World Press Freedom Day Event – As Delivered Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Stephanie S. Sullivan

World Press Freedom Day Event

Theme: “30 Years after the Windhoek Declaration: Information as Public Good”

As Delivered Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Ghana Stephanie S. Sullivan

Tuesday, May 4, 2021, 10:00am – 12noon

Honorable Minister for Information Kojo Oppong Nkrumah

Our double Chairman, National Media Commission Chairman Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh

Ghana Journalist Association Vice President Linda Asante Adjei

UN Resident Coordinator Charles Abani

UNESCO Country Director Diallo Abdourahamane

Fellow Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Representatives of the Media Associations

Esteemed Members of the Inky Fraternity

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Good Morning!  It’s a pleasure to be here with you to commemorate World Press Freedom Day.  Thank you to Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) President Affail Monney and his team for convening Government of Ghana representatives, members of civil society, the diplomatic corps, and of course, Ghana’s esteemed media.

Today, we reflect on a tumultuous year and how the media continue to play the enduring, important role of providing a public good – reliable information.  As the fourth estate, the journalistic corps informs the public and public policy, furthering the nation’s interest and development, and contributes immeasurably to accountable governance.

Ghana is a stable and thriving democracy, thanks in part to its media freedoms.  The Ghanaian media played a crucial role over the past year, during the onset of and persistence of the global pandemic.  Media outlets rallied around the Government of Ghana’s goal to disseminate accurate information about COVID-19 that informed an anxious public, encouraged adherence to health protocols, and reported on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in the face of widespread misinformation.

Amidst informing the public about the pandemic response, Ghana’s media professionals produced measured reporting during the 2020 presidential and parliamentary election season.  Even in the face of uncertainty in the immediate aftermath of the election, the reporting remained factual and balanced, and amplified messages of peace.

The United States Embassy in Accra values our long-standing partnership with the GJA.  For more than 70 years, the GJA has remained at the forefront of press freedom, advocacy, and journalists’ welfare in Ghana.  Last year, the U.S. Embassy partnered again with the GJA to host five media conventions across the country, under the theme “The 2020 Election –The Role of the Media in Promoting Civility and Discernment in the Political Discourse.”  I participated in the opening ceremony right here at the International Press Center in March last year, without a mask, in my last public engagement before the lockdown.

Those conventions brought together journalists and other civil society representatives with officials whose job it is to administer free and fair elections and maintain the integrity of the electoral process.

The U.S. government is a vocal proponent of a free press.  In fact, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is a former journalist, as is Ghana’s Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey.  On his first day on the job, Secretary Blinken addressed the U.S. Department of State press pool, saying, quote: “A free press is a cornerstone of our democracy, and this is a critical moment for protecting and defending democracy including right here at home.” End quote.  The United States values freedom of the press, and we believe all democratic nations must consistently promote a climate in which journalists are free to do their work responsibly, without fear, harassment, or intimidation.

We are encouraged by the Ministry of Information’s creation of the Framework for the National Coordinating Mechanism on Safe and Responsible Journalism that the National Media Commission is now shepherding.

As members of the media, all of you carry a huge responsibility to report the objective truth.  You know it is essential to check your sources.  Do your research.  Check your facts. When one person claims to know what’s going on, see if you can get confirmation. Seek a different perspective.   Well-rounded stories that allow the public to hear all sides serve everyone better.  Leave the one-sided reports and opinion pieces to the columnists and editorial page. Do follow-up reports to update the public on subsequent developments that might not be as headline grabbing as a breaking news story.  And speaking of headlines, for a media outlet’s credibility, abeg, use headlines that reflect the story and avoid clickbait!

And while the emphasis on responsible journalism is important, the onus cannot be on journalists and their media houses alone to stay in line, to say no to konkonsa, to refuse to amplify hate speech, and to report responsibly.  The state must play an active role in protecting media freedoms.

We are concerned about instances of harassment and intimidation of the media. The murder of journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale remains unsolved for more than two years.

Crimes against journalists need to be prosecuted as a deterrent.  Allegations of intimidation against journalists by political actors and law enforcement persist.  And broadcast station suspensions and closures need to be based on objective, transparent criteria.

Passing the Broadcasting Bill will be a good start to providing clear guardrails for the media and regulatory bodies like the National Media Commission and the National Communications Authority, while keeping sacrosanct the press freedoms enshrined in Ghana’s constitution.  The transition to digital terrestrial television also presents an opportunity for the Government of Ghana to consult with both the media and civil society to ensure fair access to Ghana’s airwaves.

The world looks to Ghana as the shining beacon of democracy in the region, rooted in the ideals of freedom of expression and speech.  On today’s observance of World Press Freedom Day, we reaffirm our commitment to walk hand-in-hand with Ghana to uphold a free, responsible, and protected media, as an essential part of a thriving democracy.

Thank you.