Astute academic, Professor Kwame Karikari has waded into the issues of the arrest of some journalists stating that the determination of what false news is, does not lie within the purview of the Ghana Police Service.
The former Executive Director for Media Foundation for West Africa pointed out that the police risk the temptation of being arbitrary in the act of determining what false news is hence that should not be their function.
Reacting to the recent arrests of some journalists in the country, Professor KariKari said “The law has been around for ages. Let me just say that there has been a lot of recklessness in our media and in public communication by too many people, both the media and politicians.
“There is a lot of recklessness. When we are defending people’s freedoms of speech and media that is not to say that we are unaware of the unprofessionalism, the recklessness and the abuses of those freedoms.
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“We are aware of them and we don’t condone them but this law has been around for a very long time, why is it now that the Police are waking up this law and arresting journalists left and right? The kind of things or expressions that the Police are basing the law on to arrest these people, examples abound.
“When the Police is policing speeches, the tendency is for them to be arbitrary because in the cases we are talking about, you will notice that these expressions, based on which the people had been arrested, are all targeted at the Executive or government. But is the Police telling us that those media that belong to politicians favouring the government don’t make any reckless statements against people in opposition and so on? In other words, in using such a law, the Police is the not right instrument to define what is false news.
“The Police intervening in matters of speech will almost always tend to be arbitrary and selective. In our part of the world, they are likely to do so only when it is in the interest and favour of the ruling government.”
He also refuted claims that Ghana is returning to the dark days of the culture of silence with these arrests.
“I will not say we are going back necessarily, to the very dark days of the culture of silence but when the Police intervenes in policing speech their very participation in such an act drives so many people into silence because the image of the police is fear. I do not know what has happened that our police, especially now that Dr Dampare’s administration, they are beginning to gain quite some public approval and acclaim, they are suddenly on this mission of silencing media,” he told Accra based Citi on Monday, February 14.
Meanwhile, the Police has said it is not putting fear into journalists and preventing them from doing their work following the arrests.
The Director of Public Affairs of the Ghana Police Service, ACP Kwesi Ofori said the Police is only seeking to ensure responsible journalism in the country.
“The Police is not doing anything to put fear into the media or to prevent the media in its operations. All that we are saying is that the journalists must be responsible, should make sure that things put out are in line with good practices,” he also said on the same platform.
The Police received flak for arresting journalists including Accra FM’s Bobie Ansah and Media General’s Captain Smart for utterances they made in the line of their duties.
For instance, three Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), IMANI Africa and Africa Center for International Law & Accountability (ACILA) expressed concerns about what they believed was the subtle re-introduction of the abolished Criminal Libel Law in Ghana.
“We are deeply troubled by the growing use of the prosecutorial and judicial power of the State to punish criminally speech that allegedly falsely injures or damages the reputation of other persons or of an institution of State.
“Instructively, during the heyday of the criminal libel law in the 1990s, the criminal law was used in precisely the way it is now being used: to prosecute and punish journalists and public speakers for allegedly false or defamatory statements against certain family members or associates of the President,” a statement issued by the three CSOs said.