Ghana’s celebrated press freedom status has deteriorated, pushing the country down on the ladder of the league of countries with the freest media in the world.
According to the 2022 Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, Ghana fell from its 30th position in the global ranking in 2021 to 60th in 2022.
In Africa, the country nosedived from 3rd to 10th. This is Ghana’s worst performance in 17 years when it placed 66th in 2005.
The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index measures pluralism, media independence, the robustness of legislative frameworks and the safety of journalists in 180 countries and five regions.
The 2022 press freedom Index would not come as a surprise to many media watchers, who have expressed concerns over attacks and violations against journalists and media houses perceived to be aligned with the opposition.
The slump makes Burkina Faso, a country governed by a military regime, better than Ghana in terms of press freedom.
Ahead of Ghana in this year’s ranking is a list of other African countries such as Seychelles (13), Namibia (18), South Africa (35), Cape Verde (36), Cote dÍvoire (37), Burkina Faso (41), Sierra Leone (46), The Gambia (51) and Niger (59).
Ghana’s ranking in ten years
|Year||Ranking in Africa||Ranking in the World|
In 2015, Ghana recorded its best performance when it ranked 22nd. In 2018 Ghana was ranked number one in Africa and 23rd in the world.
The Akufo-Addo administration received plaudits for that, but from there on, the records began to go south.
Press freedom violations in recent times
In 2019, investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale was killed after a key member of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), Kennedy Agyapong, displayed his pictures on Net 2 TV, inciting the public to attack him.
Ahmed Suale was later shot and killed by unknown gunmen, but nobody has been held responsible for his killing to date.
That year, the country dropped to 3rd position in Africa and 27th in the world.
This year’s report comes amid growing concerns about attacks against media freedom and the use of the law of publishing false news to arrest and detain journalists.
“Although the country is considered a regional leader in democratic stability, journalists have experienced growing pressures in recent years. To protect their jobs and their security, they increasingly resort to self-censorship, as the government shows itself intolerant of criticism,” Reporters Without Borders said.
It also notes:
“Journalists’ safety has deteriorated sharply in recent years. In 2020, reporters covering the effectiveness of anti-Covid-19 measures were attacked by security forces. And political leaders are again making death threats against investigative journalists. Nearly all cases of law enforcement officers attacking journalists are not pursued.”
In 2019, operatives of the National Security raided and arrested two journalists of modernghana.com. They seized mobile phones, computers and other gadgets of the journalists and the media house. The journalists were detained and allegedly tortured and asked to disclose the source of negative reports they had written about the National Security Minister.
To date, the state security institution has not disclosed what the journalists did wrong. As of 2021, the equipment of the journalists was yet to be returned to them.
In 2021, Citi FM’s Caleb Kudah was also assaulted by operatives of National Security when he went to film abandoned state vehicles hidden in the National Security yard.
In both instances, nobody was punished for the violations.
The creeping back of the Criminal Libel Law
Media freedom advocates and civil society organisations have raised concerns about the increasing hostilities against journalists in recent times. Some have condemned what appears to be the reintroduction of the Criminal Libel Law, under the guise of publishing false news.
In 2011, as the leader of the opposition NPP, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo criticised the use of the law of publishing false news to target journalists and other public commentators.
“This has become particularly apparent since the government of the National Democratic Congress once more assumed office in January 2009 after winning the 2008 general elections. Bereft of the convenient tools of criminal and seditious libel laws, the ruling government has had to comb through the Criminal Code and to seize upon the offence of offensive conduct conducive to breaches of the peace and the sister offence of publishing false news likely to cause fear and alarm to the public,” Mr. Akufo-Addo said.
Under his watch as president, however, this law has resurfaced and is being used against journalists.
In January 2022, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Social Equity and Public Accountability (ASEPA), Mensah Thompson, was arrested, detained and charged by the police for alleging on Facebook that the president’s family had used the presidential jet for shopping. This was after he apologised and retracted the comments.
Kwabena Bobbie Ansah of Radio XYZ was also arrested, detained and put before the court by the police for making disparaging comments about the president’s wife, Mrs. Rebecca Akufo-Addo.
“We are deeply troubled by the growing use of the prosecutorial and judicial power of the State to punish criminally speech that allegedly falsely injures or damages the reputation of other persons or of an institution of state. Instructively, during the heyday of the criminal libel law in the 1990s, the criminal law was used in precisely the way it is now being used: to prosecute and punish journalists and public speakers for allegedly false or defamatory statements against certain family members or associates of the President,” four civil society groups in Ghana said in a joint press statement.
The four— the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), STAR-Ghana Foundation, IMANI Africa, and Africa Center for International Law & Accountability (ACILA)—said the law on publishing false news was being abused and should be repealed.
“As a tool for regulating speech, the criminal law is fraught with the danger of politicization and selective prosecution, as it leaves it to a party-aligned attorney-general, an appointee who serves at the pleasure of the President, to determine which or whose allegedly false speech or publication to prosecute and which or whose speech to ignore,” they said.
Some of the violations are also carried out by security agencies.On February 3, 2022, the police brutally assaulted Eric Nana Gyetuah, a radio presenter with Connect FM based in Takoradi in the Western for filming a police operation.
In March this year, Michael Aiddo, an investigative journalist, was assaulted by military personnel at the Afari Military Hospital project site when he went to carry out investigations on abandoned projects.
Akufo-Addo and press freedom
Before his assumption of power, Nana Akufo-Addo was seen as a champion of press freedom. Although his critics say the president had been living a charade, his defenders point to his role in the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law in 2001, a legacy of the President John Kufuor era.
Others also point to a policy on the mechanism for the protection of journalists, but media watchers say it is just another paper gathering dust while journalists continue to face violations in their line of work.
In June 2017, six months after he was sworn in, the President described Ghana’s media environment as “loud and crowded” with some bouts of recklessness.
“But I must say, I would much rather have the loud and reckless media than the meek and praise singing one that used to characterize our newspapers, radio and television,” he said.
However, five years into his administration, press freedom advocates say his words and actions do not match.
In February 2022, the Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Sulemana Braimah, wrote an open letter to President Akufo-Addo, detailing the deteriorating media environment.
“Under your first term of four years, there were over 55 individual incidents of violations of media rights in the country. The number exceeds what was witnessed over any four-year period since President John Kufuor’s government. But what is even more significant is the gravity of the violations that occurred during your first four-year tenure,” Mr. Braimah wrote.