Speaker of Parliament threatens to ban journalists, investigative reporter threatened

Expression

Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament threatens to ban accredited journalists

On 26th February 2020, the Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament, Aaron Mike Oquaye threatened to ban journalists accredited to cover the Parliament who ‘abandon’ the Parliament while in session to cover press conferences or interviews. This followed a complaint by the majority leader Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu that journalists left the Parliament which was discussing the State of the Nation address by the President, to interview an opposition member of Parliament. The opposition National Democratic Congress boycotted the debate that day. The threats by the Speaker were heavily criticised by press freedom organisations and advocates. Journalist Manasseh Azure Awuni said that the Speaker has “no business telling the journalists what to cover and what not to cover”.Samson Lardy Anyenini, lawyer and host of radio and TV programme Newsfile, called the move “disgusting” and “illegal and unconstitutional”. Press freedom organisation Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) said that:

“The media have a right to decide what and who to cover within the confines of the law. Parliamentary reporting is not exclusively about the proceedings in the Chamber. On the contrary, it includes interviews with individual Members of the House and any other activities and incidents on the premises of Parliament that the journalist considers to be of public interest. Ultimately, it is up to the editors to judge the relevance of the news material their journalists have collected during their assignment.”

The Office of Parliament later issued a statement that the Speaker did not try to ‘gag’ the press and did not seek to prevent the media from doing its work. 

Investigative reporter threatened

In March 2020, investigative anti-corruption journalist Edward Adeti told the MFWA that he feared for his and his family’s life after receiving threatening messages and noticing suspicious movements since 27th February 2020. He said he had received information from law enforcement agencies and friends that certain criminals were planning an attack on him and his family. The journalist believes the threats are related to a recent investigative video, ‘Cash for Justice’ which implicates a state attorney in taking bribes. Adeti has reported the threats to the police, who have taken some security measures. 

Radio station Tongu closed down by media regulator

Ghana’s national media regulator, the National Communications Authority (NCA), announced in a statement on 13th February 2020 that it had suspended the broadcasting licence of Tongu Community Multimedia Network and closed down radio station Tongu, based in Sogakope, Volta Region, on grounds of national security and public interest. NCA also stated that it had received a petition from a group called Concerned Citizens of Tongu complaining that the radio station was used for ‘defamation, religious teaching to create confusion among churches and for political campaigns promoting the separatists’ agenda of the Western Togoland movement’. The NCA also said it took the arrest of the radio station’s director, Bestway Zottor, into account. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), police officers arrested the director of the radio station, Bestway Zottor, on 15th January 2020 at his residence and held him at a police station in Ho until he was released on bail on 17th January 2020. Zottor is accused of making comments promoting the agenda of separatist groups in Volta Region.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) expressed concerns about the NCA’s decision to shut down the radio station, saying that the NCA had overstepped its mandate in ‘receiving, investigating and acting upon a complaint’ as the 1992 Constitution had delegated an independent National Media Commission (NMC) that is mandated to “take all appropriate steps to ensure the highest journalistic standards in the mass media including investigation, mediation, and settlement of complaints made against or by the press or other mass media.”

In a further development, the NCA issued a statement on 20th April 2020, in which the institution said that radio station Tongu had been ‘illegally reopened’ and said that National Security and the NCA had confiscated all equipment and that persons involved in the ‘illegal operation’ will be arrested and prosecuted. The NCA also said that it had received ‘subtle threats’ from Bestway Zottor.