Ghana is one African country which enjoys a relatively fair amount of press freedom when compared to neighbouring nations.
Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) journalist Zainab Sultan spoke to a Ghanaian radio journalist about limits to media freedom, what can happen when journalists are afforded what some may consider “too much” freedom in the media, and the wider effects on the industry as a whole.
“A local journalist called our president a monkey but nothing was done to him,” said Franklin Badu Junior, a radio journalist for Citi FM, one of the largest private radio stations in Ghana.
“When there is so much freedom, people tend to abuse it. When we did a content analysis, we realised that people are using foul language, being tribalistic and racist. People tend to use defamatory words and that is part of the baggage of excess freedom.”
Badu explained that in Ghana, offences related to speech do not bring jail terms.
“You cannot be jailed because you spoke your mind. But you may have to end up paying outrageous fines which may go up to $500,000, and I don’t think any journalist has that kind of money.”
In Ghana, apart from the few public broadcasting stations, most media houses are privately owned and controlled by rich businessmen. According to Freedom House, radio is the most popular medium, with more than 240 FM stations nationwide, of which 33 are state-run and over 150 are commercial.
“It is extremely expensive to set up a radio station and there are costs like buying a license, and a frequency which may come up to $250,000,” Badu told DCMF.
“It is more expensive now than before because we are moving to digital. You need rich businessmen to run our media and you often see them use media to promote their businesses or political interests.”
After almost twenty years of military rule, Ghana now enjoys a vibrant and free atmosphere for the press. Under the military junta, there was hardly any freedom of speech, Badu told DCMF.
“Journalists were beaten up and killed and so many escaped to other countries into exile,” said Badu, adding that “when we adopted civilian rule in 1992, things changed and laws guaranteeing freedom of speech were placed in our constitution.”
“In Ghana, our laws guarantee freedom of the press and prohibit state interference or bullying. During the elections, even the state media has to grant media space for its opponents.”
Ethnicity and tribalism bind the social fabric of many African nations, and any speech or commentary threatening ethnicity or tribes can prove to be disastrous, explained Badu.
“People are ready to kill each other on issues of tribe and ethnicity,” Badu said, adding that “in some countries, we don’t need to give full freedom to the press especially where democracy is very young as it can be dangerous for the society.”