Following Ghana’s steep decline in press freedom ranking, journalists share harrowing experiences

Yesterday May 3, 2022 was celebrated as World Press Freedom Day. As the celebrations went on, the Reporters without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index was published. The Index ranks countries on the state of press freedom. For the first time in 17 years, Ghana which once ranked as the number in Africa, dropped 30 spots to rank at 60, with the country’s situation described as problematic.

According RSF the purpose of the Index is to compare the level of press freedom enjoyed by journalists and media in 180 countries and territories. This comparison is based on a definition of press freedom formulated by RSF and its panel experts when developing the new methodology to be used from 2022 onwards.

And it reads: “Press freedom is defined as the ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety.”

The Index’s rankings RSF says, are based on a score ranging from 0 to 100 that is assigned to each country or territory, with 100 being the best possible score (the highest possible level of press freedom) and 0 the worst.

This score is calculated on the basis of two components:

  • a quantitative tally of abuses against journalists in connection with their work, and against media outlets;
  • a qualitative analysis of the situation in each country or territory based on the responses of press freedom specialists (including journalists, researchers, academics and human rights defenders) to an RSF questionnaire available in 23 languages, it added.

However, when the ranking was published the Ghana government officials its apologetics swung into action explaining away the rank, attributing it to the new methodology used by the RSF.

In response two journalists shared their experiences on social media.

Della Russel who works with the state-owned newspaper the Daily Graphic wrote about how her life and that of her family were threatened by national security operatives while she worked on a story.

She eventually had to stop pursuing the story as the threats and pressure increased, while her employers did nothing. Then the government aligned private newspaper, the Daily Guide published a story linking her to the activist movement #FixtheCountry, describing her as a leader.

Russel wrote: “It’s not just ranking, there are real horror stories behind Ghana’s drop in presss freedom. This is one of my untold stories.

In August 2019 when I was nearly lynched by a mob claiming to be Christians, I thought that probably was my worst experience as a journalist, until events in September & October 2020 came knocking with State Security on my neck over a story I was following.

It was one of the stories that went unheard because my life and that of my family were in danger, more especially as it was electioneering period and people would have impugned all manner of theories to to me speaking up then.

Those moments were terrifying such that for nearly two weeks, I never slept at home. A few media managers and colleagues were privy to the these events.

I couldn’t go to the police because this was an institution that had its men manhandle me in the past and they have failed to release their own Investigative report on that incident. Clearly, I had no confidence in them and it was better I take charge of my own safety.

My own establishment, I will say, was not supportive despite the evidence that were available. Those periods, I must say, were my lowest moments ever.

The trauma alone got me suicidal on countless occasions.

However on May 4, 2021, at the height of the #FixTheCountry campaign, when the Editors of Daily Guide decided to published and project me as a Leader of the Group who is to lead a planned demonstration by the group, my establishment’s reaction was one that could send one to an early grave as a result of cardiac arrest.

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) however came through for me – making my safety their priority.

There’s no denying fact that journalism standards have fallen as a result of some journalists making it a priority to protect the system against public interest for their own gains.

If Ghana has dropped to 30 places in 2022 World Press Freedom Index by ranking 60th in the world and 9th in Africa from the previous third position, it should not surprise you because there may be several untold stories of attacks like mine that probably went unreported for fear of being penalised by the system.

Journalism is not a crime. And it’s time men stop abusing state power to treat us as criminals for simply doing our job.”

Samuel Dowuona, who once worked for Adom FM shared his story of how his former boss called him and advised him to drop a story he was working on, because the sector minister could harm their business.

“It is under this government that my employer called me and subtly cautioned me against a public interest story I was doing, by telling me that the sector minister is vicious and can harm the business if I didn’t quit doing those stories.

Someway!” He wrote.

In 2018, Courage Yayra Klutse of TV3 did an expose the former CEO of the Ghana Maritime Authority on a matter of conflict of interest for the refurbishment of his official bungalow and the supply of lunch by a hotel he owns to board meetings. Klutse posted about how a press conference was organized to attack his person. He also posted that the ruling party supporters constantly verbally abused him.

“I have bn very quiet and mute on many issues . I exposed the former Ghana maritime bosses conflict of interest in the award of a contract for the refurbishment of his official bungalow and provision of lunch by his hotel to board meetings without any tender process. A whole press conference was organized on me and I was vilified. I was constantly insulted by party assigns and fabricated stories run about me. The painful part was attempts to get my company board members to sack me for no reason . You see, those board members despite business minded, supported me as long as my stories brought facts and truth out. It is not everything that is said. You want to see a physical abuse of me before you know I am under attack? Let’s get serious in this country. Our Press Freedom Rankings STINKS and we are not gonna get any better soon,” Klutse wrote.

Ghanaian journalists work under a great deal of pressure because of the structure of media ownership in the country. A study by the RSF has found that some 90 per cent of media organisations in Ghana are owned by politicians or their associates and in most cases, journalists doing stories that are perceived to be detrimental to the government of the day are asked to stop.

By Emanuel K. Dogbevi

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