Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

What The Papers Say

The Catholic Standard, August 25, 1985

Of press freedom

Press freedom is in the news again. First, it was Professor P.A.V. Ansah, Director of the School of Communication Studies, University of Ghana who, as GBC's Golden Jubilee lecturer, brought up the subject in July this year. He had been discussing how the media may be harnessed to the Director-General of GBC, Mr Fifi Hesse, has also been reported on the subject as saying press freedom is not absolute". And the view from outside, reported of Mr George Bennet of the BBC while visiting Ghana, is that governments have the capacity (and presumably also the right) to limit the flow of information to their people.

Whatever anyone has to say, press freedom remains a subject on which uniformity of thinking can hardly be expected. Unfortunately for some in the media, disagreeing with the view favoured by them (which happens to be the official view) stems from a basic fault in our personal character (dishonesty); worse, we are subverts of the national interest who entertain other notions of press freedom. Some of such views are present in editorials recently run on the subject by some of our dailies. Such views only invite retorts which may be similarly impolite which however do not advance the discussion one way or the other. On the contrary, they serve to distract attention from the relevant issues.

If consensus on press freedom is difficult to come to there cannot be any controversy over who owns the press in Ghana. Apart from those in which private individuals and organisations have invested, the rest belongs to the people of Ghana, different from the Government of Ghana. Some of the editorials referred to above persistently made reference to the "Government-owned" press which may have been a Freudian slip, but the truth is that the Government does not own any of the dailies or weeklies currently published in country any more than it owns State Corporations or the the financial institutions. The people of Ghana own these institutions though while being responsible for distributing public funds to these institutions Governments often come to operate as though they owned the institutions.

Once it is appreciated that state institutions are owned by the people of Ghana rather than those temporarily in government, we may come also to appreciate suggestions reflect the fact that we are all part-owners. This was the point Professor Ansah went to great lengths to make.

That the interests of the government do not always coincide with those of the people is a fact which our own history amply illustrates. There have been governments whose attitude to state property could hardly be said to have been in the national interest, governments which have committed public resources to one-sided political campaigns to perpetuate themselves in office through farcical elections and referenda. For such crimes against state and nation one government was not only forcibly removed, but the members were publicly executed.

We have also had media personnel who are unable to appreciate that the interest of Government and the national interest do not always coincide and may indeed often be at variance. There were those who thought responsible discharge of their duty during the critical period of the military dictatorships of the seventies was to exclude from the media critical debates and people who believed they were serving the national interest writing editorials to prop up those military dictatorships.

It may be inferred from the above that Governments and newspaper editors are not wholly altruistic; therefore determination of sensitive issues such as the national interest, press freedom and the like may not be left to their judgement alone. Of press freedom, in particular, we believe the approach to a workable understanding lies in settling first the ownership of the press and reflecting it in its governance and monitoring.

Punch, August 28, 1985

Cautious optimism

In our view the coup is a mere palace one or a mere change in leadership structure and not a fundamental structural shift. In this wise, the new Babangida administration has a herculean task to convince Nigerians about its genuineness of purpose and its determination to uplift Nigeria from the Scourge of poverty, disease and squalor. Nigerians have a right to be sanguine about their future. Nigerians have a right to live in perpetual peace and bliss. Nigerians have a right to be proud of their fatherland.

The recurrent tableau of musical chairs, of a macabre dance in the jungle, or aimless drift; of anguish, pain and torture that have featured in our national life since independence are leprous points which we must avoid henceforth. Nigeria, the largest concentration of black race on earth, must show to the world that the dark-skinned can truly manage their affairs without rancour and bitterness.

We repeat that unless the new regime effects a fundamental shift in policy, there is no hope yet for a glorious dawn. It will mean in effect that Nigerians are still in the dark, wandering aimlessly, caught between the devil and the red sea. We therefore call for the immediate abrogation of obnoxious, reactionary and satanic decrees that have so far shackled our forward march into modernity.

We call for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience, prisoners of circumstance, all of whom were thrown into jail for recrimination and personal vendetta. Their crimes were much more against individuals than they were against the state.

We call for national reconciliation and reconstruction of our broken ethos, hopes and aspiration, an equitable system of reward and punishment, a justifiable dispensation of national wealth, allocation of resources, distribution of offices and identification of merits for national reconstruction.

We call for the immediate trial of the key political actors (Shehu Shagari, Alex Ekweme, etc) of the Second Republic. Our experience with the Shagari regime and the succeeding Buhari's military junta had shown that one was a logical extension of the other; and by simple inference deduced from 20 months of silence on these key political actors, we would never expect a fair justice under a decadent rule of law.

We call for the reconciliation of the alienated and marginalised Nigerians, all of whom suffered great deprivation, brutality, servitude, hunger, disease, detention and sometimes death from the government that used the deceptive symbol of redemption to imprison, detain, and bastardized the wretched of the earth.

talking drums 1985-09-09 Rafindadi's N.S.O. Empire exposed