While the Judicial Service is worried about the kind of reportage put out by the media, the journalists are also worried about what they consider as an attempt by the judiciary to silent the media and impede their work.
The Judicial Service, over the weekend, wrote to the media warning them to be measured in their reportage on the presidential election petition in which flagbearer of the opposition National Democratic Congress in the 2020 general election, John Dramani Mahama, is challenging the declaration of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo as the winner.
The warning, addressed to some specific media houses in a statement released by the solicitors for the Judicial service, Sory@Law, stated that the Service was concerned about what it described as hateful, spiteful and offensive statements against the seven Justices of the Supreme Court hearing the petition.
The statement thus asked the media to “pull or cause to be pulled down and cleared from your platforms, all statements and speeches which convey and/or insinuate hateful, spiteful, vengeful and incendiary communication against Justices of our client especially those hearing the election petition.”
The statement further asked the media to “prevent the publication of such statements and speeches on your platforms, and forthwith exercise the highest level of discernment, discretion and responsibility in so far as publication of statements and speeches regarding the administration of justice is concerned.”
“We must notify you, and we hereby do, that should you fail to heed our client’s demand, we have our client’s instructions to take appropriate action to ensure that you do not abuse the right to free speech by deploying and/or permitting your platform to be deployed in a manner that not only threatens our constitutional order and democracy, but obviously, adversely interferes with the due administration of justice and also, brings it, into disrepute,” the service said.
“It must be added immediately that the right to free speech and discussion of judicial proceedings, decisions of the courts and the administration of justice is only legally permissible provided the criticism does not interfere with the due administration of justice, especially where as in this case it is intended to strike fear in the Justices whose constitutional mandate is to determine the petition and/or bring the administration of justice into disrepute and also threatens our constitutional democracy,” the statement emphasised.
“Our client’s demand above communicated to you is made against the backdrop of the law which advises that where the population consists largely of uneducated or not very well-informed people, it is necessary to take a stricter view of what criticism may be allowed of the justice system, the reason being that although the administration of justice must suffer the respectful though outspoken [not inciteful, hateful or spiteful] comments of ordinary men, it must not be adversely interfered with and/or brought into dispute,” it added.
But, according to the Ghana Journalists Association(GJA), “the threats against the media” by the Judicial Service is scandalous and an “unwarranted” assault on all tenets of freedom of speech and freedom of the media as guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution.
“With all due respect, this is scandalous,” the GJA said.
Addressing a press conference yesterday, the president of GJA, Roland Affail Monney, stated: “If not reversed immediately, the ill-advised, ill-crafted and ill-issued, ill-served and ill-consumed statement by the Judiciary can provoke a tsunamic backlash, lower the dignity of the court in the eyes of freedom lovers and critical citizens, pollute the media environment, undermine our impressive media ranking globally and dim the beacon of our democracy”.
He indicated that “The GJA is, to put it mildly, dumbstruck in reading this obnoxious directive pregnant with insidious threats to media freedom in Ghana, which is touted as a land of freedom and justice.”
The GJA president noted that in “crafting the scurrilous” statement, the Judicial Service ought to have avoided any impression or situation that has the tendency to instil fear and promote a culture of silence in which Ghana had been enveloped during the period of autocratic misrule.
“It is lodged in our memory that the Judiciary has the power to commit any erring journalist or media house for contempt, using of course, acceptable protocols, and appropriate mechanisms.
“What they should not consider at all in this context is any unprecedented or antiquated method, which smacks of censorship, intimidation, or resuscitation of the culture of silence which can spell unthinkable socio-political consequences,” he said.