By Maxwell Nkansah
The Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni, has bemoaned the disregard for media freedom and the rights of journalists under the current government.
The ace investigative journalist and media freedom advocate, who was speaking to Abena Tabi said the tolerance levels of the two administrations that have governed in the Fourth Republic so far point to a worrying trend under the Akufo-Addo government where the president and his appointees have gross disrespect for the rights of practicing journalists.
He said though he was one of the critical journalists of the Mahama administration, he never for once in any of the works he did “had the cause to be afraid for my life no matter how critical that story was” and that whenever he met then President Mahama, he will leave feeling ashamed “because Mahama will treat you in a way that will make you feel as though you have never written anything against him which cannot be said of the current trend and issues having to do with the rights of journalists in the country”.
Mr Azure said it is expected and understandable that people will fight back in a number of ways “if you do journalism that can lead to somebody losing an election, a business losing a contract, that can put people in prison, that can make others lose their jobs, but what is not expected is “where it is getting to, where we are beginning to see a very disturbing rhythm in how things are going”
The ace investigative journalist was speaking on the back of the recent rise in the number brutalities against journalists with the most recent being the arrest and torture of Citi FM’s Caleb Kudah and the “invitation” of his colleague Zoe Abu-Baidoo.
Caleb Kudah was arrested by some National Security operatives for allegedly taking visuals of National Security installations and instead of being handed over to the Attorney General for prosecution; he was rather manhandled at the National Security Ministry for the alleged crime.
Manasseh, as he is affectionately called by his colleagues, said though he did some sensitive and critical pieces during the “Mahama era, the environment was safe” and much welcoming and conducive than now
“When I did the Ford saga in the 2016 elections, what went on before the story came out was a story on its own. But when the story came out, it shook the nation because it was an election period so that night, the Communications Minister at the time, Dr Edward Omane Boamah called me in the night and said, Manasseh, we know the story you have done and how party people are reacting to it and we know it may not be safe so if you have any reason to feel insecure, let us bring you police protection…so I told him I am okay, I felt safe enough and it was because the environment at the time was safe.”
Manasseh said what is happening to journalists now is a reflection of the leadership at the helm of affairs because “the kind of reaction you get from the top has a way of affecting how they (followers) behave” and that, “when we talk of leadership, we cannot talk about it without mentioning the president of the country.”
He said in spite of all the stories he had done on former president Mahama, he was welcomed and granted audience when he needed to interview him for his book ‘The Fourth John’.
“When I was writing a book about him, some of his people said, Manasseh has done this to you and you have lost an election and he has the guts to come and want to interview you for his book? But still, the former president met me and said, ask me every question you want to ask and I have told my people that when this book comes out, nobody should attack you.
“President Atta Mills had to call a Joy FM journalist at the time to apologize to him because AMA guards had manhandled him. It wasn’t the AMA Mayor, it wasn’t the Regional Minister but the president himself so if you were somebody serving in the regime or the administration, this tells you that the president, the man at the top will not countenance these actions against journalists so I better not do it.”
He, however, blamed the impunity with which journalists are brutalized to a weaker union and compromised leadership and called on journalists to stand their ground and defend the rights of every journalist no matter the media house they work with.