“Bullets don’t discriminate”: An imminent threat to press freedom

Wli Falls, Volta region, Ghana

One highlight of the 2020 general elections, as in previous years, was the catalytic role the media played during and after the elections. Both state and private media deployed teams of reporters to thousands of polling stations across the country to report on general conduct of the elections at their own expense. Given the huge cost the media had to bear in discharging their role as watchdog over the elections, it was least expected that some political activists would threaten journalists and media organisations for the 2020 elections’ outcome.

In a previous article a few days to the polls, I cautioned the media to be cautious in calling results ahead of the Electoral Commission which has the constitutional mandate for releasing certified results to the media. In 2020, many media – except a few lawless ones, conducted themselves in accordance with rules of the game. Surprisingly, as the results unfolded, the General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Mr. Johnson Asiedu Nketia; Information Officer, Sammy Gyamfi, and other top officials of NDC accused the media of colluding with the Electoral Commission to release inaccurate results from the polling stations and constituencies.

While the NDC bigwigs had no qualms with results of the Parliamentary ballot, which they claimed to have won, their problem was with the Presidential results, which they claimed were inaccurate. In one of his trademark presses conferences, Mr. Nketia accused the media of conniving with the Electoral Commission and ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) to falsify the results. He then ranted that “Bullets don’t discriminate”, perhaps suggesting that journalists and media will not be spared the gunshots. The media faced a similar situation in 2008 when they were deemed by the NPP to have called the results in favour of NDC, which was then in opposition. In 2012, the NPP once more had cause to suspect that some media had aligned with the ruling NDC to the point of breaching journalistic ethics of objectivity. Small wonder that in 2020 a similar scenario is panning out between the media and NDC, now in opposition.


Mr. Nketia’s threat of ‘bullets’ to the media is nothing new in Ghana’s political discourse. From military rule to the current democratic dispensation, there have been attempts by governments and opposition to demean journalists and distract them from being effective watchdogs over the public purse and rule of law. An anti-media posture, especially by political leaders, is becoming a disturbing trend in Ghana’s politics.  This is perhaps the first time the media and journalists are being threatened indirectly with gunshots after a major election, though both the NPP and NDC have had cause to complain about calling results.

At the global celebration of World Press Freedom Day 2018 in Ghana, the UN and regional rapporteurs on freedom of expression expressed strong concern about “the resurgence of political threats to media independence; such as […] harsh attacks which aim to stigmatise and discredit the media”. We must all be reminded that the safety of journalists is fundamental to whether an election can be considered as free and fair. As a result, threats against journalists during elections need to be monitored by electoral management bodies and be secured by the state, if we are to combat threats against journalists.


Stop attacks on journalists

In a Facebook post, Citi FM’s Umaru Sanda Amadu reminded political players and their supporters that journalists’ media organisations do not conduct and declare election results.  He explained that, at best, the media report on the conduct and maybe project who will win, based on what the EC officials declare at the end of voting or collation. “Media houses are not by law entitled to copies of the pink sheets. Your party agents are. It is therefore shocking that your leaders are inciting you against us.  They are simply passing the buck, and I urge you not to pay heed,” he advised party supporters.

He advised the party supporters to hold their party leaders responsible for the defeat (albeit disputed). “If there is anything, we learnt from the 2012 Election Petition, it is that elections are won at the polling station.  Did you see journalists counting ballots at the polling station? Why blame us, then? We only tabulated what the EC confirmed. I see some of you saying media houses should come out with their independent tallied results. That is so flawed it feels pathetic. There were over 38,000 polling stations this election. No media house has sent up to 1,000 journalists to cover the election. Team Citi did around 400. How can we have a parallel tally with 400 people against 38k stations?

“I know your party had at least one agent in all the polling stations, yet we still haven’t seen your party’s independent tally sheet. This is the same thing that the NPP keeps mocking you about after you lost in 2016. They say you didn’t have an independent collated result.  It turns out your party leaders haven’t learnt from 2016. So they keep screaming that they’ve been cheated, yet there are no collated results to prove this. That’s disappointing for a party that ushered us into democracy,” Umaru noted.

