Anita Nana Asabea Akonor speaking to some journalists

Speakers at a symposium on Press Freedom in Ghana through the years, on Thursday urged media practitioners to work against influences and professional breaches, which undermine their independence to produce credible news for society’s advancement.

They paid tribute to the forebears who fought for freedom in the eras of dictatorship and military regimes, pointing out that their struggles and sacrifices had paid off with Ghana being celebrated as having the best of freedoms in Africa today.

However, they noted that the media had to perform above the influences from the owners, advertisers, the government of the day being the largest source of news, gifts, as well as their own partisan interests and agendas to guarantee their independence.

The Reverend Professor Emmanuel Asante, the Chairman of the Peace Council, chaired the symposium under theme: “Addressing Press Freedom in Ghana – The Search for Democracy: Lessons learned and the Way Forward,” to herald the World Press Freedom Day.

Dr Anthony Bonah-Koomson, a media consultant, Mr Cameron Duodu, an ace journalist and a Former Editor of the Daily Graphic, Mrs Mavis Kitcher, Editor of the Junior Graphic, Assistant Commissioner of Police, David Eklu, Director-General of Public Affairs of the Ghana Police Service, Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, the Chairman of the National Media Commission, among others, spoke to the issue.

Other speakers were Dr Messan Mawugbe, the Founder of the Centre for Media Analysis and Mr Zaya Yeebo, the Managing Editor of the Public Agenda.

Dr Bonah-Koomson, a veteran media lecturer, stated that the greatest threat to modern day journalism was the lack of personal and professional integrity, adding that a journalist without integrity was susceptible to threats, favours and intimidation.

Such journalists, he said, did not reflect on the motives of their news sources, were not humble enough to accept their errors and underestimated the influences of the gifts they received on their judgements.

He said in succumbing to the influence of gifts, those who had good stories but could not offer same would not be heard.

Dr Bonah-Koomson advised media practitioners to be mindful of the power they wielded in order not to use it to undermine individuals and the society for their selfish gains.

They should be patriotic, he said, while noting that course was bound to attract rampant persecution.

Mr Duodu said journalists should always be independent minded and stand up for the truth regardless of the consequences.

Sharing some of his experiences and that of journalists in the developed world , he said those who wielded power had always been suspicious of journalists.

However, journalism was so important to the world that practitioners had to suffer for the cause of truth based on facts to save society from wrongdoers.

“Report the facts and let the circumstances take over,” he declared.

For his part, Rev. Prof Asante lauded the media for making positive contributions to Ghana’s democratic growth.

He, however, cautioned against the arbitrary use of the media’s power to serve personal interests.

Prof. Asante said journalists should readily admit wrong doing whenever it turned out that a story had distorted facts.

He called for the passage of the Right to Information Bill to prevent some journalists from speculating instead of going for the facts to make society better informed.

He also advocated for journalists to specialise in their areas of reportage because it was much less likely to lead to misrepresentation of facts as they would be more conversant with issues in their fields.

Dr Mawugbe said it was important to promote constructive freedom of the media to eliminate excesses, stereotyping and partisanship.

He observed, for instance, that news reports from the three regions of the north were characterised by vandalism, violence and conflict, giving the impression that there was nothing else to report from there.

“Constructive freedom should empower us to give a clear and comprehensive picture of our various regions and not only when they make negative news,” Dr Mawugbe said.

Mrs Kitcher also called for the respect of ethics to cut sensationalism and reiterated the call for the passage of the RTI.

Mr Affail Monney, the President of the Ghana Journalists Association, said effective self regulation by the media was critical for improvement and efficiency.

He said the GJA would roll out capacity building programmes towards that cause.

ACP Eklu said the reports from the investigations being carried into the incidents involving the police and journalists over the past few weeks would be released as soon they were ready to help build healthy relationships.

He said the Ghana Police Service had plans to hold specialised training for journalists and the police on police-media relations to minimise incidents of misunderstanding between the two professionals.

ACP Eklu observed that there was the need for understanding between journalists and the police, because the two often worked along-side each other.

The symposium was organised by the GJA.

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The Ghana news Agency (GNA) was established on March 5, 1957, i.e. on the eve of Ghana's independence and charged with the "dissemination of truthful unbiased news". It was the first news agency to be established in Sub-Saharan Africa. GNA was part of a comprehensive communication policy that sought to harness the information arm of the state to build a viable, united and cohesive nation-state. GNA has therefore been operating in the unique role of mobilizing the citizens for nation building, economic and social development, national unity and integration.

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