Culture of impunity fueling intemperate language on airwaves

Sani Waves Adib Saani

Mon, 4 Jul 2016 Source: Adib Saani

I recently sat for a course with about 30 students from 14 different countries across Africa. The students, most of them Government and military officials expressed in private conversations, their respect for Ghanaians.

I was amazed to understand that they all looked up to Ghana as a model of democracy and the rule of law in Africa. One of the few countries in Africa that has never suffered a civil war, Ghana has for years led the way in peaceful elections and transfer of power.

President Barack Obama observed this during his visit to Ghana in 2009 when he said that, “the people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with repeated peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections”.

All this feat, however, appears to have been thrown to the dogs with threats by some two radio panelists to take the lives of judges in the country. The two, Alistair Nelson and Godwin Ako Gunn who were subsequently picked up by the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI), threatened to unleash mayhem on Supreme Court and High Courts judges if they make any judgment against the Electoral Commission. They made the comment on an Accra based radio station, Montie FM.

“Today, social media has become a popular platform to mount intense attacks on our judges. While citizens have the right to take on judgments of the courts, it is absolutely unacceptable for those criticisms to be rendered in a sensational and purely abusive manner with the primary aim of inciting public disaffection for our judges and undermine the integrity of the judicial system,” President of the GBA said. GBA had earlier warned Ghanaians to desist from attacking judges on social media.

The arrests, in my opinion, is welcoming especially at a time the use of intemperate language on the airwaves and social media has become an accepted norm.

This certainly brings back bitter memories of the role of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC), in stoking the 1994 Rwandan genocide that resulted in the deaths of nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the UN peacekeeping operation in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, said: "Simply jamming [the] broadcasts and replacing them with messages of peace and reconciliation would have had a significant impact on the course of events."

Some people including the Belgian ambassador and staff of several aid agencies recognized the danger and asked for international help in shutting down the broadcasts, but it was impossible to persuade western diplomats to take it seriously. They dismissed the station as a joke.

In the end, according to estimates in a study by a Harvard University Researcher, 9.9% of the participation in the genocidal violence was due to the broadcasts. The estimate of the study suggests that approximately 51,000 deaths were caused by the station's broadcasts.

Since the repeal of the criminal libel law, many radio stations especially Montie FM and Oman FM have treaded the path of Radio RTLMC. The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in its findings for the period April 18-30, 2016 identified one Mugabe Massie, host of Montie FM’s Pampaso programme to have made a remark endorsing violence on the April 29, 2016, edition of the programme when discussing an alleged bussing of people to Dome Kwabenya. In the same report, it identified 22 cases of unsavory remarks on Montie FM and 15 on Oman FM.

In June 2016, MFWA again named Montie FM as the most abusive radio station in the country. According to the MFWA, Montie FM recorded the highest number (16) of indecent expressions mainly on its Pampaso programme within the months under review. The Foundation says since the beginning of a campaign dubbed Language Monitoring Project in mid-April this year, Montie FM has recorded a total of 40 incidents of indecent expressions, the highest among all the stations being monitored.

This is a clear violation of Section 207 (Act 29) of the 1960 criminal code. But the comments violate other international laws and statues. Statute of the International Criminal Court defined the use of hate language and incitement to genocide as crimes against humanity.

Incitement is instructing or urging (or, more subtly, threatening or predicting) violence against or destruction of a target group (or an individual characterized as representative of the target group).

Incitement frequently uses hate language as justification. Hate language or hate speech includes dehumanization of the (comparing or identifying the target with nonhuman species or diseases), demonization (blaming the target for the hater’s personal misfortunes or those of his/her group), delegitimization (accusing the target of extreme criminal acts), disinformation (e.g. the denial of past atrocities perpetrated against the target), and invoking well-known perpetrators of genocidal violence as role models.

State- sanctioned hate language and incitement represent an unacceptable assault on the core values of life, and respect for life and human dignity of the other. Endemic society-wide hate language and incitement should be defined as unacceptable because of its horrific effects throughout our region and elsewhere, especially on the young people.

Obviously, the culture of impunity rocking our society is to blame for this trend, if unchecked, this has the potential of causing widespread chaos during this year’s election. It creates an atmosphere of fear and hate like it happened in Kenya.

Politicians are always first to call police commanders to appeal to them to release their followers anytime they are arrested for any offence committed. Some so-called journalists it is said, have political clout and so get away with divisive statements.

The laws would have to be amended to make such actions automatically criminal. Security agencies would have to engender the trust of the people by carrying out their duties without fear or favor and should act and be seen as neutral players.

Ghana deserves better and we can’t afford to compromise our peace and security before, during and after the election. The world is looking to us.

“No war is ever too good, no peace is ever too bad”.

Columnist: Adib Saani