated how a rigid military regime could fight corruption, the euphoria that greeted the return of Flight-Lieutenant J.J. Rawlings on December 31, 1981 through the power of the barrel was not unexpected because the people were prepared to give the new participatory democracy a trial.

But there were initial problems as workers wanted to settle old scores by assaulting members of management and dismissing them just by Radio announcements. It became the preserve of those who were lucky to jump onto the bandwagon in the early days to distribute the so-called essential commodities now that they constitute the Workers of People's Defence Committees.

Indeed, the few opportunists made sure they shared the 'bread' among themselves. For nearly 17 months the PNDC had succeeded in effecting new economic policies and enacting new laws. To the layman, there is no constitution guiding the PNDC. But with Law 42, the ruling PNDC have foisted a constitution on the people of Ghana since a budget which has proved quite unacceptable to the people has been imposed on Ghanaians.

Furthermore, the legal draftsmen have since Nkrumah's days always succeeded in framing the law in such a way that by the time the ordinary people are aware the head of government had all the powers to enact any law because the government is, as usual, legally protected.

As head of State and Government, Commander-in-Chief as well as Chief of Defence Staff, Flight-Lieutenant Rawlings has so much power in his hands that he is virtually a dictator.

However, just as the PNDC had to reinstate Mr. Kofi Ashiebio-Mensah as Secretary for Trade following the protest of barely three committees, we urge the Chairman of the PNDC to resist the temptation of turning the whole of Ghana into his own poultry farm just because Law 42 can offer no resistance.

Meanwhile, the 1983 budget should be suspended to ensure public debate since the massive devaluation of 1978 and the cruel demonetisation exercise of the cedi in early 1979 by the then Commissioner of Finance and Economic Planning, Dr. Joe Abbey, who is currently the Chairman of the National Economic Review Committee paid no dividends but rather worsened the plight of the ordinary Ghanaian. For purposes of semantics, devaluation has given way to surcharges.

To ensure that the new concept of participatory democracy, succeeds, it would be appreciated if the membership of the PNDC would be enlarged to represent majority opinion and a referendum should be organised to determine which type of government Ghanaians want.

Basically, freedom to the people could be a double- edged sword which can spell disaster as institutions begin to collapse because of the breakdown of law and order.

Surely, one can only fool a negligible minority. Meanwhile, we call for a review of Law 42 whilst attempts should be made to enable the people select their own representatives to champion the cause of the electorate even though the past 17 months have proved that the Head of State has to concede that unlike the early days of the Holy War, he may have to abandon his favourite question: HAND OVER TO WHOM?


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