The immediate past President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, has stated categorically that he has no regrets that an obnoxious law that gagged the Ghanaian press, the Criminal Libel Law, was expunged from the country’s statue books during his tenure.
“We haven’t regretted it at all. We believe quadrupling of investments within months of the repeal is ample testimony that we did a good thing,” the former Ghanaian President said.
Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor made the statement at a forum organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) at which he was guest speaker, on the theme “Government-Media Relations in a Developing Democracy”, in Accra Tuesday August 10, 2010.
Admitting that the repeal of the law had resulted in some bad media practices, the former statesman said he believed Ghana will mature as a nation out of that. “We are still not very matured but we are getting there,” he assured.
He also expressed his conviction that things would gradually improve, especially in view of the presence of ICT, saying that Ghana was no more insulated against the rest of the world.
Commenting on whether the repeal of the law gave the Ghanaian media unlimited freedom, Mr. Kufuor stressed; “I never believed in absolute freedom. I believe that every freedom must be exercised with a sense of responsibility.”
The former president however cautioned that care must be taken in addressing the excesses of the freedom of the press. “Like a parent who disciplines the child, one must be careful not to break the spirit of that child when disciplining,” he said.
“Exercising freedom is a right that must be learnt and I believe we are all learning,” he submitted further.
Touching on why the Freedom of Information Bill was not passed into law during his tenure, former President Kufuor intimated that some well-meaning people in his government and party received repeal of the Criminal Libel Law with mixed feelings, asking whether they had not rushed in scrapping it from the statute books because of the backlash after its repeal.
He said even well developed democracies like the United States of America and Britain, had passed similar laws such as the Freedom of Information Act only recently, he said it behoved on a fledgling democracy like Ghana’s to take time to get it right.
In his welcome address, the Executive Director of MFWA, Professor Kwame Karikari, said the forum was also to commemorate the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law nine years ago.
He also said it was to afford the former president the opportunity to give an account of government’s relationship with the media during his tenure.
According to Professor Karikari the repeal of that Criminal Libel Law “is like the attainment of the freedom of the tongue and the pen.”
Announcing that all things being equal, next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, which will be marked by a national conference, the Executive Director said; “If people cannot express their minds and thoughts without fear, then there can be no democracy.”
The forum was attended by senior media practitioners and media stakeholders and was moderated by ace journalist, Kweku Sakyi-Addo, Communications Director, Aqua Vitens Rand Limited.
By Edmund Smith-Asante