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FEATURE : Right To Information Inconsequential In Ghana

Will the passage of the Right to Information bill into law enable ordinary Ghanaians to hold government accountable for ensuring high level of transparency in governance?
Even though Ghana recognizes numerous United Nations conventions on human rights and is a signatory to a number of international treaties including the right to information held by municipal physiques (UN General Assembly resolution adopted in 1946: Res. 59), the question that still remains unanswered is whether we truly need the Right to Information Law. The other question is whether it is obligatory to adopt those laws into our Municipal Laws, especially when they serve little purpose for the participatory State interests.
African countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Nigeria among others, are often recognized as having joined other counties internationally in adopting the convention of the Right to Information into their Municipal laws. In spite of that, has there been any change about their media landscape in relations to accessing state information? In Zimbabwe, this law has rather been used to protect Public Information. Could the adoption of the Convention guarantee free or easy access to public information in any of the other countries, especially in Rwanda? If yes, has it met its usefulness in making their governments accountable to the people?
Ghana as a country, its citizens as people, media as its strong communication tool, Media/political Communication practitioners, among other stakeholders need something better than Right to Public
Information Law. There is the need for good and responsible governance, responsible citizenship, responsible media, responsible media/communication practitioners and most importantly, a rigorous Constitutional Reform. Those are more consequential than the Right to Information Law which may become an albatross while it continues to remain elusive in our body politic.
The system of governance in our country which leaves much to be desired is more a matter of concern than a mere “Right to Information Law”. As much as it may appear vital for citizens to access quality information for effective contribution to governance, it is equally important to understand that disclosure of public information to journalists and other stakeholders (citizens) is not a panacea to good governance to guarantee accountability. Our system of governance grants the government of the day all the powers to decide and implement anything, whether it is in the public interest or not. An example is the recent Ghana/US bilateral 20million dollar military pact. Despite the wide public outcry, government went ahead and signed the deal without recourse to the feelings of the ordinary Ghanaian, a proof that the information and/or education they would have put out there would have been the same. Like they say, "The value will remain the same."
The main causal factor in this regard is due to “Constitution dysfunctionality”, which has given the Executive too much power to do and undo anything without consulting the people. It may appear therefore, that Ghana requires something more than a mere “Right to Information Law”. If the interest of the citizens is truly their avowed concern, the media fraternity and civil society organizations should rather be lobbying for the abandoned “Constitutional Reforms” project, which had consumed $6.8 million of the taxpayers’ money and have its recommendation rubbished by the government.
Civil society organizations and other various stakeholders in the media fraternity should rather seek ways to bring the media and its practitioners under control and task them to be more proactive in using the leverage they utilized in the repeal of the criminal libel law to champion the Right to Information bill into Law. The media industry in Ghana has since 2001 become irresponsible due to the repeal of the criminal and seditious laws (Amendment Bill) Act 2001. Even though its repeal was necessary, lack of other strict measures as a replacement seems to be the major concern, diluting its relevance. There has been an open abuse of media freedom allowing it to sink into ambiences of hateful and “cacophonic contents”, offensive statements, and unsubstantiated allegations against key personalities and institutions. In most cases our media is often filled with unnecessary propaganda and falsehood created and used by proponents deliberating on national issues for political gains. Worst offenders are the HATE speeches, tribal sentiments and selfish interests that has permeated the media.
Could it be that the mild punishment against offending journalists has paved the way for the irresponsible journalism in our media landscape? Under the current law, a defendant in a libel case would only go to jail after deliberately refusing to pay damages when he or she has the capacity to do so. In this case if he cannot afford to pay, the law again is silent on the next form of punishment to be meted out to such an offender. This is usually left to the discretion of the judge. For instance, the Media and Criminal Libel Law in Ghana Section 112 of the Criminal Code created the offence of negligence and intentional libel. Under Act 29 the maximum penalty for negligent libel is a fine not exceeding forty Ghanaian Cedis (¢40.00), while that for intentional libel, defined as a misdemeanor, has a term of imprisonment not exceeding three years. (Journal of Law, Policy and Globalization; www.iiste.org. Vol.9, 2013 27 published”). The Civil Society and the rest of the stakeholders should make a conscious effort to address this abuse of the existing dispensation before the country is led into further distress.
