9 may, 2018 / By Gordon Offin-Amaniampong
Freedom of speech means nothing to some people. It’s nothing to such individuals, but a piece of onion flash down the kitchen sink. If it weren’t so why would they have the gut to smack or assault journalists who are merely exercising their fourth estate duties?
I call them haters of free speech. Though they profess to be true apostles of democracy and stand for that fundamental human right, they don’t uphold that principle which supports an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of censorship, revenge or assault.
These individuals, to me, are like wolves because they cannot stand the foxy fox. They see journalists as enemies even though they’re the real bad guys. And often when the fox tries to outfox them you know what happens— they go ballistic, throw fit and launch brutal attacks on media practitioners with or without provocation.
Does it surprise you?
Ghana is 23rd (out of 180 countries) on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index rankings compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) or Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) an international non-profit, non-governmental organisation that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press. The country is no.1 in the continent of Africa. And it even did better than developed democracies such as France (33), the United Kingdom (40) and the United States (45).
But, I’m afraid this trajectory—- gagging and assaulting media personnel doesn’t bode well for its credentials for media pluralism and participatory democracy. It rather tends to undermine Freedom of expression which is one of the primal principles of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration of 1948.
On Friday 5 May 2018 an Adom FM reporter detailed to cover a political assignment at the New Patriotic Party (NPP0 headquarters in Accra was allegedly assaulted by a certain Hajia Fati—a staunch supporter of the governing NPP. Local media reports say Hajia Fati slapped Ohemaa Sekyiwa Awhenepa the reporter because she’d taken pictures of the woman.
And here comes the jab that pierced my heart. Hajia who did you say the reporter look like?
I said: “Adom FM reporter looked like onion seller.”
Really. How does an onion seller look like and must the onion seller be treated condescendingly or get abused because of her looks, be she fugly or ugly? Someone sarcastically asked this: “Do onion sellers work with recorders? And I’ll add this: Do they hold cameras and take photographs? Maybe they did invite okro, onion and pepper sellers to cover the programme. Very ridiculous!
“She was snapping (taking pictures of) me, I don’t know her, she didn’t approach me, she didn’t tell me anything. I only saw a flash on my face twice the third time, I slapped her because I didn’t know who she was,” Hajia Fati said this on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show on Monday.
And did the reporter really take pictures of the controversial woman? See her response below.
“I got closer to her. I wanted to interview her so I took my phone out. I wanted to take a picture and so as soon as she turned she looked at my face and asked me why I was taking pictures of her. I didn’t utter a word. She punched my mouth, and she almost took my phone from me,” she narrated.
But granted she did. Is it a crime for a journalist to take pictures while on assignment or covering an event s/he’d been invited? The answer is no.
Cascade of assault
Ms. Sekyiwa’s story is just one of a cascade of assault on journalists covering political, court, sports, showbiz, chieftaincy events in recent times by either police, politicians or an enemy to free press. Between January 2012 to July 2014, 105 journalists were subjected to physical assault with about 85 out of the number sustaining various degree of injuries, according to Today—a Ghanaian newspaper.
The report is based on a series of investigations conducted by the paper. It showed that the three Northern Regions (Northern, Upper East and West) in Ghana recorded the highest numbers of assault cases on journalists with a total number of 46 followed by Ashanti region 34; Greater Accra region10, Volta region 8, Western region 4 and Central region recording 3.
Also, the investigations revealed that the unjustifiable assaults on journalists, were mostly orchestrated by traditional rulers, politicians, security apparatus, religious groups, celebrities among others.
So how should journalists handle or cover politics and other public issues?
Must a journalist act like a poodle or behave like a member in the symphony orchestra group—singing the master’s praise? I don’t think so. I expect a journalist to present a balanced, compelling and an objective, report without taking size. And the same is required of the politician, the police, the nurse or a celebrity to safeguard the principle of free speech.
I find Madam Hajia Fati’s action so disturbing and undemocratic. How could she justify the assault on the grounds that she didn’t know the identity of the reporter? And then she explained: “I though she was Crabbe’s supporter.”
Must Crabbe’s supporter be brutalised because she’s a divergent opinion? And must a journalist who’d been invited by your outfit introduce herself to you before she can take photographs. It sounds so absurd. That argument is bogus and outrageuos. And I can conclude that the attack was premeditated. If you cannot stand an internal dissension—someone from your own party how can you tolerate an outsider’s view?
Suspended NPP second vice chairman Sammy Crabbe had gone to the office to pick up forms to contest the party’s chairmanship position at the upcoming National delegates Congress. According to the local media reports Hajia created a scene when she encountered Mr. Crabbe who has been on suspension since 2015.
She charged on him, throwing insults at Mr. Crabbe, Reports say, she warned the embattled vice chairman not to return to the party office although he’d been asked to pay for the nomination form cash or fee.
“Where’s Sammy Crabbe? We don’t want his money oo.” It was during this period that Sekyiwa attempted to video-record the already furious Hajia Fati and was assaulted.
Nana Obiri Boahen deputy general secretary of NPP and Lawyer for Hajia Fati has said the attack on the reporter by Hajia Fati NPP is ‘unfortunate and regrettable’. Speaking as lawyer for Hajia Fati, Nana Obiri Boahen apologised to the journalist on behalf of his client.
The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) has also condemned the attack.
“What is more worrying is that some of her attacks on journalists including Adom FM reporter’s case were launched at the NPP headquarters, giving the impression, even if erroneously, that the ruling party endorses her violence on us. The GJA is considering various options including legal action to end such impunity against journalists, which we consider to be a violent attack on press freedom,” GJA President Roland Affail Monney said at a press conference in Accra on Monday.
In a related development, the Association of Women in Media (ASWIM), has condemned the assault of the reporter. According to the Association, it is unfortunate “such maltreatment of a journalist should occur in the 21st century and immediately after the celebration of World Press Freedom Day here in Ghana.”
And here’s my final take. I think we need to remind ourselves about this: The cameras and the microphones are like scarecrows. They’re here to hold public office holders to account. To check them, to them to their toes, to rake the muck. They’re not here to gloss over rot or romanticise corruption. Bottom line these information tools are here to stay. So if you cannot stand the heat or face the camera-bearers turn your wheels to the political curb.