The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) with the support of some 642 journalists and supporters of press freedom has petitioned the Speaker of Parliament Alban Bagbin requesting a frank debate by the House about the deteriorating press freedom situation in Ghana in order to make appropriate recommendations towards reversing the trend.
According to the petition, this request has been prompted by the recent verbal attack on Erastus Asare Donkor, a journalist with Luv FM, by the Member of Parliament for Assin Central, Honourable Kennedy Ohene Agyapong, who also called for the journalist to be beaten.
“Erastus Asare Donkor was invited by the three-member Committee inquiring into the recent killing of two people during protests in Ejura in the Ashanti Region. His invitation by the Committee was apparently due to his extensive coverage of the killing of social media activist Mohammed Ibrahim Anyass, and the protests that followed.
“Commenting on Asare Donkor’s reports and subsequent submissions before the Committee, the Member of Parliament subjected the journalist to insults and called for him to be beaten,” the petition said.
Meanwhile, the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mr Joseph Osei Wusu has said the Member of Parliament for Tamale North Alhassan Suhuyini who petitioned the Speaker against his colleague lawmaker for Assin Central Kennedy Agyapong will appear before the Privileges Committee.
Speaking to journalists in Parliament on Thursday July 23, the Bekwai lawmaker said the matter will be heard as if it is a court trying an accused person.
“It is a member of the House who petitioned the Speaker so it is the petitioner who will appear before us. If the petitioner decides that he needs somebody else to assist him to prosecute his case, why not. Remember that when it comes to the privileges committee, it is more or less a trial so our process is no different from the court.
“Whatever or however you put your case, you will be guided by the rules of the house, nothing else.
“A committee of parliament is only a committee of parliament, we make recommendations to the House so yes, under the rules of parliament whoever recommendations that are permissible under the rules can be made by the committee, decisions are made by the committee.”
Mr Suhuyini had said he felt obliged to raise the issues against his colleague Member of Parliament for Assin Central Kennedy Agyapong on the floor of the House because of his background as a journalist.
This comes after the Speaker Alban Bagbin has referred Mr Agyapong to the Privileges Committee of Parliament for his utterances against a journalist with the Multimedia Group, Erastus Asare Donkor.
Mr Agyapong on Friday, July 9, is reported to have allegedly threatened to attack Mr Asare Donkor, “for the journalistic work that the latter undertook during the recent shootings and killing incident at Ejura” on his television station.
The Multimedia Group filed a formal complaint against Mr Agyapong.
On Wednesday July 14, Alhassan Suhuyini raised the issue on the floor of the house and asked the Speaker to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee.
He said “Mr Speaker, I think that as a former journalist I feel obliged to draw the House’s attention to this conduct of an Honorable colleague of this house which in my view, brings this house into disrepute.
“Mr Speaker, I urge you to exercise your powers under 27 and refer this conduct of the Honorable which is becoming unacceptable, to the Privileges Committee to ascertain the veracity of the comments that were made and recommend sanctions if possible that will act as deterrent to other members who may be tempted to act like him.”
In response to his request, the Speaker accordingly referred Mr Agyapong to the committee.
He said he cannot take a decision on Mr Agyapong over his utterances against a journalist in Ghana.
That decision to determine whether or not the conduct smacks of abuse of privileges, he said, rests with the lawmakers as a House, to take.
“As it is now, I am compelled to refer it to the Privileges Committee. I want to emphasize that it is the House that will take the decision, it is not the speaker, it is not any other person apart from the House.
“That will be your collective wisdom that come to the conclusion whether what is alleged is just a mere allegation or is supported by facts and whether those facts constitute contempt of the House and abuse of a privilege of members.
“It is important for me to emphasize here that the privilege and immunity of free speech applies in full force in plenary session and committee sessions, not when members are outside debating issues or on radio and TV. You don’t have that right, that privilege, that immunity to just say anything because you are a member of parliament.
“We are not above the law. It is for good reasons because you represent a large number of people, you should be given the full immunity to be able to say what the people say they want you to say. That is why you say it here and you are covered.
“That immunity doesn’t extend to you in anywhere else. So pleased the committee should go into the matter, submit the report.”