Ambassador’s Remarks at the West Africa Media Excellence Awards
Swiss Spirit Alisa Hotel, North Ridge, Accra, Ghana
October 22, 2021
I’m delighted to be here with you this afternoon to honor excellence in journalism in Ghana and West Africa. I’d like to extend my appreciation to the Media Foundation for West Africa’s Executive Director Sulemana Braimah and all your staff for your hard work and advocacy on behalf of journalists. The Media Foundation for West Africa develops journalists and advances journalism in diverse ways, and the United States is pleased to support your important work.
Freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, and freedom of the press are fundamental principles for every democracy. Without even one of these, democracy cannot long survive. The United States is an ardent defender of a free and responsible press. Events like this – that celebrate the value of journalism and honor individual journalists – are important to us. They highlight journalism’s contributions to an informed citizenry and accountable governance.
The theme for this year’s conference and awards, “Misinformation, Digital Media Regulation, and Journalism in Africa” is apt for the times in which we live. As professional journalists, you have a responsibility to provide factual and balanced reporting. I recognize that takes time, and the speed of digital media adds pressure to get out the story. Don’t fall into that trap. Consider the risk to your credibility and to that of your media house, if you don’t get the story right! Consider the way a rushed story or headline could mislead the public and negatively affect the debate on important topics.
For example, in the COVID era, journalists like you all played a crucial role in explaining the mitigation measures the public could take to protect itself. You continue to play a key role to report the facts and dispel myths about COVID-19 vaccines. We know that vaccines are the single most effective measure we can take to combat the spread of the pandemic, and the media is well placed to inform the public about the availability and safety of COVID 19 vaccines. Your factual reporting will ensure more people get vaccinated, as together, we race against the emergence of a potentially more virulent mutation of the virus. Vaccine hesitancy persists in the United States, and we are working on that. Meanwhile, we want to see the 43 million vaccine doses the United States has donated to Sub-Saharan countries to date are used.
Ghana’s Right to Information law is a new tool that journalists can use to combat misinformation and accurately inform the public on topics of national interest. I want to acknowledge the Media Foundation for West Africa for drafting a guidebook on the RTI law that’s sure to prove a useful resource. In the United States, the similar Freedom of Information Act (FOIA – we call it) became law in 1967 and has since driven more transparency and accountability in government. That’s not always easy for any government to embrace, but given human nature, we know it one of the best ways to ensure good stewardship of taxpayer’s dollars. We applaud Ghana’s adoption of this new law, that was 20 years in the making. And we hope you, as journalists, will learn how to use it to benefit the public.
Information is power. Transparency and accountability are essential to good governance and strong democracy. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louise Brandeis put it, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
In order to protect freedom of the press, journalists must be able to do their work free from intimidation, threats, or worse, violence. An attack on a journalist for reporting the truth is an attack on our principles. Our societies depend on factual reporting and reliable information to make key decisions. That’s why the protection of journalists and of freedom of the press is so important. The United States monitors reports of incidents of harassment and intimidation against journalists. We call for crimes against journalists to be investigated and prosecuted in a timely and transparent way.
The United States is deeply committed to freedom of the press and protection of journalists to do their work without fear or favor. We have multiple exchange, training, and professional development programs that benefit working members of the press. And more professional development for journalists leads to better journalism. That’s good for us, all as citizens in democracies. Congratulations to all the nominees today.
One more appeal on the eve of COP 26 in Glasgow: Please educate yourselves and your audiences on the existential nature of the climate crisis for all of us who inhabit planet Earth!
Once again, thank you for your work on behalf of the people of Ghana and all of West Africa to bring more “sunlight” – as Justice Brandeis put it – to all corners of the world.