Free Speech, Press Freedom, and Democracy in Ghana: A Conceptual and Historical Overview

Free Speech, Press Freedom, and Democracy in Ghana: A Conceptual and Historical Overview

Murtada Busair Ahmad (Kwara State University, Nigeria), Chudey Pride (Kwara State University, Nigeria) and Anthony Komlatse Corsy (Kwara State University, Nigeria)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9613-6.ch005
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Theoretically portrayed as monolithic in the African communication scholarship, Ghana media system calls for a conceptual explanation of its position both as apparatus of political suppression and as a weapon of people's advocacy and liberation. Notwithstanding availability of scholarly works regarding press development in Ghana; there is the need to situate its differing roles in the contemporary democracies as a watchdog, mediator, and advocate and, ideological state apparatus within a specific theoretical context. This paper chooses exploratory method to discuss free speech, press freedom, and media ownership in Ghana, with focus on the roles of the colonialists, anti-colonial activists, post-independence democratic government, and business conglomerates. While exploring the identified subject matter, this paper discusses specific factors that affect free speech and press activities within the framework of diverse political and legal settings that operate in Ghana.
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Free speech is one of the most crucial mechanics of democratization. The Mechanism of free expression, including independence of thoughts, determinations, and articulation of thoughts and determinations, is fundamental to the propagation of political truth (Huffman, Trauth & Semoriski, 2007). The right to express oneself is given as extending the free will to publish with no impediment whatsoever (Youm, 2009). Therefore, communication devoid of external restraints does not only confirm self-actualization and self-identity, but also upholds the validity of the natural right given to man to conceive and say what he perceives to be right (Huffman, Trauth & Semoriski, 2007). Virtually, every human being exudes the interest in self- expression and would seize any opportunity at his disposal to hear, read, and see other people expressing themselves. Huffman and Trauth and Semoriski, (2007) identify four resultant conditions that justify free expression in modern democratic society: human dignity and self-fulfillment; progression towards truth through unimpeded market place of ideas; provision of the means of democratic decision making; and existence of conflicts without necessary recourse to violence. Against the backdrop of these conditions, freedom of expression can be said to be the springboard of freedom of the press. While free speech is individualistic, free press is institutional, independent of government control and interference (Youm, 2009). Both free speech and free press constitute an essential foundation of every democratic society. While free speech provides the ground for political actions and resistance to injustice, free press serves as platform through which private expressions and opinions are made known to the general public.

The concept of free press is relatively functional from one nation state to another because of the differences in cultural, social, political, and economic orientations. The press mode of operation is determined by the operating political systems in different nations. Even in the modern and developed democracies, press activities hold differently. In a nutshell, absolute freedom of speech and of the press is a non-existent the world over, nevertheless free press functions relatively in direction of marketplace of ideas and wherever free speech is allowed to thrive (Huffman et al., 2007). Defenders of free speech almost without exception recognise the need for some limits to the freedom they advocate (Waburton, 2009). For instance, the press operates within the framework of constraint in Europe where marketplace of ideas is rejected, notwithstanding free press is more tolerated in Europe than in Africa, Middle East, and Asia. Such divergent circumstances of press freedom in the world are contingent on several factors such as prioritizing security and protection of citizens’ rights (Huffman, Trauth, & Semoriski, 2007). This indicates the extent to which press freedom could be censored in different countries. Put differently, censorship of the press varies from one country to another. Censorship is defined as:

…the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions (Dictionarry-Merriam-Webster, 2014).

Located within the framework of the aforementioned conceptual standpoint, the objective of this chapter is to explore historically the situation of freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Ghana. Specifically this paper explores the diverse roles of the press in Ghana: as a watchdog, mediator, and advocate and, of course, ideological state apparatus.

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