At least 14 incidents of attacks on media houses have been recorded in Ghana in the past decade, with only one receiving redress.
The disturbing trend of invasions of media house premises, including by armed men, destruction of studio equipment, violent disruption of transmission, assault and intimidation of presenters and guests was tracked from 2014-2023.
State security agents (National Security, National Intelligence Bureau and Fire Service) perpetrated five of the attacks while political party activists accounted for three incidents. Controversial pastor, Reverend Isaac Owusu Bempah, attacked two radio stations, while organised groups and unknown individuals accounted for the rest.
On October 7, 2023, a group of about 20 individuals stormed the studios of Accra-based United Television (UTV) during a live broadcast. The assailants intimidated the presenter and guests, causing the station to temporarily go off air.
The primary target of their aggression was Kwame A Plus, known in private life as Kwame Asare Obeng, a prominent social media and political activist and a regular guest on the Showbiz Show. According to the reports, the assailants were not pleased with comments Kwame A Plus and other regular panelists have been making on the show.
Following the ugly incident, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) delved into its archives and other media reports for similar invasion of media houses. Although the search covered ten years, the incidents were recorded across seven years.
On May 3, 2023, former Regional Communications Officer of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Hardi Pagzaa, physically assaulted radio presenter Sadiq Gariba live on air at Radio Dagbon in Tamale. Gariba had confronted Pagzaa over disparaging comments made about him on another radio station.
Earlier, on January 13, 2022, a group of about 12 thugs attacked Radio Ada, a premier community radio station in the Greater Accra Region. The assailants assaulted journalists, held clients hostage, and vandalized equipment, allegedly in response to the station’s critical programming regarding the controversial Songhor Lagoon lease to Electrochem Ghana Limited, a salt-producing company.
In May 2022, three men on motorcycles attacked Radio Benya in Elmina, assaulting the host and producer of a programme discussing issues related to the fishing industry. The attackers, who are sympathisers of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), were angered when they were named on the programme as part of a group that was undermining effective pre-mix fuel distribution for fisher folks in the area.
In January 2021, an unknown individual breached security protocols at Zylofon FM, and stormed the studio to issue a threat against radio broadcaster and reggae artiste, Blakk Rasta, who was presenting a show. The intruder tampered with some broadcasting equipment causing a disruption in the transmission.
The assault on media outlets has not been perpetrated by thugs and social misfits alone. Some respectable individuals including a pastor and security officers have been involved in the fray.
On May 11, 2021, gun-wielding security officers stormed the premises of Accra-based Citi Fm/Citi TV to arrest one of its journalists, Zoe Abu-Baidoo. This is after she was accused of receiving unauthorised video files from her colleague, Caleb Kudah, who had earlier been arrested over filming some vehicles on the premises of the Ministry of National Security.
On April 1, 2019, officers from the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) stormed Nokoranza-based Dero FM and assaulted the station’s staff over an alleged April Fool prank. Based on a report from a listener, the station had called to alert the Fire service of an accident, which turned out to be a hoax. Believing that the station had played a prank on them, the officers went beserk.
In one of the most brazen assaults on a media house, National security operatives raided the offices of ModernGhana.com on June 27, 2019, and arrested the editor and a reporter. The journalists were detained and reportedly tortured in custody. This incident followed a story the online portal carried about the national security minister.
On March 15, 2019, Reverend Isaac Owusu Bempah, founder and leader of the Glorious Word and Power Ministry International stormed the premises of Accra-based Radio XYZ with four gun-wielding men. This followed critical remarks made by a presenter at the station, Mugabe Maase, who was the target of the invasion. The assailants caused chaos, as they intimidated and manhandled the administrator and other staff of the radio station. It was the pastor’s second act of violence against a media organization.
Security officers struck once again on August 2, 2018. Accompanied by some armed men from the Ada area, police officers invaded Radio Ada in a bid to arrest presenter DJ Koxterio. The presenter had criticised the traditional chiefs of the area for allegedly failing to account for funds raised during successive celebrations of the annual traditional festival, Asafotufiami.
In the first of his attacks on media houses, Reverend Prophet Isaac Owusu Bempah, who was a guest on a programme at Accra-based Hot FM, lost his temper in the course of an interview and vandalized equipment in the studio. The tantrums followed a challenge thrown by the host for the pastor to produce a miracle to back his reputation as powerful cleric.
