On 5th August 2015, the Ghana Chapter of West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) organised a media workshop titled “The role of Journalists in developing an evidence-based policy and drug strategy for Ghana” to sharpen journalists’ understanding of drugs issues in the country.
The goal was to harness their information gathering and reporting skills on drug related issues. The workshop was organised in collaboration with the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC). It attracted around 20 media practitioners and media owners across print, radio, online and television outlets in Ghana. The event was funded through grants from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and followed on from a regional media workshop held in Ghana in June by International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)
The objective of the workshop was to strengthen media capacity to engage and advocate on issues of drug policy, drug prevention and treatment, harm reduction, security and governance in Ghana. It was also an opportunity to raise awareness of the global Support. Don’t Punish campaign, and the consequences of the failed war on drugs. Additionally, journalists were exposed to the unique challenges faced by people who use drugs, and the consequences of criminalising this population.
Finally, the workshop provided a platform to invoke critical reflections from media practitioners – and it is hoped that their subsequent reportage will help to shape better informed, more humane and more effective drug policies.
The IDPC Consultant for Africa, Maria-Goretti Ane, welcomed the participants and called upon the media to leverage their positions as opinion leaders to steer the debate in the country, and to ensure that the drug policies adopted by the Government do not cause more harm than good to the society. Maria challenged the media to live up to the expectation of being the fourth estate of the realm.
Journalists were taken through a series of activities and presentations, including those from the IDPC West Africa Drug Policy Training Toolkit. The participants were presented with the objective and subjective roles of journalists in relation to drug policy. The current Narcotic Control Commission Bill 2014 being discussed by the Ghanaian Parliament was also discussed extensively to help develop recommendations and a national advocacy work plan for local journalists within the country.
Participants demonstrated their curiosity and interest on the various aspects of the international drug control system, harm reduction, addiction and the national drug policy. They also acquired new knowledge on the issues of drug consumption and trafficking.
It was noted that the criminalisation of people who use drugs did not reduce drug demand or supply in Ghana, and was therefore clearly not working. Thus, participants had a positive reaction towards the Support. Don’t Punish campaign.
The workshop re-emphasized the critical role the media has to play in the national debate on drug policy reforms. It gave an opportunity for open forum discussions, debates about drug problems and the impact of stigmatization on recovery in Ghana, and proffered solutions. Journalists played a vital role in the course of the programme and proposed methods they would use to assist in resolution of the drug problem.
Overall, the workshop was well received by the media practitioners. It stimulated nationwide debates by media houses on the current Narcotics Control Bill in Ghana, the state of drug users and the role of the media in contributing towards a safer and drugs free Ghana. Participants Committed to create awareness on the process and also to advocate as a group. They affirmed their support for the sensitization of the general public on the drug policy reform process in Ghana, and pledged to promote discussions on the recommendations provided by the West Africa Commission on Drugs report launched in 2014 and to educate the public on the drug issues in Ghana.
A facilitator at the workshop, Adamu Mohammed (the focal point of the Ghana Network), intimated that in order to become more effective, drug policies should focus on public health services rather than punishment and harassment to reduce drug-related harms. He asserted that Ghana needs an effective drug policy aimed at reducing risk factors and strengthening protective factors.
Overall, despite the successes chalked by our law enforcement agencies in seizures and arrests of illicit traffickers and users in the country, there still seems to be high rate of drug use in the country. This means that the traditional methods adopted over the years are not working hence the need for a paradigm shift to evidence-based approaches that have worked in other jurisdictions. Ghana is currently reviewing its drug law for the first time since the Narcotic Drugs (Control, Enforcement and Sanctions) Law – 1990 (Provisional National Defence Council Law (PNDCL) 236. It is a great opportunity for Ghana to make an assessment of what has worked and not worked over the years, and to adopt an effective drug law that is grounded on the health and wellbeing of its citizens.