18 March 2014

Ghana: National Security and Stone-Age Operational Procedures!


The irrational fear of national security operatives of media men and their crass ignorance that democratic rule has been restored in the country for the past 22 years was on full display at the "Adjei Kojo wasteland" last Friday, March 14, 2014.

That eventful day, a four-person news crew of TV Africa, about to fulfil their constitutional obligation to keep Ghanaians informed, was brutalized on the ruins of the 100 demolished houses by members of a 50-man joint military-police contingent, led by a senior military officer, ColonelKofi Ahadzie.

According TV Africa's head of news and current affairs, Mr. A.C Ohene, in a petition to the National Media Commission, the news crew, led by a lady, was forced to remove their socks, were indecently body-searched, had their video camera seized and detained for two hours before being released without the camera.

Later when Colonel Ahadzie 'repented' and called Yaa Hammond, the crew leader, to go for the seized camera, Mr. Oheneaccompanied her, hoping to get answers as to why the harassment of his staff, confiscation of equipment and their illegal detention?

Mr. Ohene told the NMC that he met Colonel Ahadzie with a Colonel Nibo (Army Public Relations) and that to his question whether it was a crime to film the Adjei Kojo rubbles, they said no.

So why the harassment, seizure of camera and detention? It was because the security personnel at Adjei Kojo suspected the TV Africa news crew of "offensive intent" since they did not seeking permission before beginning to film.

Colonels Ahadzie and Nibo, Mr. Ohene said, dismissed his demand for unqualified apology out of hand, insisting rather that they deserved an apology from TV Africaand that the treatment meted out to the crew was "normal treatment that is given to anybody under suspicion".

Thereafter, the two senior military officers released the video camera, but without the film, since it should "not carry any audio-visuals that could be used for stories against them".

The Chronicle is flabbergasted and wonders whether this is the beginnings of a state within a state, where in a constitutional democracy the military becomes a law unto itself and brazenly obstructs the freedom of expression guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution.

Regrettably, this military disdain for the media is threatening to become an unholy way of life with them: A little over a year go on March 6, 2013, at the 56th independence anniversary soldiers, armed with electric shockers, brutalized two photo-journalists from the Graphic and Ghanaian Times.

Though they damaged the camera of the Times man, they refused to take responsibility, until they were forced to by public opinion.

First, they set up a secret panel of inquiry that cleared the soldiers of any wrong doing, even though the victims did not know that the panel was sitting, nor were they invited to state their side of the case.

The hue and cry that greeted this kangaroo report forced the military to suddenly eat humble pie, apologise unconditionally and buy a new camera for the Times man.

The Chronicle is disappointed that apparently no sensitization was carried out by Army High Command or National Security to re-orientate security personnel and wean them away from the Abongo mentality of obey before complaint. That is still useful, only inside the barracks and not outside it.

Media men and women, especially those from radio and TV, are easily identifiable by their camera and microphones and cannot be confused with "anybody under suspicion". If the military had properly been inducted into the tenets or ethos of democracy, the camera of the TV Africa news crew would have been sufficient to put the senior military man on duty on notice that they could be media men and not people with "offensive intent".

A simple demand for their IDs would have settled their identity beyond all reasonable doubt and the Military High Command would have been saved this current unnecessary embarrassment.

In a constitutional democracy the media have free access and do not need any security personnel's permission to do their work. The earlier the military realized that the better it would be for its image.


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