Attacks on the Press 2002: Ghana

One year after President John Agyekum Kufuor’s media-friendly government repealed Ghana’s criminal defamation law, the state imposed controls on reporting about interclan clashes in March, after a local tribal king and several of his supporters were killed during a feud between rival clans in the northern Dagbon region. Kufuor declared a state of emergency, which was still in effect at year’s end, and the information minister announced that unless journalists were writing about official government-produced press releases, they were required to clear stories on the conflict in Dagbon with the ministry.

Initially, media outlets were divided over whether to obey these restrictions. In the end, however, most journalists largely ignored the rules and confronted little government censorship as a result.

Ghana has several private and state-owned publications, although most are based near the capital, Accra, and in Kumasi, a city in the central part of the country. In addition to two state-owned radio stations, there are more than a dozen private FM stations that operate by and large with little government interference.

The Ghana Journalists’ Association, a media ethics committee created in 2001, successfully mediated several cases during 2002 that would ordinarily have gone to court. The committee heard complaints about the publication of pornography and corruption among journalists. It also heard a case brought in December 2001 by the Defense Ministry against the Ghanaian Democrat, which the ministry accused of repeatedly “packaging sensational stories about the Ghana Armed Forces.” During the mediation, which both sides agreed was fair and balanced, editors complained about the difficulty of accessing military information, while the military promised to keep lines of communication open for members of the media.

In March, Margaret Amoakohene, a commentator and a lecturer at the School of Communications Studies of the University of Ghana, and Kweku Baako Jr., the editor-in-chief of the Crusading Guide, received death threats twice, both apparently in response to their critical stance against the family of Ghana’s former president, Jerry Rawlings. Police investigations implicated Victor Smith, one of Rawlings’ top aides. The case went to trial in July, and Rawlings denies any involvement in the threats. Smith maintains that while he “drafted some points” for an “open letter” to journalists who had criticized Rawlings, he did not conspire to attack anyone. The case was still in trial at year’s end.

March 30

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The government imposed strict controls on reporting about interclan clashes in the northern Dagbon region of Ghana. Information Minister Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey stated that unless journalists were “reporting an official release from my office, [they] should clear any other news items on the Dagbon affair with the ministry.”

Obetsebi-Lamptey was referring to events that occurred on March 25, when the king of Ghana’s Dagomba tribe was killed in the town of Yendi in Dagbon, along with at least 25 of his supporters. Intense feuding between rival clans that had begun that day sparked the killings. On March 27, President John Kufuor declared a state of emergency. The Emergency Powers Act of 1994 allows the president to censor any news from or about the area affected by a state of emergency.

Defending the government’s decision to impose controls on the media, Obetsebi-Lamptey said various stations had broadcast news that was “highly inflammatory.” In November, the government extended the state of emergency indefinitely. However, sources said that the media have for the most part ignored the restrictions, and that the government has not censored or punished the press in retaliation.