Centre for European Studies Holds High Level Public Lecture in Commemoration of World Press Freedom Day

The Centre for European Studies (CES) in partnership with Media4Democracy and with the support of the European Union Delegation in Ghana, has organized a High Level Public Lecture in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day. The Lecture, which took place on Friday, 4th May, 2018 at the Law Faculty Conference Auditorium was under the theme: European and International Perspectives on Press Freedom, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information: Lessons for Ghana. It was delivered by Ms. Helen Darbishire, Founder and Director of Access Info Europe and an Expert for Media4Democracy.EU (UK and Spain). The Discussants were Ms. Fatou Jagne, West Africa Director for Article 19, Mr. Gilbert Sendujwa, Coordinator of the African Freedom of Information Centre, Dr. Roland Affail Monney, President of the Ghana Journalists Association and Mr. Seth Abloso, Coordinator of the Right to Information Coalition in Ghana. There were over 350 participants comprising students drawn from the Centre for European Studies of the College of Humanities, and Ghana Institute of Journalism. Other participants were the Ghana Journalists Association, Right to Information Coalition, Media Practitioners, the EU-Delegation, Representatives of EU- Member Countries, and Representatives of Media4Democracy in Brussels, Belgium.
In his welcome remarks, Prof Ransford Gyampo, the CES Director, noted that there can be no meaningful discourse on development within a polity without talking about the freedom and liberties of the people who are the ultimate and sovereign repository of the political power that is exercised by those who represent them as leaders. According to him, the libertarian society that many fledgling democracies seek to construct as a strategy to fight poverty and underdevelopment would crumble if serious efforts are not made to promote the right of the individual to freely express himself or herself on given national issues with a view to constructively keeping regimes on their toes. 

Prof Ransford Gyampo, CES Director

Prof Gyampo argued "that free speech by the individual may help but the power that it projects would certainly be amplified by a press that is also free. But we are well aware of the fact that both the individual and the press can be free if they have access to information. The question however is, how free is the Ghanaian Press today, particularly given the partisan polarization that plagues them and the resource constrains that limits their activities? Political rights, particularly the right to free speech is common in many transitional democracies but do we really have the right to free speech? What is the state of the Right to Information Bill?" Prof Gyampo expressed the hope that the lecture would provide answers to the key issues germane to the theme of the lecture. He thanked the EU-Delegation for their continuous support of the Centre's activities.
Delivering the lecture, Ms Helen Darbishire noted that even though freedom of expression is common in transitional democracies, it is undermined by ignorance and lack of information by the ordinary citizenry and the media. According to her, in many developing democracies, media pluralism, access to information, press freedom and the security of journalists are increasingly under threat. Legal restrictions on speech such as defamation, lèse-majesté, insult or blasphemy continue to threaten freedom of expression globally. National security, state of emergency and counterterrorism laws are increasingly criminalizing legitimate reporting, leading to unjust penalties for journalists, human rights defenders and those critical of the government. Digitalization raises concern for journalists' source protection and facilitates mass surveillance of citizens, threatening privacy. Concerns about the role and responsibilities of global Internet intermediaries (ICT and social media companies) are growing, creating unprecedented regulatory and policing challenges. Harassment and intimidation of journalists are persistent.

Ms Helen Darbishire, Media4Democracy Expert (UK and Spain)

Ms Darbishire argued that while Reporters without Borders note 2017 as the least deadly year for professional journalists in 14 years, figures remain alarming. According to her, sixty-five journalists were killed in 2017, 326 are currently in prison, and 54 are held hostage. Deaths of women journalists have doubled since 2016. Journalists were either fatally injured in the course of their work or murdered because of their investigative reporting. Syria and Mexico are the deadliest countries for journalists. According to her, the situation is not too good in other African countries like Ghana and Nigeria. In Ghana for instance, she noted that there are several reports of harassment and brutalities meted out to journalists in the conduct of their official duties by public officials.
Notwithstanding a growing number of countries with Access to Information laws, Ms. Darbishire pointed out that there are quite a number of countries that have been lackadaisical in ensuring access to information by both the citizenry and the media. In Ghana for instance, even though the discourse on Right to Information commenced in 1996, the passage of the Bill to promote access to information has always been deferred by politicians.

Panelists and Discussants

Contributing to the lecture, the Discussants also noted that the right of access to information is founded on the basic principles of the right to freedom of expression, the right to form and express opinions, and the right to receive and impart information without interference and irrespective of frontiers. A key principle behind the right of access to information is that public bodies are elected by the people and sustained by taxpayers' funds, so the public should have a right to know how that power is being used and how that money is being spent. Transparency thus contributes to the fight against corruption and to defense and promotion of human rights. Having access to information related to the activities of public bodies also permits the public to participate in decision making, including by engaging in the debate and by contributing inputs and perspectives that decision makers can take into consideration, therefore contributing to better policies and laws.

A Section of Participants

  • There were extensive debates and discussions of the issues raised by the presenter and Discussants. These culminated in the following recommendations:
  • Government and for that matter, Parliament must pass the Right to Information Bill into law immediately to deal with opacity and ensure access to information in a manner that promotes transparency. The media, working in collaboration with the Right to Information Coalition in Ghana as well as other Civil Society Organizations must continue to pile pressure on the government to ensure the passage of the bill into law.
  • Government must promote laws and practices that protect freedom of opinion and expression and put in place drastic rules that deals with those who harass and subject journalists through brutalities in the conduct of their official duties.
  • Government must ensure media freedom and pluralism, and foster understanding among public authorities of the dangers of unwarranted interference with impartial/critical reporting.
  • Media Houses must be resourced to help promote quality, independent and impartial journalism. Media owners and governments must play a role in achieving this.