The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) denounces the threat by Ghana’s Speaker of Parliament, Prof. Mike Oquaye, to ban journalists from covering proceedings in the Parliament House, and calls on him to withdraw.
Prof. Oquaye issued the warning on February 26, 2020, after the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, complained that journalists had abandoned proceedings in the house the previous day to interact with the opposition Member of Parliament for Ellembele, and former Minister for Energy, Honourable Emmanuel Armah Buah.
The Member of Parliament stepped out when the House was discussing the State of the Nation address delivered by the President, Nana Addo-Danka Akufo-Addo on 20th of February, 2020, which Opposition National Democratic Congress had boycotted, together with the subsequent debate on the President’s address.
“If that which is reported to have happened should happen again, I have reminded you of the fact that you are here as guests by my permission. Because of the importance this House attaches to the inking profession, any such humiliation will make you an unwelcome guest and your welcome will be duly withdrawn,” the Speaker warned.
The warning came after the Speaker had summoned and reprimanded the dean of the Parliamentary press corps over the conduct of the journalists.
The MFWA finds the Honourable Speaker’s assertion that it is by Parliament’s permission that the media covers the House as unfortunate. Parliament is a public institution that cannot bar the media from covering its ordinary plenary activities.
The suggestion that the journalists’ decision to leave the plenary in order to grant audience to the opposition MP or any other person constitutes a misconduct is equally disturbing and misplaced. It is important to emphasize that, the Speaker has not mentioned precisely what Standing Orders or conditions for the issuance of accreditation any journalist or media organisation has breached.
The media have a right to decide what and who to cover within the confines of the law. Parliamentary reporting is not exclusively about the proceedings in the Chamber. On the contrary, it includes interviews with individual Members of the House and any other activities and incidents on the premises of Parliament that the journalist considers to be of public interest. Ultimately, it is up to the editors to judge the relevance of the news material their journalists have collected during their assignment.
Chapter 12, Article 162 (1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana is unequivocal about the independent status of the Media when it states that “Freedom and independence of the media are hereby guaranteed.”
This law is inspired by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without any interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Both the journalists and the former Minister of Energy were exercising this right when they decided to interact on the sidelines of the House’s debate on the State of the Nation address and any objection to that is an act of intolerance.
We wish to emphasise that the media is not covering Parliamentary activities at the pleasure of the leadership of the House, but as a Constitutional right and duty. We therefore call on the Speaker to withdraw the threat to bar the media and urge him to rather adopt a cordial approach to resolving any differences with the media.