In December last year, a group of eminent statesmen – known as the Elders – gathered at a ceremony held in Lena, Paris. Their mission was simple: To recognize international journalists from all over the world for their contribution towards the defence of human rights.

Chaired by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Elders, which has former US President Jimmy Carter, Former United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Kofi Annan and former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson as members, took turns to salute the great work on human rights done by journalists invited from all over the world.

At the ceremony, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Ghana’s distinguished investigative journalist, received two (2) out of seven (7) prestigious awards presented to deserving journalists across the world. It added up to a total of four (4) major international awards won by Anas in the 2008 working period – the US State Department Award on Trafficking Persons (TIP), Washington and the Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism, London. Anas gives credence to the time-honoured creed, YES WE CAN.

This spirit is what has endeared him to many around the world, translating into the latest acknowledgement and commendation by the US President Barrack Obama on his just ended state visit to Ghana. In what can only be viewed as a glowing testament of true journalism, President Obama singled out Anas Aremeyaw Anas, ‘who risked his life to report the truth’. That was on point! Obama could not have put it any less. Having heard it from Obama, one can’t help but exclaim the Latin phrase ‘Res ipsa loquitur’, to wit: ‘the thing itself speaks’.

With very humble beginnings fuelled by dedication and determination in pursuit of the truth, Anas Aremeyaw Anas has distinguished himself in his career – which has only lasted a decade. His impact in the media landscape transcends our national borders. This only magnifies the power journalists wield in a fast growing world.

Indeed. The US President commented on our emerging civil society, he focused on touchstones of democracy, which has kept Ghana as a beacon of hope in Africa. His call for Africans to take charge of our destinies was spot on. It aptly buttressed calls made by our founding fathers at the birth of the nation. While pointing to the dangers that threaten budding democracies such as ours, President Obama also focused on the main components that would solidify our democracy as a people. The media was not left out. Journalists were not only called to support the rule of law, but pursue paths that would bring transformational change to the citizenry.

That journalism is a pillar of democracy cannot be overemphasized. In pursuing democracy in its civilised form, the press must serve as a bulwark. We hold it a sacred trust to serve society with all diligence, as our very survival depends on whether we have the clarity and conviction to articulate what an independent press means.

Having won the Best Journalist Award by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), this young man has moved on to receive numerous international Awards, including the coveted Kurt Schork Awards in International reporting. It shows what hard work and a commitment to the highest standards in life can do. Like Anas, a few other journalists continue to prove that excellence would always win over mediocrity.

The chequered history of journalism in Ghana is one which should strengthen us to get going. A look at the history of journalism in Ghana over the last fifty-two years presents a picture of instability in terms of media freedom. The litany of cases, seen in diverse attempts to control media freedom by past governments remains elements of an unfavourable past.

After going through several changes and rough patches, the country started operating a stabilized liberal media system as guaranteed by the 1992 constitution – the fourth since independence – which ushered in our present constitutional rule. This media freedom was largely realized throughout the two terms of the Rawlings-led National Democratic Congress (NDC). It was solidified with the repeal of the Criminal Libel law by the New Patriotic Party (NPP). Alongside this freedom however, comes a fear among several sections of the citizenry about the unprofessional conduct of some practitioners in the profession, leading to calls for the reactivation of the Criminal Libel law. Several cases of misrepresentation of facts, invasion of privacy, partisan reporting among others have been cited as reasons for this call.

Our freedom, as journalists, was won for us by men and women from pre-colonial times till date. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice of death and many more suffered interrogations, exorbitant fines, hostilities, whipping, torture, detention, imprisonment and exile.

In the words of Senator John McCain of the United States, I believe that we as Ghanaian journalists “do have to be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf. We have to value our freedom. We have to love it, not for the ease of material riches it provides, not for the autonomy it guarantees us, but for the goodness it makes possible”.

We might have done well, but the day of our journalism is still young; we have a long way to travel. Even as we take the praises, we should not forget to raise our standards – standards which were deemed so low that the GJA could not get a deserving person for its top awards last year. And even though that casts a slur on our practice, we have to move on and ensure we don’t get outpaced by the growing world. We are fortunate to have models to look up to, as countless examples show we can make an impact if we try.

Perhaps, President Obama’s final remarks captured the essence of it all: “Freedom is your inheritance. Now it is your responsibility to build upon freedom’s foundation. And if you do, we will look back years from now to places like Accra and say this was the time when the promise was realised – this was the moment when prosperity was forged; pain was overcome; and a new era of progress began. This can be the time when we witness the triumph of justice once more. Yes we can”, he said

As we put our acts together, bolstered by inspiration from President Barack Obama, I appeal to Ghanaian journalists with words from singer and songwriter John Legend: “We are the generation who can’t afford to wait; the future started yesterday, and we’re already late”. Change we must. Yes we can! *

*This article was originally published in the Daily Graphic on July 16, 2009.