Repeal of The Criminal Libel Law And The State Of The Media Today

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Dr. Kwame Nkrumah the criminal libel law from the then British Colonial Administration as promulgated under 1960 Criminal Code, Act 29 and was used as an instrument to put media practitioners on their toes and were not left off the hook when they fell afoul of the law such as publishing fictitious statements likely to rundown the reputation of a person.

Significantly, the criminal libel law can be looked at as a category of law enacted and used as an apparatus to jail journalists who published statements that had the propensity to injure the reputation of a person.

The case of the Republic of Ghana Verses Kweku Baaku Junion of the Guide Newspaper, Republic of Ghana verses Haruna Attah of The Stateman Newspaper cannot be swept under the carpet.
The criminal libel law was used by National Democratic Congress Rawlings- led Government to cause the arrest and detention of Kweku Baaku Junior of the then Guide Newspaper, Haruna attah of the then The Stateman Newspaper, Eben Quarcoo, and Tommy Thompson.

Not all but also, in the early 1990s, there was a criminal libel case involving the editor of Christian Chronicle called George Naykene who was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment.

The case of the Ghanaian Chronicle and Edward Saliah is worth mentioning. However, the criminal libel law was repealed during the regime of Former President John Agyekum Kufour in 2001 to avoid censorship, safeguard the rights of journalists and ensure accountability.

CONTEMPT OF COURT

Contempt of court is a quasi-judicial offense characterized by disrespect or disobedience to a competent adjudicating body such as parliament or commission of inquiry which can be categorized into civil and criminal contempt.

Criminal contempt in this regard, is spelt out by 1960 Criminal Code, Act 29. An act of disrespect could be violating the rules of court and disobedience could be refusing to comply and or disregarding an order by a court of law on the ground that, for proper administration of justice, it is significant that judges are accorded the maximum respect.

Insulting a judge or a court of law, sleeping in the court room, disobeying a court summons constitute contempt of court.

The essence of the law of contempt is to ensure absolute compliance to a court of competent jurisdiction.

For instance, in 1999, a columnist of Free Press published Justice Isaac. K. Abban, a Supreme Court judge that he has falsified a verdict he had written regarding some other cases.

It turned out that the columnist claims were watertight. However, the court found the article contemptuous. The columnist was jailed for one month and the editor one day. That situation fueled the public perception that the court was prepared to gag the private press.

Legally, the crux of the matter is that when it comes to cases of contempt of court, the judge has the upper hand.

REPEAL

Logically, it is plausible to indicate that the repeal of the criminal libel law has contributed to the advancement of vibrant, critical media that has won Ghana a liberal atmosphere on the continent leading to the deepening of democracy in Ghana.

There is no denying that the liberalized media has become the chief purveyor of information and for that matter the backbone of Ghana’s democratic agenda.
Surely, the criminal libel law was taken off the statute book in order to deepen media freedom and ensure public accountability.

Ghana media landscape has been touted as one of the autonomous media regimes in the African sub-region. The absence of censorship guarantees the media to report on matters of national interest without any hindrance.

Another side of the argument is that the initial report on a specific case set a stage for the right thinking members of a society to investigate and get into the nitty-gritty of the matter in order to lay bare the facts.

For instance, the work of Anas regarding a medical doctor who engaged in sexual escapade with pregnant women before performing criminal abortion served as a preliminary tip off until they got into the heart of the matter.

In addition, the repeal has led to the proliferation media in Ghana such Adom Fm, Citi Fm, Joy Fm, Peace Fm, Choice Fm, Radio Gold, Newspapers-The Heritage, Enquirer, The Insight, Daily Dispatch, The Democrat, The Globe and a myriad of others.

ABUSE

However, it is to be admitted that some journalists misuse media freedom thereby creating insanity on the country’s airwaves.

The Ghanaian media has been saturated with obnoxious, cacophonic materials, insults, injurious, derogatory statements, and unsubstantiated allegations against key personalities in Ghana.

This is a flagrant abuse of the media freedom.
Not only but also the media has failed in playing its gate keeping roles and shaping of public opinion.

The media is helping to denigrate the government of the day, public officials and exploiting the gullibility of the Ghanaians.

Sometimes, unnecessary propaganda and falsehood are used by apostles of the media in deliberating on national issues. The repeal of the criminal libel law has come with its own challenges.

BALANCE

Nevertheless, in place of criminal libel law, persons against who libelous comments are made, can pursue legal action and bring perpetrators to book.
This will instill a modicum of sanity, discipline and maintain peace in Ghana. For instance, the case of E.T Mensah Verses Daily Guide Newspaper cannot be left in oblivion.

Danger emerges when apostles of the media cannot be responsible for the statements they churn out especially when those reports are garbage.

To be candid, journalists cannot be left off the hook when they fall foul of the law. Therefore, it is prudent that a verifiable, testable and justifiable observation about human behaviour should be the foundation of our moral codes.

Journalists who approach issues with a common sense at the expense of critical analysis are not ready to be on top of issues.

Mr. Edward Annan, Chief Executive Officer of Mosai Group sued the Ghanaian Observer for publishing falsehood against him and his business. Functionaries of New Patriotic Party brought civil suits against the Ghana Palaver, The Enquirer and The Democrat.

The repeal of the criminal libel law in Ghana did not imply that the legal regime had been softened for media practitioners to slander and libel people without a just cause.

Central to this discourse, it is logical to say that criminal libel law although aims at avoiding character assassination, deformation and other abuses of human rights as may be associated with journalism, it also aims at safeguarding the profession and its efficiency in service delivery such as news coverage, reportage and issues related to national development.

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