The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) has stood up to rubbish the threat issued by the Judicial Service headed by the Chief Justice, Kwasi Anin Yeboah against media houses calling it 'obnoxious' and it risk provoking 'tsunamic' backlash because the third arm of the state is not above criticism.
The GJA said a statement issued by a private law firm [email protected] on the instruction as Judicial Service, contained "threats to media freedom".
The outfit of Chief Justice through its lawyers had warned that it will take appropriate actions against media houses who fail to delete certain comments of its clients – Justices of the Supreme Court – find hateful and vengeful of their work vis-à-vis the election petition hearing.
The Judicial Service, in a letter to the media houses which, according to it, had published "hateful, spiteful, vengeful and incendiary" comments about the Justices of the Supreme Court, ordered the media platforms to "pull or cause to be pulled down and cleared from your platforms", all such statements and speeches.
The Judicial Service also demanded that those media houses, as well as all others, "prevent the publication of such statements and speeches on your platforms", and "forthwith, exercise the highest level of discernment, discretion and responsibility insofar as the publication of statements and speeches regarding the administration of justice is concerned".
Responding to the letter a press conference on Monday, 1 March 2021, GJA President Affail Monney said: "If not reversed immediately, the ill-advised, ill-timed, ill-crafted and ill-issued 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 rankings globally and dim the beacon of our democracy".
Earlier, the Executive Director of the Center for Democratic Development (CDD), Prof Henry Kwasi Prempeh, has reacted to what seemed like a gag order served on media houses and the public by the Chief Justice, Kwasi Anin Yeboah and the leadership of the Judicial Service, asking them to earn the respect it seems to command through its work.
In what appears to be a return of the infamous ''Culture of Silence'', the Judicial Service, late Friday hired the services of a private law firm [email protected] owned by Lawyer Thaddeus Sory, to write to media houses, serving a 5-day notice to pull down stories they describe as "hateful, spiteful, vengeful and incendiary".
The directive which is in reference to comments about the Justices of the Supreme Court hearing the election petition of ex-President John Mahama, asked the media to "pull or cause to be pulled down and cleared from your platforms", all such statements and speeches.
The Judicial Service, is also demanding that those media houses, as well as all others, "prevent the publication of such statements and speeches on your platforms", and "forthwith, exercise the highest level of discernment, discretion and responsibility insofar as the publication of statements and speeches regarding the administration of justice is concerned".
But, reacting to this on Saturday, February 27, 2021, edition of JoyNews' Newsfile, Prof. Henry Kwasi Prempeh, said that it is bizarre and unprecedented that the judiciary, will think that what the media or people write or say about is gagging of their independence.
Rather, he said, for the judiciary to command the respect and confidence it is demanding from the media, then it should analyze how it adjudicates disputes and also the timeliness of those judgments.
He explained that while the judiciary deserves to be upheld in high respect, they should also be accountable to the people through their work, which is a reflection of the independence and protection they have been given by the constitution.
"It's a bit bizarre, to put it mildly. It's quite unprecedented and I think it does a whole lot more than caution. This is an extraordinary kind of step and let me step back and say, the Judicial Service, as appropriately called, is a Service - it serves Ghanaians, offering a forum for peaceful adjudication of disputes of all manner; political, social, all kinds of disputes.
"In so doing, it helps us to maintain social order. Of course in Ghana, there are other places we go to resolve disputes, in fact, the judiciary resolves probably only 20% of all the disputes in the country but the judiciary is an important one especially for those who are in the formal sector," he said.
He explained further that the fact that judges are not elected and the processes involved in removing one are such that it is almost impossible, is what should reassure the Service of the high regard people have of them but they should not appear to want to gag the media or limit how people comment about their work.
"There is a reason we don't elect judges and there is also a reason we make their removal very difficult. And it's all to assure them the necessary protection they need to be impartial because one of the ingredients for assuring the citizenry that there is a fair forum for them to go to adjudicate disputes. So, we give them that independence but on the flip side, it's also an expectation that they will be accountable; not accountable in the way that politicians are which is that they go back to the people and get voted on again but judges, we can't vote for them. So, the concept of judicial accountability is all the time a difficult one," he said.
Prof. Prempeh also indicated that the Live Streaming of the ongoing Election Petition has generated a lot of interest and commentaries from the public, as well as the media and as such, the attempt to command some form of control over what people say or write, is bizarre.
"How do we get judges to become accountable to the people that they serve? The courts are an open institution and just anybody should be able to walk into them to listen to a case, just like we have at the Public Gallery of Parliament, so we all can see how justice is being rendered. The second way usually, is also that, when judges reach decisions, they are expected to make public those decisions and the reasons for them. That is an aspect of judicial accountability and I think the televising of the court proceedings on the petition, does meet this basic test.
