WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY: power, purpose, profession

Esther A. Armah

World Press Freedom Day is 3rd May. This year’s theme is ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law’. It’s being celebrated here in Accra, Ghana. That makes it a good time to explore the themes and how they interconnect locally here in Ghana and globally in other media capitals.

World Press Freedom Day was created to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It marked the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, a statement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in Windhoek in 1991.

The Windhoek Declaration is a statement of press freedom principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991. The Declaration was produced at a UNESCO seminar, “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press,” held in WindhoekNamibia, from April 29 to May 3, 1991. The context for the meeting was set by the various crises Africa had faced during the 1980s

Ghana is a nation that has moved from crises-ridden environments to one that is celebrated for its democratic stable rule since 1992. While that democracy is celebrated, the rise and rise of politician owned media houses means the freedom that this day represents is marred by a creeping politicization of news; a culture of masculinity that frequently ignores the 52% of women in Ghana and a news agenda that is limited and limiting. Media’s quality is determined by skillset; a freedom ably protected by a 4th Estate requires formidable skills in these times of treasured peace.

This year is the 25th anniversary of WPFD; in Ghana it is the 61st year of independence.

It is a moment to carefully examine a media’s intent and contrast that with Ghana’s media reality.

As a global journalist who has enjoyed the opportunity of working in media capitals in London and New York and who now works and lives in Accra the themes of Media, Justice and the Rule of Law occur at a particularly challenging time.

Media’s landscape here in Ghana continues to expand.

We are blessed with a multitude of broadcast media. There is media in both English and our Ghanaian languages. There are growing numbers studying media communications – so the numbers game suggests a media that is flourishing.

Careful scrutiny is required to see if numbers and quality equally match.

We have State media and there are more than 300 private media houses in Ghana.  How do expanding numbers impact power? Do those expanding numbers equal growing power? Or does that expansion come at the cost of quality and skills? How do you check the power of public institutions if the journalistic skillset within the media is limited?

It is these questions that enable analysis of the WPFD title and its relationship here in Ghana.

In Ghana, there is a regular lament about the quality of journalism; even as we acknowledge and celebrate the expansion of opportunity to work within this field due to the numbers of media houses.

There is considerable critique regarding Ghana media’s failure to adequately research stories resulting in poverty in quality of journalism and a media landscape where speculation masquerades as information and fact is frequently replaced by too often uninformed or party politicized opinion.

Skills vs. stronger numbers.

Journalism’s foundation is a skillset. That skillset is quality research, interview skills, strong writing, strong speaking and critical thinking. Journalism is in the business of communication, translation and interpretation. Media in the 21st century expands beyond the radio, TV, print of previous years.  While a formal journalistic training at university is not necessarily required to become a great journalist; a rigorous training is crucial.

To effectively keep power in check, this skillset is crucial. Diminish it and threaten that ability, develop it and expand this necessity.

There is a self-censorship that occurs with a limited skillset. There is also the presence of what is defined as ‘culture’ – particularly when it relates to the treatment of women’s bodies and sexual violence due to a skillset deficit. So, while the press may enjoy freedoms to express, critique and engage the dangers of a diminishing skillset create issues that go unaddressed and should be cause for concern.

Media quality is a global conversation, not simply one local to Ghana. Go to New York, go to London and you will hear similar conversations. Expanded communication methods, the rise and rise of social media, the ability to engage, communicate, inform and opine means this word and this world of journalism is moving.

The legislation that most benefits and impacts media is not faring quite so well.

Ghana still has not passed the Right to Information Bill. There will rightly be heavy scrutiny on this as yet unpassed Bill especially since Ghana is the host nation and one of the themes is accountability of state institutions.

This crucial piece of legislation has languished in the hands of multiple administrations While in campaign mode, political parties earnestly advocate that it should be passed and then go mute on its actual passage once they achieve presidential power.

One of the key breakout sessions for this year’s WPFD here in Ghana is ‘Sexual Harassment within the Media’. This is an often discussed topic among women journalists but there is little data to reflect the extent of sexual harassment within Media. The lack of policy on this issue is troubling; the extent to which such harassment impacts the quality of journalism also needs examination and scrutiny.

Sexual Harassment is a specific abuse of power. Given the 2018 theme keeping power in check it is crucial that Ghana media, the Ghana Journalists Association, AWMA (Alliance of Women in Media Africa) all push for every Ghana media house to have a sexual harassment policy that is available for all journalists plus sexual harassment training. How does a media demand institutions respect its citizens while its own house disrespects those who work within it? This issue is about getting your own house in order and it is one on which there is silence.

But this is not solely a doom and gloom offering.

Media and power here in Ghana is ripe for the kind of impact that is transformative. That impact will be the result of increasing numbers of skilled women in media strategizing to reframe narratives that exclude, exploit and marginalize and instead replace them with a frame that includes, engages and effectively interrogates.

We are a moment away from that opportunity.

Part of the work is creating sexual harassment policy so that skill – and not sex – is part of a qualification of entry and promotion – but also as an important deterrent to abuse of power. There needs to be consequence and punishment for the wealth of spaces in which women do not have freedom to express their considerable skill or are limited by false notions of capability when it comes to gender.

For me, media is passion, purpose and profession.

Media’s power is a mighty weapon to call out wrong-doing, shine a light on injustice and champion change. It comes with risk and reward.

Such power requires skills and must be wielded with responsibility.

Let’s reimagine our relationship with power within our media so that it is used with purpose and not abused with zero consequence.



Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) campaign STOP SEX ABUSE in SCHOOLS! is in partnership with ‘Let’s Talk Consent, ‘OdodowGH’ and EAA Media Productions. CASA seeks to engage additional organizations for partnership and participation. The hash tags across social media for this campaign are:- #SilenceBreakersGH and #TimesUpGH. For more info contact [email protected].

The Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) is an action and advocacy group of concerned citizens of Ghana committed to ending sexual abuse, sexual violence and sexual harassment in the country. CASA’s focus is impactful campaigns, citizen engagement, media and policy in this work. CASA works to educate Ghanaians about sexual abuse; to advocate for victims; to push for sensible legislation and enforcement against perpetrators; to engage the media in reform, language and their power regarding sexual abuse. CASA collaborates with other groups and individuals committed to ending sexual abuse.

CASA members:-

Eugenia Tachie-Menson
Richard Anim
Sara Asafu-Adjaye
Marcia Ashong
Nana Awere Damoah
Nana Akwasi Awuah
Mawuli Dake
Farida Bedwei
Nana Yaa Ofori Atta
Ama Opoku Agyeman
Elsie Dickson
Amazing Grace Danso
Yemisi Parker-Osei
Esther Armah
Elizabeth Olympio
Prof. Eric Wilson
Nana Ama Adom-Boakye
Abla Dzifa Gomashie
Kathleen Addy
The Ark Foundation
SCORP-FGMSA (Standing Committee On Human Rights and Peace – Federation of Ghana Medical Students)                                                                                          PepperDem Ministries

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