The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) heard with dismay President Akufo-Addo's comment that the killing of Ahmed Hussein Suale, a member of the Tiger Eye PI team led by investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, should not be described as an attack on press freedom.
Speaking at a Ghana Bar Association conference in Takoradi in the Western Region of Ghana on September 9, 2019, the President suggested that the murder might well be a crime that is unrelated to the victim's work, and concluded that it was premature to describe the incident as a crime against the media.
The MFWA is highly disappointed with the President's comments for the following reasons:
First of all, the attack came barely six months after the release of the investigative video Number 12, which exposed corruption in football in Ghana and Africa, following which several threats were made on the lives of the Tiger Eye PI Team.
Indeed, a leading member of the President's party and a Member of Parliament, Kennedy Agyapong, launched a vigorous hate campaign against the Tiger Eye PI team following the release of the investigative documentary. He even went as far as sharing the pictures of Ahmed Suale in particular, showing where he lived and inciting his supporters to attack Suale whenever they met him.
Under these circumstances, it is natural, reasonable and logical to attribute Suale's murder to his work, and whoever thinks otherwise bears the burden of proof.
The same applies, for instance, to the case of Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018. His fallout with the Saudi government and his subsequent critical articles about the monarchy provided circumstantial grounds for the murder to be attributed to his work by all press freedom and human rights organisations including the UN system.
We also find quite baffling the President's analogy regarding the murder of J.B. Danquah, the former Member of Parliament, which he said cannot be described as an attack on Parliament. Indeed, if the former parliamentarian had been killed after threats on his life following a stand he had taken on an issue or a damning statement he had made in Parliament about an individual or a group, the conclusion, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, would be that the attack is an attempt to intimidate Parliament and censor its members.
There is no doubt that the circumstances of Suale's murder sent a chill down the spine of journalists in Ghana and has the potential to intimidate the media to self-censor and also make journalists fear for their lives when they are threatened. This can be explained by the fact that Manasseh Azure Awuni and Edward Adeti both had to arrange for personal security following threats they received in connection with their work as journalists. We, therefore, find it highly disappointing for the President to be in denial of this fact by suggesting in such a casual manner that the murder is not an attack on press freedom.
As President of Ghana, Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo has the ultimate oversight over the work of the security and intelligence agencies charged with investigating and prosecuting crime. We, therefore, urge the President to continue to provide the necessary support to the investigative agencies to unravel Suale's murder and bring the perpetrators to book. We also appeal to the President to recognise the recent upsurge in attacks on journalists in the country and to take measures to improve Ghana's press freedom environment.
We have also noted the President's call for "responsible journalism" in Ghana. It is, however, our view that political actors and public authorities' idea of responsible journalism is often subjective.
Moreover, they often make such calls when they are dissatisfied with critical reportage. What the MFWA therefore calls for is professional journalism. We also urge the media to sustain the recent critical and investigative reports that are contributing significantly to the fight against corruption in Ghana.
Finally, we urge political parties and governments to demonstrate their abhorrence of unprofessional journalism by desisting from rewarding unethical and mercenary journalists with political appointments.