"The question becomes, what can people say or write in the course of these proceedings? I have always, as far back as 1997, asked how exactly we hold the judiciary accountable. The basic idea is that I don't think it is what people write or say, I have to agree, fundamentally, that we maintain confidence and trust in the judiciary as an institution because if we do not, then people will have recourse to extrajudicial means of resolving their disputes, and oftentimes, that means that they may not resolve them peaceably. So, confidence in the judiciary is very important but the question is, who destroys confidence in the judiciary? What will destroy confidence in the judiciary? Is it what people write or say? Or, is it judicial behaviour? Is it what goes on in the courts themselves that will by and large determine the confidence that people have in the judiciary?
"If people go to the courts and justice takes 20 or more years to deliver, if it's too slow, basically, they may not have confidence in them. If they don't get a sense that what is going there is fair, or the things are not being done in the right way, they may lose confidence. So, in my view, it is not what people write or people say, so much as what the judges do and what they do includes how they are seen handling cases, and importantly, what justification they give for the decisions they make in a case," he said.
On his part, the President of Think Tank IMANI Africa, Franklin Cudjoe, has told the Judges in the country that they cannot gag the public from criticizing their rulings and work in the court of law.
According to him, so far as Lawyers go for appeal and reviews on rulings made on issues, there is the need for the public to call out Judges when their rulings are seen as unfair.
To him, what the Judges need to do about vile comments about them is not to gag critical voices of their work but rather focus on dragging individuals who make unsubstantiated claims about their work.
He indicated that this will bring sanity but not trying to gag people who make constructive critique of their work.
Franklin Cudjoe said: "Lawyer Thaddeus Sory is a great brain. He is a lawyer for Judges, who through him have given a stern warning to all media houses not to publish vile, hateful and incendiary comments against Judges who are just doing their work. Frankly, some parts of that letter to media houses were condescending. However, we have taken the lesson, but will they also stop listening to everyone who writes about them? They should just find a few rogues who really say things they can't prove in court and punish them, then all others will stop. I have used that formula recently and it works. ????????. However, they cannot tell us that we cannot say there has been unfair rulings ever- else what would be the need for appeals and reviews? Thanks to Anas Aremeyaw Anas we heard some Judges love goats too. We all love goat pepper soup."
Read the GJA's full statement below:
STATEMENT BY GJA PRESIDENT, AFFAIL MONNEY, AT A PRESS CONFERENCE HELD AT THE GHANA INTERNATIONAL PRESS CENTRE ON MONDAY, MARCH 1, 2021, IN REACTION TO THREATS AGAINST THE MEDIA BY THE JUDICIAL SERVICE
Good morning, members of the GJA National Executive, our distinguished, ladies and gentlemen.
A special welcome to senior members and veterans of our profession who have joined us at the Ghana International Press Centre, the citadel of press freedom and free expression as well as abastion of our democracy.
This hurriedly convened press conference has been triggered by a statement by the Judicial Service in which it ordered the media to "immediately pull down" from their platforms "statements and speeches which convey, and/or insinuate hateful, spiteful, vengeful, incendiary communication against justices of the Supreme Court, especially, those hearing the election petition. Furthermore, the media must prevent the publication of such statements and speeches". The Judicial Service then threatened to take, what it called, "appropriate action to ensure that the media do not abuse the right to free speech."
Ladies and gentlemen of the media. TheGJA 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. With all due respect, this is scandalous.
Unsurprisingly, our telephones have been flooded with calls, both local and international, from journalists, media watch organisations, defenders of press freedom and free expression, seeking to know what exactly was happening since that contentious statement by the Judicial Service was issued.
It is universally acknowledged that media right is not absolute, butqualified. And legal experts teach us that such qualification must chime with the dictates of the law, due process, and must be exercised in such ways as to achieve legitimate aims and objectives.
In crafting the scandalous statement, the GJA is principally of the view that the Judicial Service ought to have avoided any impression or situation that has the tendency to instill fear and promote a culture of silence into which Ghana had been enveloped during the period of autocratic misrule.
Criticism, they say, is a gift which all arms of government need. So it will be miscarriage of fairness to deny the Judiciary that gift. Ann Landers once said "the naked truth is better than a well-dressed lie". Contextually, the naked truth is that the Judicial is not immune to criticism. However, that criticism must be done in a manner that does not bring the administration of justice into disrepute. To this end, the GJA urges the media community to be calm, and not to be led into temptation to scandalise the court with unhinged comments or verbal stones, no matter how provocative the statement of the Judicial Service might be.
The GJA will like to remind its members that far from acting on the basis of any threat or intimidation to "immediately pull down" from their platforms as requested, the media should rather act in the spirit of the GJA Code of Ethics that says: "A journalist corrects inaccuracies and mistakes at the earliest opportunity and offers a chance for a rejoinder and/or an apology as appropriate".
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.
The GJA is plainly of the view that the threats by the Judicial Service against the media defy logic and are tantamount to an unwarranted assault on all the tenets of freedom of speech and freedom of the media as guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution.
If not reversed immediately, the ill-advised, ill-timed, ill-crafted and ill-issued 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 rankings globally and dim the beacon of our democracy.
Long Live Media Freedom
Long Live Media Independence
Long Live Ghana.