Aug 29, 2012 at 10:23am
Need To Encourage Free Expression
COMMENTARY ON THE NEED TO ALLOW PEOPLE TO EXPRESS THEIR VIEWS WITHOUT BEING TAGGED AS NDC OR NPP SYMPATHISERS
The founder and general overseer of the International Central Gospel Church, Pastor Mensa Otabil, has taken a strong exception to a phenomenon that is gradually limiting the freedom of expression in Ghana to politicians.
Speaking at the Festival of Ideas programme in Accra, Pastor Mensa Otabil described as insane the situation in which people who express their opinion on any issue of national interest are labelled NDC or NPP sympathisers.
He said it had become dangerous to have an opinion on any issue, and questioned why we cannot label an idea as a Ghanaian idea.
The effect of this, Pastor Otabil noted, is that discerning people will just nurture their hopes privately instead of declaring them publicly.
So far politics has crowded out our intelligence from our national life and we need to do something about it, he concluded.
Indeed, Pastor Mensa Otabil spoke the minds of many Ghanaians, including intellectuals and technocrats.
The issue of political tagging and labelling was also a major issue at the Institute of Economic Affairs’ workshop for media practitioners held recently at Akosombo.
Producers of television and radio talk shows were accused of fuelling the use of intemperate language by always empanelling politicians even when specialists and technocrats are needed.
But some hosts and producers present explained that such experts often shied away from public discourse because of the fear of being labelled NDC or NPP.
But the labelling is not restricted to only experts or technocrats who express their views on national issues.
Civil society groups, the clergy and journalists whose opinions do not favour a particular political party are often painted with political colours irrespective of how cogent their views are.
This is unfortunate and must not be allowed to fester if we are to ensure sanity on the airwaves and in public discourse.
The phenomenon has created a new culture of silence, a culture that has limited the nation’s freedom of speech and expression to a few individuals in politics.
Whether an issue is about the economy, national security or agriculture, it is the politicians we hear speaking.
And it is sometimes irritating listening to people who know next to nothing, apart from their exceptional ability to weave politics into every fabric of national life.
If not checked, the phenomenon is also making our much touted democracy meaningless.
The allocation of resources in our democratic dispensation is increasingly becoming the preserve of those in the corridors of power and their cronies.
So if the ability to express one’s views is also restricted to politicians due to labelling, then what is the essence of our much touted democracy?
Instead of labeling critics, politicians and political parties should learn to be tolerant of opinions of dissent.
Our wise elders say a man who does not like greetings does not farm by the roadside.
Politicians must realise that being public officials comes with public scrutiny of what they say or do.
Such critical and dissenting views are what the political parties sometimes need to put them on their toes.
Praise singing from politically aligned journalists and media houses often cloud the judgement of politicians and conceal the reality on the ground from them.
Since we cannot trust the politicians to stem this unfortunate tide, journalists and media owners must be more assertive in directing public discourse.
For the fear of political tagging, some journalists have been dispossessed of their agenda setting role.
And nothing excites the politician more than the knowledge that the journalist will not think through what they say and subject it to scrutiny.The fear of criticism must not subdue media practitioners, civil society and those whose duty it is to put the politicians right.
As Martin Luther King once noted, “at the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
BY: MANASSEH AZURE AWUNI, A JOURNALIST.