Many Ghanaians have lost that sense of “Love for Nation” pride due to the polarization of all systems through activities of the elite, and negative contributions by the Media. Using the Hypodermic Needle or Magic Bullet theory, the Media in Ghana has contributed immensely in eroding that sense of pride of being a Ghanaian among the citizens due to partisan politics. The media is largely responsible for playing a major role in this regard. It failed in objectively helping to shape the Nation and its people in the process of its watchdog role, surveillance and correlation, among others. One major instance is how the industry has allowed itself to be manipulated by the political elites. Our recent research findings indicate that about 90 per cent of the Ghanaian media is biased. Respondents expressed frustrations over the abysmal performances of the media industry, blaming it on poor regulatory mechanisms, especially between 2016 and 2018. Almost 85 percent of media outlets have had a side to take when it comes to active or partisan politics, with NPP and NDC at the center of affairs. Media ownership could be apportioned part of the blame. However, corruption among a cross section of Journalists and/or Media owners cannot be ruled out. News and/or Public Relations activities in the country have all now taken “a paid for production” dimension in our media landscape, instead of hitherto tradition of the media craving to owe a pride in disseminating information for public consumption for free. In many instances some Journalists and/or their media houses have to take money before such content is considered by the editorial board for publication or broadcasting.
Moreover, the right answers have not been provided for the million-dollar questions over the Right to Information Bill. Even though Article 21 of the 1992 Constitution speaks of right to information for the people as one of the major fundamental human rights, it is still not clear as to what type of information should be put out there in the public domain. It, therefore, raises the following questions:
What type of information is needed by who or whom?
From whom or which department it should be obtained?
And for what purpose(s)?
Ghanaians are often quick to adopt foreign cultures without any deep scrutiny. What is baffling, in most cases, is how blatantly we follow our perceived educated folks in embracing such cultures without comparing they are compatible to ours. For example, the importation of foreign finished products such as cosmetics, rice and other foodstuffs, chicken, fabrics among others, have had adverse effect on our local production, yet Ghanaians continue to trust the elite who make profits on these items, preferring them to our local commodities. This is no different from adopting international conventions into our Municipal laws.
The question then is "What specific information does the media need that it already does not have access to?" "Who needs it for what purpose(s) and why?" "Couldn’t this be a Western idea of accessing our restricted public information for their foreign policies objectives?" "Is it obligatory to adopt a convention into our Municipal Laws?
When it comes to National Security, the country will become more susceptible to both internal and external threats. The vagaries of the international political arena cannot be trusted to allow any ordinary citizen access to state information. Predator nations can, at any time pay the fragile and susceptible Ghanaian journalist and gain access to our quasi-national policies and use it against us. More distressing is how the Ghanaian media and journalist cannot be trusted for corruption. On intelligence gathering, the media and journalist are supposed to support National Security surveillance, albeit, the opposite could happen that could compromise the country's Security.
CONCLUSION
The “Right to Information” is inconsequential in our Ghanaian society, when our constitution still grants the ruling government all the powers to even transform “a woman into a man”. It is unnecessary, a waste of time and tax payers’ money when our dysfunctional Constitution has not been reformed to fit into the 21st Century political dispensation. It is ironic to claim we care about human rights and press freedom, when our existing structures are not being utilized for their relevance such as promoting our vibrant media fraternity and the use of press freedom leverage. Stakeholders and the entire civil society should rather push for stiffer punishment for journalists and their media houses when they go contrary to the profession and the laws of the land. They should again champion the cause of restricting the Executive powers that influence judicial decisions as happened in the case between Ghana vs the Montie three and the interference by ex-president John Mahama.

The writer Mr. Abdul Rashid Gbambu, Executive Director for Curious Media International Foundation. Get to talk to him (+233544111112/0266593893)

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