He concluded: “Please stop the attacks on journalists. Turn your anger against those you chose to help you win and have them explain what went wrong. Let them tell you why, for over a year, a huge party like the NDC could not revive a major media house like Radio Gold which could have been its mouthpiece in this period”.

Similarly, Media General – owner of TV3 and other broadcast media – released a statement on its coverage of the 2020 elections, particularly on projections of parliamentary seats. “We wish to state that all projections on parliamentary seats were based on the information we received at a particular time. The projections which were made were not in any way intended to be definitive results of the elections. It must be noted that the projections were changed from time to time as we received new information, which was analysed.”

Media effects

The mass media is generally viewed as the channel for public education, as media information reaches millions of people at a go.  The media’s relevance is based on the public’s right to know.  In 2000, the World Bank undertook the largest-ever survey to find out what people living in poverty said they needed most. The commonest response was the people’s priority wasn’t money: it was that they needed a voice – a say in the decisions which affect them (World Bank, 2000).  And having a voice in decisions which affect them is based on the amount of information available to them. 

Undoubtedly, the media play a critical role in development – principally, by providing public spaces where issues of poverty and marginalisation can be freely discussed and fed into public debate. In development literature, an implicit assumption was that media (especially electronic media in developing countries) carried a pro-development content.  It was assumed that increased exposure to mass media messages would obviously create the climate for modernisation in the third world.

In October 2005, the first global gathering of the media assistance sector took place in Amman, Jordan, under the patronage of King Abdullah II. The inaugural Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) drew together over 425 representatives of media assistance organisations from 97 countries. Supported by a range of agencies and foundations – including DFID, the SDC and the Ford and Knight Foundations – the GFMD also attracted high-level representation from the UN and World Bank.

A key point of consensus at the GFMD was the need to create conditions for the independent media sector to remain autonomous from government, opposition and corporate interference, and relevant to the growing needs of their audiences. Several outcomes and recommendations were published and titled ‘Media Matters’.  Media Matters is about the media’s central role in effective development. 

The report notes that any efforts to improve information access, however, will have to focus on the development of local media – where most people get their news. From a development perspective, these community radio stations, local private broadcasters and print outlets provide public interest news and information citizens often don’t get from traditional broadcast media – information that facilitates civic engagement, better health, environmental awareness and peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Several studies have shown that improvements in media directly increase indicators of social development across the board. This explains why the World Bank has begun to recognise the central role that media play in development, and there is increasing interest at the Bank to create a global media development index which would be considered before awarding Bank loans.

The challenge for media development is to develop media that is:

  • attractive, so that viewers don’t simply change the channel;
  • credible, so that viewers learn to trust the information they are receiving

and keep coming back;

  • authentic, in reflecting the views of the public to which it is addressed;
  • empowering, reaffirming a sense of responsible citizenship by

reminding viewers of their rights and obligations.

Overall, an independent and credible media is essential to the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and essential to development. Several studies have shown that the people and countries with access to information have far more chance of enjoying the fruits of development than those without. Thus, freedom to seek, receive, impart and use information is vital.

However, though a thriving media is always a force for deepening democracy and development, a free media can, sadly, sometimes prove to be ‘hate media’. Rwanda is a classic example of the menace of a ‘hate media’. On December 3, 2003, three Rwandan journalists were sentenced to lengthy jail terms by the International Tribunal for Rwanda, for their role in inciting their compatriots to kill Tutsis during the 1994 genocide. Similarly, after declaration of the 2020 Presidential elections, a broadcaster of Power FM, an Accra-based FM station, insulted and threatened to eliminate President-elect and incumbent President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. He is currently in police custody awaiting prosecution. 


Internews Europe and the Global Forum on Media Development. 2005. Media Matters: Perspectives on advancing governance and development from global forums for development.

World Bank (2000) Policy Research Paper 2196. Washington DC: World Bank.

World Press Freedom Day. 2019. Media for Democracy Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

(***The writer is a Development and Communications management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate.  All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organisation(s). (Email: [email protected]/[email protected] Mobiles: 0202642504/ 0243327586) 

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