Ghana has for the second successive year dropped on the annual Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The country’s ranking fell from 60th place last year to 62nd in 2023. However, among African countries, Ghana placed 9th, an improvement from its 10th position in the 2022 report. This is Ghana’s worst performance in 18 years since it placed 66th in 2005.
The ranking also shows that Burkina Faso, despite being ruled by the military, banning local retransmission of international broadcasters and deporting foreign journalists, performed better than Ghana.
African countries ranked ahead of Ghana were Namibia (22) South Africa (25), Cabo Verde (33), Seychelles (34), the Gambia (46), Ivory Coast (54), Burkina Faso (58), and Niger (61).
“Journalism overall has become more difficult in this continent and the situation is now classified as “bad” in nearly 40% of its countries (against 33% in 2022),” the report said.
The World Press Freedom Index measures pluralism, media independence, the robustness of legislative frameworks, and the safety of journalists in 180 countries and five regions.
The report comes at a time the Media Foundation of West Africa (MFWA) and others in a media coalition are calling on the government of President Nana Akufo-Addo to annul aspects of the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775) and the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29.
The media coalition, which includes the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), and the Private Newspapers Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG), say the two laws continue to criminalize free expression even though Ghana repealed its criminal libel law two decades ago.
“We recognize that the media and journalists can sometimes be reckless and unprofessional to the extent of publishing false and defamatory stories. Fortunately, the laws of the country provide aggrieved entities remedies for civil actions against citizens, journalists and media organizations.
“It is regrettable, therefore, that repressive provisions of the Electronic Communications Act and the Criminal and other offences Act are being weaponized to muzzle free speech under the Akufo-Addo regime,” said the President of the GJA, Albert Kwabena Dwumfour.
The 2023 Press Freedom Index spotlights the rapid effects of fake content on press freedom. Per the report, in 118 countries (two-thirds of the 180 countries evaluated by the index), most of the index questionnaire’s respondents reported that political actors in their countries were often or systematically involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns.
Ghana recorded its best performance when it ranked 22nd globally in 2015. In 2018, the country was ranked number one in Africa and 23rd in the world.
Ghana’s Ranking over the Years (Infographic)
|Ranking in Africa
|Ranking in the World
Source: Reporters Without Borders
Declining Fortunes of Press Freedom in Ghana
The safety of journalists has significantly deteriorated in Ghana in recent years. According to the MFWA, journalists have faced threats, arrests, detentions, and even torture from state agencies such as the police, military, and political operatives of political parties. The state security agencies have been identified as the worst perpetrators of violations against journalists, and the MFWA reports indicate that attacks and assaults on journalists have been systematic. Accountability for these actions is often lacking.
The MFWA’s quarterly reports on the media within West Africa (dubbed Freedom of Expression Monitor), cite incidents of violations, perpetrators of violations, targets/victims of violations, and redress in the media space.
The violations identified in 2021 and 2022 were in ten (10) different categories, including killing, kidnapping, unwarranted sentencing, physical attacks, arrests/detentions, threats, media shutdown/suspension/ ban, and seizure or destruction of journalists’ equipment.
In March 2023, the deputy station coordinator of Radio Ada, Noah Dameh, was remanded by the Tema Circuit Court for publishing “false news” about a businessman, Daniel McKorley (McDan). He was released on bail six days after advocacy against his detention.
In August 2022, chiefs of the Ada Traditional Area banned Radio Ada from covering the traditional festival of the area because the station had consistently discussed the alleged impropriety of the salt mine concessions granted McDan’s Electrochem.
In May 2022, some men stormed the studio of Benya FM, “kicked and punched radio show host Osofo Blessing and his producer, Nana Gyefo, and smashed the station’s equipment.”
The programmes director of the station, Usman Kwaku Dawood, was reported as saying that the assailants were supporters of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) who were unhappy with how the station’s programming tackled topics like the government’s poor management of the fishing business in Elmina.
Connect FM’s journalist, Eric Nana Gyetuah, was allegedly assaulted by five police officers in February 2022 for taking photos of some arrested individuals the police had brought to the restaurant and refused to delete the photos when they confronted him.
Radio Ada was also attacked on Thursday, January 13, 2023, by a group of eight men, one of whom was said to have been armed with a pistol.
In 2021, Citi FM’s Caleb Kudah was also assaulted by operatives of National Security when he went to film abandoned state vehicles hidden in the National Security yard.
In 2019, investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale was killed after a leading member of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Kennedy Agyapong, displayed his pictures on Net 2 TV, inciting the public to attack him. Ahmed Suale was later shot and killed by unknown gunmen, but nobody has been held responsible for his killing to date. It was in that year, Ghana dropped to 3rd position in Africa and 27th in the world.
Are journalists in Ghana safe today?
At the launch of his book, Investigative Journalism in Africa, Manasseh Azure Awuni, noted how he felt safer practising as a journalist in Ghana prior to coming into office of the Akufo-Addo government.
This was corroborated by a 2023 report by the University of Ghana and the Media Foundation for West Africa, which highlighted the safety of journalists in Ghana, and found that there is a palpable sense among journalists that their safety is at risk while working, adding that violations among journalists are common.
“The most common form of infraction is verbal abuse, closely followed by physical assaults and intimidation,” the study said.
According to the study, state actors such as the military and police are the worst offenders and perpetrators of attacks on journalists while investigative journalists are the most at risk of attacks.
On the perception of the posture and responses from the appropriate quarters, the study says journalists feel that law enforcement agencies and the judiciary do little to protect their safety.
In Ghana, the study shows that journalists believe that civil society organisations are leading the cause for the safety of journalists.
Akuffo Addo and Press Freedom
Until his assumption into office as President, Nana Akufo Addo was one of the crusaders of press freedom. However, there is very little to be desired under his tenure when press freedom is talked about.
When the NPP’s Hajia Fati attacked Adom FM reporter, Ohemaa Sekyiwaa, at the NPP headquarters in 2018, the Akufo-led NPP government did not comment until journalists threatened to stop covering NPP events.
However, the then Information Minister, Mustapha Hamid, assured that government would allow the law to take its course and not shield people who assault journalists.
“I think that we would have to ensure that when such things happen, the perpetrators are investigated and at the end of the day punishments are meted out to people who perpetuate these things,” he said.
Under Akufo Addo’s watch as president, Ghana has recorded “the most brazen attacks on press freedom” including the killing of investigative journalist Ahmed Suale.
However, President Akufo Addo, in 2019, said at a Ghana Bar Association conference in Takoradi that the assassination of Suale was not an attack on press freedom.
Earlier in March 2023, when delivering the State of the Nation Address, Akufo Addo claimed that “we live in a country in which we enjoy complete freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and political affiliation. Indeed, freedom of speech has now reached such heights that even members of the diplomatic corps feel able to join in our national discourse….”
But that was not entirely true.
From 2021 to 2022 the MFWA recorded 30 press freedom violations in Ghana, with the state security agents accounting for 67% of the abuses.