There was yet another security services invasion of a radio station on June 30, 2017, when agents of the then Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), now National Intelligence Bureau, stormed and shut down Zaa Radio in Tamale, forcing the station to cease broadcasting. The intelligence agency said the preaching on the station by leaders of one Muslim group could lead to tension with a rival, breakaway group.
On October 18, 2017, a group calling itself the Kumasi Youth Association (KuYA) attacked Daily Guide’s office in Kumasi, demanding an apology for what they considered offensive reportage by the newspaper about the revered king of the Ashantis, Otumfour Osei Tutu II.
On January 5, 2016, a mob attacked Jerryson FM, threatening the staff and forcing the station to shut down temporarily. The action of the mob, clients of a collapsed microfinance company who had lost their savings, was based on misinformation that the director of the radio station owned the collapsed microfinance company.
Unfortunately, only the World Press Freedom Day attack on Dagbon FM has received redress, albeit only symbolic. The political activist Mumuni Osman and his accomplice were on May 10, 2023, sentenced to a fine of GH₵3,600.00 (300 USD) each or in default serve a custodial sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment in hard labour.
Status of Redress
In what was hailed as a major push-back against impunity, a court in Accra ruled on January 13, 2023, that Ghana’s National Security Coordinator, the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General render an apology to Emmanuel Ajarfor Abugri, Editor of the online news portal, ModernGhanaonline.com for the abuse of his rights. The Human Rights Division Court 2 also ordered the heads of these institutions to pay compensation and costs to the journalist. The respondents are also to pay for the journalist’s gadgets including a laptop, two mobile phones and a tablet which were seized by National Security agents.
Unfortunately, the bubble of excitement over this milestone verdict has since fizzled into huge disappointment, as the respondents have so far failed to comply.
It is the same with the “arrest” of the attackers of Benya FM.
“The authorities just wanted to make a show to appease the various calls for action against the attackers. The court discharged the culprits, although it was established they were the guys who stormed our studios, and despite the evidence in the form of the studio equipment that was destroyed,” Programme Manager at Benya FM, Osman Kwaku Dawood, lamented to the MFWA in a telephone chat.
A similar dead-end with regard to the attack on Radio Ada, despite what seemed to be the best efforts of the authorities. The NMC visited the station and met the management to explore ways of getting the perpetrators to face the law. The police offered a financial reward of GHC10,000 for credible information leading to the arrest of suspects. Yet, a year later, the Management of the station lamented to The Fourth Estate that the police were not showing commitment to the case. A year and ten months on, the perpetrators are still at large.
In view of the culture of impunity surrounding previous attacks on media houses, the reported arrest of the invaders of UTV must be hailed with a measure of caution, if not skepticism. The management of UTV, the media fraternity and media rights defenders must continue to follow up to ensure effective prosecution of the perpetrators.
“These attacks and the impunity surrounding them go to the heart of the increasing culture of violent lawlessness in the country. The involvement of personnel of the various security services and political party activists in attacks on media houses is particularly disturbing. First of all, one would expect political parties and their affiliates to be foremost in appreciating the invaluable support the media offers to their activities. Secondly, the security agencies, especially the police, must be seen to be discharging their duties of helping to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of such attacks. But their own involvement encourages other perpetrators,” said Muheeb Saeed, head of Freedom of Expression at the MFWA.
Regarding the way forward, media houses need to undertake an audit of their security mechanisms and reinforce them. The entrance to the premises of media houses must have decent gates with robust security posts, and entry into newsrooms and studios must be subject to electronic clearance.
The NMC, the National Commission for Civic Education and the Information Service Department should step up efforts to sensitise the public about the critical constitutional role of the media in facilitating access to information, and thereby promoting transparent and accountable public service. They must also educate the public to understand that grievances about media content can be reported to the Commission for redress.
Political party leaders should show example to their supporters by their conduct and attitude towards the media. It is important for political parties and politicians to educate their followers to respect the media and to channel their grievances against any media organisations to their leaders for redress. More importantly, the leadership must be seen to take disciplinary action against members of their party who attack the media.
Finally, the leadership of the various security services should call their officers to order regarding their penchant for invading media houses on the least pretext. Errant security agents who attack media organisations or journalists must be disciplined.
In addition to following up to ensure that perpetrators of violence against the media are duly punished, media organisations must themselves adopt a posture of zero tolerance for abusers. It is common to see people attack a media house and easily get sister media organisations offering their platforms to the perpetrators in a matter of hours. This practice must stop in favour of a new practice of formally boycotting bullies for a definite period.