Dear Kojo Oppong Nkrumah,
I heard you stressed at the vetting last week that I had never said I went to South Africa because my life had been threatened. You said it was only Prof. Kwame Karikari who made that claim at a public lecture. You said something to the effect that I went there for a holiday.
For very good reasons, I have refrained from discussing my security measures publicly. Some of them are not known even to my family members.
However, this line of argument has been repeated over and over again by government officials and your party’s communicators, casting doubt on the integrity of Prof. Kwame Karikari and what he said.
So let me put the matter to rest: What Prof. Kwame Karikari said was true. The Media Foundation for West Africa, which Prof. Kwame Karikari founded, facilitated that trip. It wasn’t for leisure.
I publicly acknowledged the role played by the government, through the National Security Minister, Albert Kan-Dapaah, in getting me police protection. The fact that I have not spoken about the other arrangements does not mean that Prof. Karikari told a lie.
You said at the vetting that you had called Edward Adeti to discuss threats against his life when he fled Bolgatanga to Accra after he published a story that resulted in the resignation of a Minister of State at the Office of the President, Rockson Bukari. You could have called me if you did not trust what Prof. Karikari said.
You said at the vetting that you and I were friends. I do not dispute that. We worked together at the Multimedia Group and we had a good relationship even after you left. Nothing much has changed. The only thing that has changed is our roles.
While I’m still criticising the very things you and I criticised while you expertly hosted the Super Morning Show on Joy FM, your role is now to defend and justify those very things you would have condemned if you were still behind the broadcast console.
But nothing has changed significantly about our relationship. If you had doubts, you could have called me in when you first heard Prof. Karikari say this in 2019.
Having clarified this issue, I’ll entreat you and your government to pay serious attention to media freedom, freedom of speech in general, and the safety of journalists in your second term. The environment for free speech became hostile since the Akufo-Addo-led NPP took over the reins of government in 2017.
You won’t admit it publicly, but within this short time, Edward Adeti had to flee for his life after publishing a story about a minister. Ahmed Hussein-Suale was murdered after a leading member of the governing party openly threatened him because of a corruption story he helped to uncover. Two of Modernghana’s reporters were arrested, detained, and allegedly tortured by National Security operatives. Their office was raided and their phones and computers were seized, but the government is yet to show us any evidence of wrongdoing that necessitated the raid on the media house.
What appeared like a targeted closure of opposition radio stations happened under this government, and when the Minister for Communications appeared before parliament’s Appointments Committee for vetting, she fumbled and feigned ignorance when Mohammed Muntaka Mubarak showed her evidence of apparent partiality in the application of the law that was used to shut down Radio Gold, XYZ and others.
With these and other subtle intimidations the media suffered in the past four years, one does not need a soothsayer to divine the fate of journalists and media houses that are critical of the government. But your government and its officials are still living in denial.
I have heard that some government officials were mad with me when I said in 2020 that I felt safer practising journalism under John Mahama’s government than since Akufo-Addo came to power. Their reason was that the government that provided me with state security should not be “attacked” that way.
That’s where they got it wrong. It is NOT fun to be driving with an armed escort in your car. The psychological toll it has on the journalist is unspeakable. It’s a constant reminder that you’re not safe. But the reality of danger is such that I have to live with it. Trust me, it’s not fun.
It was insecurity that necessitated the decision to give each MP a police escort. So if an MP speaks of insecurity, you don’t call them ungrateful because the government offered them police escort. If there was no insecurity, there wouldn’t be a need for police protection. Besides, the police escort does not take away the insecurity. It only mitigates it.
There’s no evidence that the Mfantsiman MP was killed because of his work as a lawmaker. But if his fellow MPs were scared and needed protection, then journalists are also justified in being scared after one of their own was threatened with death because of his work as a journalist and later shot dead. There is no instrument that measures insecurity but the prevailing conditions and the body language of the leader and the government have a say in how journalists feel.
I rejected state security protection when Dr Omane Boamah, the Communications Minister under John Mahama, offered me police after the president’s Ford “Gift” Story in 2016. The atmosphere was very free and safe for journalists. I felt safe enough to reject it.
The current dispensation is, however, different. The first time I made an official complaint to the CID Headquarters after receiving death threats was in 2017. You can verify. Apart from my editor at Joy FM and a handful of people, not many heard about it.
Many journalists have gone through worse than what is in the public. The internal pressures that are put on some journalists by their employers who cannot soak the pressure from some top government officials are killing critical journalism. You may do your independent fact-finding if you doubt me.
Last year, for instance, a BNI officer called to warn a journalist to stay off a story she was pursuing. The story involved a government institution and some private businesses, which affected the state. The journalist was issued a stern warning to stay off it because the BNI was also working on it. Which law emboldens the state security agencies to warn journalists not to pursue stories that the state security are investigating?
Many journalists are living in fear but are too afraid to even mention it.
So, Mr Oppong Nkrumah, your priority should be how journalists will not only be safe but also FEEL SAFE to practise our trade in Ghana. We consider you to be one of our own. Your competence is not in question. But your effort at promoting the independence, freedom, and safety of journalists has been abysmal.
And when people claim the attacks are increasing because of irresponsible journalism, tell them that irresponsible journalism has always been there. Tell them that the most irresponsible media house in the past four years has not been attacked because it is aligned with the governing party, the NPP. So irresponsible journalism, as condemnable as it is, cannot be the reason for the intolerance of the government.
There are avenues to deal with journalistic infractions. They do not include death threats, physical attacks, killings by unknown gunmen, arrests, detention, and alleged torture by National Security operatives, as we’ve seen in the past four years.
The scariest part is a perception that if the person who attacks a journalist is a member of your governing party, then that journalist should forget about ever getting justice. This perception is scary, but those who hold that view may not be wrong.
NDC Chairman Ofosu Ampofo is being prosecuted for making threatening statements against the EC Chair and others. The so-called prophet who made threatening comments against the EC Chairperson before the voter registration exercise was arrested and detained, and he is being prosecuted. The Power FM presenter who made threatening statements against the president was arrested. Bulldog was arrested and detained for threatening the president.
In all of these cases, their threats were not carried through.
But someone threatened a journalist. He put a photograph of the undercover journalists on television and ordered whoever saw him to attack him and he would pay. He even mentioned where the undercover journalist lived. Nothing was done to him even though the threats were viral.
Ahmed Hussein-Suale, the journalist, was shot and killed after those threats. And nothing has happened to the one who issued the threat.
If I threaten any of President Akufo-Addo’s daughters with death, I will be picked up and locked up. I will be prosecuted, whether or not any harm is caused to the girls.
What is different with Ahmed Suale? Does he matter?
So, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, these and others are the reasons journalists do not feel safe and are disappointed that it’s happening at a time one of their own is heading the information ministry.
Let’s see a better version of you. And a more tolerant version of Akufo-Addo and his government. After four years as president, his biggest achievement in promoting media freedom should not be President Kufuor’s repeal of the Criminal Libel Law. That was Kufuor’s achievement. Let’s see Akufo-Addo’s.
And you have a role to play.
Manasseh Azure Awuni.