- Less than two months before presidential and general elections in Ghana, radio stations operating in the Northern Region of the country have been banned from broadcasting "political" discussions, interviews and phone-in programmes. No reason was given, but the ban is seen in connection with the political turmoil in the region.
Ghana's Deputy Minister for the Region, Charles Bintim, who is also chairman of the Northern Regional Security Council (REGSEC), imposed the ban on 11 October in a meeting with directors and news editors of radio stations in Tamale, the regional capital.
Ghana's Northern Region has been the subject of national security concerns since the King of the Dagbon traditional area, Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II, was killed in April 2002, together with 40 others, in a chieftaincy dispute. In August this year, however, the government of Ghana, based on a determination that security conditions had significantly abated, lifted a state of emergency and curfew that had been in force since the death of the Ya-Na.
This month's ban on political radio programmes therefore came as a surprise. Deputy Minister Bintim gave no reason for the ban on "political discussion, interviews, newspaper reviews and phone-ins," but the ban came after a 15-year old boy, Mohammed Amin Sumani, was shot and killed on 9 October.
Mr Bintim, without presenting any evidence, also claimed that 70 percent of supposed tension in Tamale is caused by the media. Local radio stations have denied the charge, claiming, on the contrary, that they had contributed to the attainment of peace in the region by producing "peace jingles" and providing "air-time for peace messages."
According to the Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), three of the radio stations operating in the area have protested the ban. The radio stations say the ban infringes on their constitutional rights to inform the people of the region.
On 22 October, the three regional radio stations Diamond FM, Filla FM and Justice FM, published their statement of protest. They called on the REGSEC, "as a matter of urgency, to review the directive and allow [them] to carry political discussions and accept political messages, as the continuous ban is a violation of [their] rights and tantamount to gagging radio stations in the metropolis."
While encouraging all radio stations and journalists in the Northern Region to be guided by their professional, ethical and constitutional obligations of responsibility and discretion, the MFWA today protested what it called "the arbitrary ban on 'political' programmes announced by the deputy minister."
MFWA called on Ghanaians to send protest appeals to President John Agyekum Kufuor, saying the ban was countering constitutional rights of the press. The legal framework and press ethics already provided "adequate institutional avenues for regulating and addressing any purported professional journalistic breaches," the foundation holds.
Ghana has been blessed with relatively high levels of press freedom and stability during the government of President Kufuor, which has produced a vibrant and professional press in the country. The political turmoil in the Northern Region is one of the few exceptions in Ghana's internal peace and stability.
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