Letter from Elizabeth Ohene to the BBC on a recent publication on freedom of expression in Ghana

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Elizabeth Ohene reacted to the BBC program titled “The Crackdown on Freedom of Expression in Ghana”, in which the international channel referred to: “a Numbers of Ghanaian journalists and influencers have been arrested in recent years – with several recent high-profile cases. Critics say freedom of expression is under threat.”

Ms Ohene in her reaction sent the following letter to the BBC.

Dear Mike,

In January 1982, I was forced to leave Ghana in a hurry because I heard on the car radio, a directive from the new authorities who had overthrown the constitutionally elected government that I had to report to the military camp.

I had written an article in the state newspaper I worked for that it was up to the people of Ghana to vote against the government if they were unhappy with the performance of the government and no group of soldiers or no one had the right to overthrow the government and tell us how bad it was.

I found myself in exile for 19 years.

I mention this just to point out that I have been a victim of the intolerance of the expression of dissenting opinions.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since January 1982 and Ghana now prides itself on being a multi-party democracy with a vibrant press.

I will also mention that I also worked with the BBC for 14 years between 1986 and December 2000.

I should also mention that I was also in government, as Minister of State in Ghana from January 2001 to January 2009 and continue to be a frontline member of the political party currently in power.

Alright, having eliminated all that and thus firmly planting my prejudices, I can tell you what I find disturbing about this program.

Listen to the BBC broadcast now in the audio below.

The BBC is first and foremost a news organization and those who work there and make programs are mainly journalists.

We do not expect the BBC to defend only journalists and programs from other jurisdictions that meet its own standards.

But when the BBC launches a program supposed to be about Ghana’s freedom of speech which comes under attack, with a man whose fame seems to be how scurrilous he can be about his opponents, who makes no attempt to be factual and who uses the most obscene language to describe the First Lady of Ghana on every occasion I have to wonder about the BBC.

Have the show’s editors determined that this is a professional journalist being muzzled and assaulted?

Then there is the second person who is quoted.

I fully understand that for the BBC, someone who is a PhD student at Cambridge is in a rarefied stratosphere and cannot and should not be questioned by the authorities of a third world country.

Did the show’s editors take into consideration, in passing judgment on Mr. Barker-Vormawor, that he had worked in the cabinet of the two previous presidents who oppose the current government?

A bit of history here again might be helpful.

In 1981, the BBC made a program about how the Ghanaian authorities tracked the security services of Flt-Lt Jerry Rawlings and his friend Captain (Rtd) Kojo Tsikata on suspicion of plotting the violent overthrow of the government.

The 1981 program deplored the abuse of freedoms under the Constitution.

Shortly after this show aired, a coup was staged, the government was overthrown and Flt-Lt Rawlings and Capt Tsikata were the architects of this coup.

Another bit of history to make the point better.

Before joining the BBC in September 1986, I had set up a weekly news magazine on West African affairs in London which I called Talking Drums and which I edited from August 1983 to July 1986, when he collapsed.

Meanwhile, there was the miners’ strike in the UK. I wrote an article in the Talking Drums which said that if the things that were happening in the UK had happened in Ghana, some would have said that the conditions were ripe for a coup and that there would be enough justification for the coup by citing the daily complaints made by Mr. Arthur Scargill regarding police brutality.

I remember the BBC World Service invited me to be interviewed, they were so shocked, or would they be outraged, that I would make such a suggestion of a possible coup in BRITAIN.

I was living in the UK when council tax was introduced, my recollection is that there was a stronger objection than anything I’ve seen against the ELevy here.

I don’t remember anyone suggesting that the British Army should intervene to save the suffering British people.

The editors of this program think that campaigning against a tax measure means advocating for a military overthrow of an elected government?

Could it be because it is a West African country and not Great Britain?

The third-person experience quoted in the show, I’m afraid, was unknown to me and I’m now trying to find out more.

In any event, the events recounted by Mr. Lateef seem to me more like police misconduct than a government trying to suppress free speech.

This current government in Ghana has been trying to crack down on illegal mining since taking office in 2017. As a result of this policy, it lost many parliamentary seats in the 2020 elections when the opposition party campaigned in mining areas. stop the clamp if elected.

It is therefore difficult to see how a journalist reporting on illegal mining could incur the wrath of the government and result in the journalist being the target of mistreatment.

The program says several times that the government was asked for comments and offered none.

I inquired and was assured that neither the Minister of Information nor the Director of Communications in the President’s Office had been contacted by anyone to comment on the story of the show’s producers.

The National Media Commission, which is the independent constitutionally mandated body that deals with issues of press freedom and protection of journalists, has also not been contacted for comment on your program.

I am truly sorry to have to say that I am not impressed with your confidence in the Media Foundation of West Africa. Unfortunately, they are no longer, in my opinion, able to offer unbiased opinions on this government. Nothing wrong with such a position, as long as it is labeled as such.

I did not intend to write such a long treatise and I apologize. I care deeply about the BBC, having spent so much of my working life with the
organization.

The BBC always had a story and a context. It’s hard to discern that sometimes in your programs these days.

More sincerely,
Elizabeth

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