Article 21 clause one A of the 1992 Constitution guarantees all citizens of Ghana a fundamental human right to "freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media." To that end, it is not in the power of any individual or organisation to deny any citizen his or her right to speak. This, however, does not mean that one can, in the course of expressing oneself in the exercise of one's fundamental human right, infringe others rights not to be defamed, provoked unnecessarily and abused. For every fundamental human right, there exist legal perimeters within which they must be exercised. Unfortunately, many people erroneously think that they have unrestrained and unfettered rights to say and write anything about anybody. No. Freedom and Responsibility are identical and inseparable twins which ought not to be put asunder for convenience. Some people would rather own their thoughts and expressions but disown the responsibilities that go with them. As far as they go, the consequences that their comments produce, that is if they turn out to be negative and distasteful, should be ignored or worse still borne by others who have no reason or obligation to do so.
Consequently, the devil is made to take the flak for it while the perpetrator assumes the role of an angelic hero or heroine. The week gone by marked another blip in our nascent democratic experiment. It began with an attack on the chairperson of the EC by a sitting Member of Parliament, then followed by threats of death against superior court judges by some two discussants on a radio programme. It is noteworthy that after the Ghana Bar Association came out with a press statement condemning the comments, one of the two panelists came out with an apology letter in which he admitted crossing the line of free speech and sought forgiveness. While this is in order, the far-reaching damage done to the hard-won reputation of the bench and the persons of the individual judges as well as the judicial system must be considered and mitigated.
It is true the BNI has taken over the issue but this is certainly not enough. They must be summoned by the appropriate authorities and made to suffer the consequences. That is without prejudice to whatever the individual judges affected will opt for. It is high time our laws were put into full, swift, fair and proportionate effect. If such people are left off the hook, we can be sure that many more of them will emerge from among the public and do all of us in, especially as we enter the last and most critical lap of the campaign period for the 2016 General Election. A stitch in time saves nine, the proverb goes. We can only do this by taking stringent actions against all and sundry that fall foul of the law. The monitoring and regulatory roles of the National Media Commission and the National Communications Authority must be given full expression. They must not hesitate to withdraw the license of any media organisation that acts carelessly and irresponsibly. Thankfully, the Media Foundation for West Africa is already naming and shaming some of the notorious ones, but that is not enough. The cost of plunging this nation into chaos will far outweigh that which will come with closing down stations and denying a few people employment and means of daily bread for a few days. Admittedly, the harm of handing license to extremists who are burnt on plunging this nation into unrest in order to attain their parochial and self-aggrandising interest has already been done.
What we cannot afford to do is to fold our arms and watch them pursue that agenda to the detriment of the general public. There is no such thing as an unfettered fundamental human right. As such, our rights must be expressed alongside utmost responsibility where those who breach the law are brought to book fairly and squarely.
BY STEPHEN AGBAI, A SOCIAL COMMENTATOR