The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) has expressed its disappointment with the Speaker of Parliament, Prof Mike Oquaye, following his threat to punish journalists who leave the house while it is in session to cover press conferences by individual MPs withing the precincts of the house.
The GJA said in a statement signed by its President, Roland Affail Monney that although it recognises and respects Parliament’s powers to regulate coverage of proceedings of the house for purposes of security, order and space, journalists cannot be denied accreditation on “arbitrary or content-based criteria”.
“The GJA considers the Speaker’s threat unfortunate and an affront to media freedom and free speech”, adding: “Parliament is the house of the people. And, so, in the public interest, journalists’ access to the house cannot be deemed as a privilege but a necessity to enable them report to the people what their elected representatives are up to – be it during official proceedings or any other activity in the House that are matters of great public interest.”
Read below the GJA’s full statement:
February 26, 2020
GJA CONDEMNS THREAT AGAINST PARLIAMENTARY PRESS CORPS
The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) notes with regret comments attributed to the leadership of Parliament threatening to revoke accreditation of the Parliamentary Press Corps if they ignore proceedings in the House to cover other events organised by individual members of parliament. We recognise and respect Parliament’s powers to regulate coverage of proceedings of the House for purposes of security, order and space. The GJA, however, wishes to state that journalists cannot be denied accreditation on “arbitrary or content-based criteria”.
In the instant case, the leadership of Parliament had cause to chastise the Parliamentary Press Corps and further threaten to revoke their accreditation if they did not focus on covering official sittings of the House. The Speaker of Parliament is on record to have said: “You are here as guests by my permission because of the importance this House attaches to your profession. Any such deviation would make you an unwelcome guest and your welcome would be duly withdrawn.”
This threat was in response to a decision by some members of the Parliamentary Press Corps to cover a news conference by the Minority Spokesperson on Mines and Energy, Emmanuel Armah Kofi Buah, on the state of Ghana’s power sector while proceedings were ongoing in the Chamber.
The GJA considers the Speaker’s threat unfortunate and an affront to media freedom and free speech. Parliament is the House of the people. And, so, in the public interest, journalists’ access to the House cannot be deemed as a privilege but a necessity to enable them report to the people what their elected representatives are up to – be it during official proceedings or any other activity in the House that are matters of great public interest.
We also note that while the journalists may not have right of presence in Parliament, the presence in the House greatly enhances the righteousness of the House in respect of promoting accountability, transparency, good governance and free speech and expression by members themselves.
It is not for nothing that our forebears dedicated a whole chapter (Chapter 12) in the 1992 Constitution to media freedom. Article 162(4) of the 1992 Constitution was designed to insulate the media from control or interference in the performance of their duty. Article 162(5) further mandates the media to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government (including the Legislature) to the people of Ghana without fear or favour.
We reiterate that the Speaker’s comments are tantamount to interfering with the editorial independence of the media. We further state that the decision as to what activity in Parliament to highlight, cover or give attention to is entirely within the purview of the various media houses.
Instead of flaunting its powers at the media, is it not better for the leadership of the House to demonstrate the powers and respect it commands by directing Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected and paid by the people to perform duties for, and on behalf of the people, not to disregard such duties and engage in activities within the precincts of Parliament while proceedings are ongoing? Is it not better to deal with substance rather than form?
The GJA wishes to respectfully assure Parliament of its esteem respect for the august House and the Right Honourable Speaker in particular. However, it will not countenance any action that attempts to take away the media’s right to inform the people and the people’s right to know.
The GJA will not hesitate to take any and every action, including legal recourse, to vindicate and reaffirm the freedoms and independence of the media should this unhealthy threat or admonition resurface in future.