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The Jubilee House Encounter and the Sogakope Abetment!

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It’s been all over the place since last Wednesday evening when it took place at the Jubilee House.

I have heard some say that the Minister of Information must go – no, not sacked, but leave of his own volition for allowing himself to be made a fool of in front of his peers. The “Encounter” brought together about 70 media people to listen to and disseminate the administration’s words, which according to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) was “a far cry from the previous engagements the presidency has had with the media. To start with, the programme started later than scheduled. This no doubt affected the number of questions that could be asked within the scheduled time. Also, the President’s introductory address was too long (40 minutes) and largely focused on praise-singing the achievements of his government. The President, whose speech took a chunk of the time, later spent too much time overly elaborating his responses to the questions asked. This contributed to journalists having less time to ask questions.”

Furthermore, according to the MFWA, “the President interfered in the work of the moderator (Information Minister) regarding the selection of journalists to ask questions. Even though the information minister had anticipated and promised 70 questions from journalists, the President completely overturned the outline for the question session allowing just about 15 questions.” Taking the Information Minister on, MFWA said his “strategy to pre-group journalists and their questions under specific themes proved restrictive and made it almost impossible for journalists to ask follow-up questions.”

It is all too easy for officials, elected or unelected, to assume airs of being all-wise, all-knowledgeable, and beyond reproach. The Office of President is held in high esteem – and so should it be – due to its pre-eminence in the administration of the country, not because the occupant is any more superior than the rest of us. The pre-eminence is what rubs off onto the occupant and not the other way round… The occupant can either uphold that or through acts of omission and commission bring the office into disrepute. This opens it up to ridicule and opprobrium. One way or the other, that was what the Ghanaian media was put through, hence the overwhelming bashing of the Wednesday Jubilee House Encounter.

But really, why are they complaining? Have they so soon forgotten about their own threatened boycott of NPP events and activities due to its anti-media postures since it came to power? The same MFWA earlier in the year catalogued numerous violent anti-media infractions by the NPP administration and served notice…The GJA and some specific media houses said enough was enough after the Hajia Fati assault on a journalist had shocked not only the media fraternity but the entire political establishment.

The Ghanaian media has itself to blame. It is just too obsequious to political office-holders. That is why the administration, in this instance could order them about and brazenly and blatantly treat them as a megaphone for what has been described as a State of the Nation Address…It is this same media that openly campaigned against President Mahama in the 2016 presidential elections. Any wonder then, that this administration can feel such kinship to them as to demand from them questions before the Encounter?

All in all, the 40 minutes speech itself sounded like a response to President Mahama’s speech at the Trade Faire site to supporters after he had presented his nomination papers to the General Secretary of the NDC. If what was read to the journalists sounded like a State of the Nation Address, it must be because President Mahama’s was strong on national issues and certain specifics…In fact, some of the statements were undisguised responses.

Even as the Encounter’s fallouts were still being digested, it was reported that participants in a radio programme had been invited by the Divisional Police Headquarters at Sogakope as part of an investigation into an “Abetment of Crime, To Wit, Offensive Conduct, Conducive To the Breach Of The Peace…” All because a radio panellist had said the President is a “foolish man and bogus man”!

Though some would find it offensive, there are others who would find such an opinion fair comment! Former President Mahama was called all sorts of unpalatable words: Corrupt and incompetent, were hurled at him ad nauseam, without mercy or justification…He endured it all and never once did the police invite anyone to answer “Abetment of Crime” charges. Even as the then opposition splattered him with these words and more, he took it all in the spirit of the freedom of expression. For the NPP Chairperson in Sogakope to politicise the police in such a manner and for the police to servilely acquiesce, sends yet again, the frightening signals of media intolerance and contempt taking root in Ghana. The “suspects” were not “invited” by the police for investigation into possible civil defamation/libel, but “abetment of crime”, an ominous throwback, giving off whiffs of criminal libel, which as we know has no place in the Constitution of the 4th Republic.

Today, Monday December 24 2018, Christmas eve, the provincial town of Sogakope may be the setting for lively court debates on foolish and bogus as 2018 morphs into 2019…

Columnist: Oli A. Rahman

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