Politics, free expression and insults
Degrading language in politics has reached alarmingly high proportions in recent times in Ghana, a phenomenon that is not "Ghanaian". Not insulting an elder, especially in public, is a training and practice inculcated into every Ghanaian child, which prompts the question how and when the political arena in Ghana was turned over to insults.
Many have attributed this to the proliferation of broadcast media and believe it to be a new phenomenon. Although the "politics of insult" has reached extraordinary levels, the truth is that it has been with us since pre-independence. Historically, the media, especially newspapers, were used to organize
the people to fight for liberation from their colonial masters. In that era, insults and abusive language were common in politics.
This continued even after independence, as the media became tools for political mobilization and education. Insults dating to this time include the Convention People Party labeling the National Liberation Movement (NLM) “cocoa season politicians” in reaction to the NLM's favoring a constitution based on our customs and traditions.
However, the first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, considered the media a potential danger that could cause political instability. So Nkrumah moved to ensure that he was in total control of the media. After the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, successive governments continued to control the various channels of communication.
During these periods there were limited channels for Ghanaians to voice their frustration and legitimate concerns. For instance, during the long military rule of the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) from 1981-1992, the media lived in a "culture of silence" enforced by the newspaper-licensing law (PNDC Law 211) and the Preventive Custody Law. The Custody law prevented the development of private media and also made provisions for the indefinite detention of journalists without trial.
It was after the 2000 elections won by the New Patriotic Party led by John Agyekum Kuffuor that real press freedom was experienced. The President honored his campaign promise and repealed the “Criminal Libel Law”. This led to a rise in freedom of expression through various public spheres. Today Ghana can boast of more than 25 fm radio stations in the capital Accra alone and 9 Free-to-Air (FTA) television stations.
One can therefore conclude that the liberalization of the airwaves and the repeal of the criminal libel law have indeed resulted in the free expression of views. Many of the views expressed lately, unfortunately, are insulting and have raised concerns.
Headlines such as NONSENSE! ‘It is not my voice’ which appeared in a 2012 edition of the Daily Guide, ‘Wee sermon, Nana Addo is on drugs’ (Informer, 2011), ‘Shit-eating-human- animal, NPP hates the military? (The Informer, 2011), and ‘Why does the NPP gleefully choose idiots as Presidential Candidates?' (www.ghanaweb.com) are just a few examples of foul-mouthed reporting from Ghanaian media. It illustrates just how low we have stooped in our professional practice and as a nation.
Politics of insults whether a new or old phenomenon is not an issue here. The real issue is that politics of insults is a divisive monster and steps must be taken to curb it.