The media of Ghana, now one of the most free in Africa, has previously undergone a series of government overthrows by military leaders and periods of ...
The media of Ghana, now one of the most free in Africa, has previously undergone a series of government overthrows by military leaders and periods of severe restriction. Chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana guarentees freedom of the press and independence of the media, while Chapter 2 prohibts censorship. Reporters Without Borders classify the environment as being 31st out of 173, with 1st being most free.
Following the March 6, 1957 declaration of independence by Ghana from the United Kingdom, there were only around 4 newspapers. Leader Kwame Nkrumah eventually controlled all the press in Ghana and saw it as an instrument of state authority, providing propaganda which encouraged national unity and creating a hierachal system of state apparatus to manage the media. Transfer of the media had changed hands from a civilian to a military government, and a series of arrests and imprisonment of political opponents by Nkrumah had a chilling effect on the media. The opposition Ashanti Pioneer which had operated since the 1930s was shut down by Nkrumah after being subject to censorship. After Nkrumah's overthrow in a coup, many state outlets changed hands, though still under the control of the ruling party. The National Liberation Council imposed stricter controls on domestic private outlets, for example the Rumours Decree in 1966 which prevented anyone from suing government owned newspapers .
In 1969, the democratically elected civilian government of Kofi Busia that followed the NLC were left with a large number of media outlets under state control. Busia repealled various acts and dismissed the owner of the state owned Daily Graphic for opposing Busia who had appealed for African dialogue with the apartheid government in South Africa. However, when Ignatius Kutu Acheampong overthrew the Busia government, he reinstated strict media control and clamped down on opposition outlets by cutting off foreign exchange. However, a number of opposition media remained unimpeded during the Acheampong regime, and by 1978, had grown in their calls for a multi-party democracy in Ghana.
The regime of Acheampong was overthrown in May 1978 by General Akuffo, who reversed some of his predecessors media policies and released jailed journalists and opposition members. This led to the establishment of two party papers: the Star of the Popular Front Party (PFP) and the Gong Gong of the People's National Party (PNP). The Akuffo regime was short lived, ending in another coup d'état by the AFRC headed by Jerry Rawlings, who repealed the press laws that were passed by Acheampong. Rawlings replaced the chief editor of the Daily Graphic who criticised the AFRC executions, though they had no authority to do so as it undermined the Constitution of the Third Republic, which stated they had to be replaced by the Press Commission. After eight months of the AFRC regime, which had promised media reform but in the end did not materialise, power was returned to the democratically elected PNP with Hilla Limann on September 24, 1979. Limann was an advocate of liberal media reform, establishing a 12 member Press Commission on July 25, 1980. In a speech he said:
“ I shall, as elected President of Ghana, be forever prepared to submit to the acid test of public judgement the claims of those who may think that they represent the public more than me or any other political leader. Bluff, snobbery and arrogance on all sides must now cease, so that the Press Commission can function in a way that it has been envisaged by those who have never had any personal axe to grind. I have long been one of the protaganists myself. Since the functions of the Press Commission have clearly been spelt out in the Constitution, I can do no more than reassure its members and our journalists that my government will respect, uphold and defend the Constitution and thus do everything in our power to help the Press Commission discharge its obligation , in the overall interest of the public to which we are all to varying degrees accountable.”
The Press Commission, as enshrined in law, were to investigate complaints about the press, uphold press freedom and provide necessary regulation and licensing to media outlets.During Limann's rule, he respected the new Constitution and accepted criticism from the media. This did not last long however, as John Rawlings, citing "corruption and maladministration", once again seized power under the Provisional National Defence Council on December 31, 1981, and repealed the liberal media reforms instigated by Limann. Under the new government, the Third Constitution, along with the Press Commission, was abolished. Through the state owned Daily Graphic on January 5, 1982, he told the press to lead the "Holy War" and direct the revolution. Rawlings passed laws that prevented criticism of the government or its policies, dismissed editors critical of him and passed various laws such as the Preventive Custody Law and Newspaper Licensing Law which allowed indefinite detention without trial of journalists, and stifled private media development respectively. The PNDC Secretary of Information Joyce Aryee in 1983 defended direct government control:
“ I don't see the press as lying outside the political institutions that we already have. This is where I feel people ought to realise that the press differs from country to country. In a situation like ours, where we need to conscientize people, and where we have an illiteracy problem, you use institutions like the press to do the conscientization.”
