Ghana: MFWA disappointed with lenient judgement against perpetrators of UTV attack

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has learnt with some disappointment the judgment of the Magistrate court of Achimota, Accra, in the case of the invasion of the studios of United Television (UTV) by thugs of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP).

As captured in media reports, the court convicted the 16 thugs to a fine of Ghc2,400 (US$203) each. It is our position that the fines are simply not deterrent enough.

There are many reasons why the MFWA had expected this invasion to attract a severer punishment.  First, the storming of the studio of UTV on October 7, 2023 disrupted a live broadcast, which was a direct attack on press freedom, including the right of the panelists to be critical of the government.

Second, the invasion by the thugs is nothing short of political party vigilantism, which the government has been forced to legislate against, in the wake of the manifest threat their activities pose to public order.

Third, the invasion of UTV is the fourth in less than two years in Ghana, after similar violent invasions of Radio Ada (Greater Accra Region), Benya FM, (Elmina, Central Region), Radio Dagbon (Tamale, Northern Region), three of them by political party affiliates.

The storming of UTV brought to at least 14 the number of similar invasions of the premises of media houses, as documented by the MFWA in a recent report. It is therefore an alarming trend which needed to be tackled as such.

It is also worth noting that despite the widespread condemnation of the UTV incident, some supporters of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), on October 13, 2023 (just a week later), physically attacked a journalist of Accra-based Citi FM. This underlines a posture of defiance and unrepentance on the part of these party fanatics.

It is clear from the above that attacks on media houses and journalists by political party affiliates is becoming a subculture in Ghana, which can be rooted out only by severe sanctions that will deter future perpetrators. Unfortunately, the MFWA did not see this in the judgement delivered by the court in the UTV attack case.

The fine of GHC 2,400 in the UTV case is also a step-down from the GH₵3,600.00 each imposed on NDC activist Mumuni Osman and his accomplice for their attack on Dagbon FM in Tamale.

Ironically, while the perpetrators of attacks on the media are getting away with soft fines, at least four journalists have been detained on court orders over the past two years. These include Oheneba Boamah Bennie of Accra-based Power FM, who spent 14 days in prison for contempt of court and paid a fine of GH ¢3,000 (about USD 450 at that time).

Another journalist, Noah Dameh of Radio Adah, was remanded for 13 days, and came out after a week so physically deteriorated that the judge failed to recognize him on his subsequent court appearance. The hapless journalist, who had endured nearly two years of prosecution, died on September 17, 2023.

The High Court (Criminal Court 5 Division) in Accra on February 25, 2022, granted leave to National Security operatives to detain freelance journalist, Sacut Amenga-Etego, for two weeks for “illegal” filming at the court.

On November 1, 2021, the Takoradi High Court remanded journalist Nhyiraba Paa Kwesi Simpson in custody for allegedly publishing false news with the intent of causing fear and alarm to the public contrary to the Public Order Act, and the Electronic Communications Act, 775 of 2008. The charges related to a false kidnap claim made by a listener who had called into the morning show hosted by Simpson on connect FM. The presenter spent one week in detention.

It is clear from the above comparative judicial decisions that, in the view of our courts, the media have been more sinning than sinned against.

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