Ghanaian journalists and media practitioners have come together to form a coalition to push for the passage of the long Right to Information (RTI) Bill which they say has been long overdue.
At the launch of the coalition, known as the Media Coalition on RTI, in Accra Monday, the member said they were determined to embark on a series of action, including demonstrations, to force the passage of the bill into law.
For a start, members of the coalition will on Tuesday storm the public gallery of Parliament House in T-Shirts with messages demanding action on the passage of RTI.
The formation of the coalition follows the foot-dragging tactics of the two previous parliaments in passing the RTI Bill.
Addressing the media at the launch, Elvis Darko, who is a member of the Interim Steering Committee of the Coalition, said “the Right to Information is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the constitution.”
He stated that for a constitutional democracy like Ghana’s to thrive, it is important that the citizens are informed. “It is only when those who are to participate in governance are well informed that they can contribute meaningfully,” he said.
He described the RTI as the most abused piece of legislation in the 4th Republic.
“For about two decades, successive governments have failed to ensure the passage of the Right to Information law that will give meaning to this constitutional provision. To describe a draft legislation that has been laid five times in Parliament since the 2010 as a result of withdrawals or expiration of the tenure, as the most abused piece of draft legislation in the history of the 4th Republican Parliament will not be far from right,” he said.
The birth of the media coalition is as a result of several interventions by Civil Society Organisations to ensure the passage of the RTI Bill.
The Coalition has successfully mobilized over 120 journalists across the country who have committed to use their respective platforms to heighten awareness on the Bill.
The Coalition expressed its frustration at the at the attitude of parliament, which, it says, goes counter to its duty to represent the interests of the electorate who voted them into the august House, as far as the passage of the RTI Bill goes, by “representing themselves, their party interests and throwing the the national interest to the dogs.
“Parliament has exhibited clear acts of dishonesty and disrespect to the people they represent, as they have in these instances hidden behind their Standing Orders to dribble the people of Ghana,” he finished to rapturous applause.
Darko, went on to enumerate the Coalition’s plan of action to force parliament’s hand in the matter of the passage of the long delayed bill.
He said that the Coalition would first write to the leadership of parliament to press home the message of its press conference.
It would also circulate the message contained in the press statement through the WhatsApp numbers of all MPs as a means of serving them due notice.
He also revealed that it would work closely with the Parliamentary Press Corps to ensure that the MPs are aware of the seriousness of their call.
As part of this pressure, the members of the Coalition would be in the public gallery this morning, clad in their T-shirts to press home their demands, while looking out for a hint of the RTI.
The statement went on to caution that the Coalition would not hesitate to picket in Parliament House, and may go as far as to boycott coverage of Plenary and Committee Sittings should no of action be taken towards the passage of the RTI Bill.
They also pledged to make the issue of the passage of RTI Bill a regular topic of conversation on the various platforms; engaging regularly with managers and Editors of various national, regional media, including community radio stations, to ensure that the wider population understand the benefits of the RTI regime.
Besides this, it would work with Ghanaian media personnel, home and abroad, to display RTI Passage placards at all functions attended by the Speaker of Parliament, the Majority and Minority Leaders, and the President.
The coalition also promised to track all promises made by public officials on the RTI Bill, and would go as far as naming and shaming them for reneging on their promises.
They also served notice that their lenses would be fixed on MPs who through their actions and inactions oppose the swift passage of a credible RTI law.
They also, as part of their strategy, will resort strongly to social media, through the hashtag#PassItNowas it is a fact that the top trends on social media in Ghana are mainly campaigns promoted by media houses.
The statement also gave tacit support to the hashtag being employed by civil society #PassTheRTIBillNow.
It threatened to publish the contact information of all MPs on media platforms to get the public calling, emailing and mentioning their MPs on social media to “pass the RTI Bill now.”
Finally, the statement warned against the creation of the impression that the passage of the RTI Bill will promote irresponsible journalism as this is simply an act of unfair generalization.
“Ghana has a good number of responsible journalists who have been the reasons for getting the news to the general public constantly and timely, and exposing rot by public officials and private persons despite very terrible conditions of service for journalists … and the great dangers we encounter in doing our work,” the statement added.