The policies not only affected print media but also the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, with several dismissals or premature retirement. As a result, some media avoided all discussions of politics altogether and focused on other topics like sport or entertainment instead.
In 1992, Ghana returned to democractic rule with a new constitution. Rawlings as part of the National Democratic Congress (now retired as a General) liberalised the media by repealing previous laws the PNDC signed in. The private media, which had previously been silenced under the regime for the past decade, used the new press freedom laws to voice criticism at Rawlings of the years of strict laws and published several accusations of violent authoritarianism and drug abuse. The state media however, maintained a favourable image of Rawlings. Rawlings acknowledged the years of media repression, though he defended the military coup:
“ All that has happened during the last decade cannot be divorced from today's constituional order. No one can fail to appreciate the significance of the 31st December Revolution in bringing Ghanaians to the threshold of the Fourth Republic, and in establishing firm principles of social justice which will make the constitution a living reality - to do so would mean distorting Ghana's history and putting aside those vital lessons which would indeed enrich this phase of Ghanaian experience.”
Furthermore, Rawlings had pledged to uphold Chapter 12 of the Constitution of Ghana, promoting press freedom, responsibility of both private and state outlets and these freedoms to be additional to human rights. A new 15 member National Press Commission (later Ghanaian Media Commission) was created that was independent of government, which would uphold the aforementioned responsibilites. Despite these new reforms, President Rawlings and the NDC government remained critical of the private press, calling it "politically irresponsible" and motivated by profit. One government official claimed the private media "tested the limits of the government", whilst others accused it of portraying Parliament as inferior. A group named Friends of Democracy claimed it had 1,000 signatories protesting against the private media. Editors from the Free Press and New Statesman had reported being sent death threats from the NDC for criticising the regime. Valerie Sackey who was an assistant to President Rawlings, noted that the private press had a duty to provide legitimate criticism of the government and to act responsibily, rather than simply portraying that the government was attempting to muzzle them.
After the election in 2000 of John Kufuor the tensions between the private media and government decreased. Kufuor was a supporter of press freedom and repealed a libel law, though maintained that the media had to act responsibily. The Ghanaian media has been described as "one of the most unfettered" in Africa, operating with little restriction on private media. The private press often carries criticism of government policy. The media were vigorous in their coverage of the 2008 Ghanaian presidential election, and the Ghanaian Journalists Association (GJA) praised John Atta Mills on his election, hoping to foster a good media-government relationship. During a 1999 interview, the GJA described how the media has helped promote democracy in the country:
"The press has forced the Government to accept that officials are accountable...It is for me a positive indication that the media of Ghana have made some impact on democracy since the foundation of the 4th Republic."
– June 4, 1999.
The Ghanaian Media Commission, an independent commission, was set up to monitor and receive complaints about the media. The commission had received 50 complaints in 2002, and in May 2001, forced the Ghanaian Chronicle to apologise for publishing "false stories" on individuals without substantial evidence. However, similar rulings have been ignored due to a lack of authority.
Television and radio
There were seven broadcast stations in 2007. Amongst the stations, there is the state run Ghana Broadcasting Corporation and two private channels, TV3 and Metro TV went on the air in 1997. Foreign stations such as CNN and BBC are freely accessible.
FM radio began in 1988 which allowed foreign radio stations into the country, such as Voice of America, Radio France Internationale and BBC broadcasts on 101.3FM. A public demonstration in 1995 over seizure of equipment from a private station, Radio EYE, forced the government to issue many FM frequencies for other private stations, creating a new era of "broadcast pluarism". Interactive phone-in discussions on local and national issues are very popular on Ghanaian radio. In addition to English-language stations, there are several in local dialect. In 2007, 86 FM and 3 shortwave stations existed.
The internet was accessible by around 650,000 Ghanaians in 2007, less than 2% of the population and is unrestricted by the government.