Ghana: Jailing of broadcast journalist Oheneba Boamah Bennie unfortunate

A High Court in Accra has sentenced a broadcast journalist with Accra-based Power FM, Oheneba Boamah Bennie, to 14 days in prison after he was found guilty of contempt of court.

The presiding judge, Justice Elfreda Dankyi, also fined the journalist GH¢3,000 (about USD 450) in her judgement delivered on February 8, 2022. Bennie will serve his sentence at the Nsawam Prison, one of Ghana’s most notorious maximum security prison facilities.

The journalist was dragged to the High Court by Ghana’s Attorney General after he alleged in a Facebook video that President Nana Akufo-Addo had met eight judges Supreme Court judges to influence their decision in the electoral petition they were hearing. The petition had been filed by the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) to challenge the results of the December 7, 2020 elections that was won by the incumbent.

On December 14, 2021, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service arrested the radio presenter in Accra. According to the CID, Oheneba was being investigated for allegedly insulting and issuing threats against President Akufo-Addo in a Facebook video.

On December 17, the Attorney-General (A-G) dragged Bennie to court in a contempt of court application over the same video.  According to the A-G, Bennie’s allegations suggest that judges do not decide cases independently, but on the orders of the President. This statement, the A-G contended, amounted to gross disrespect for the judiciary and is liable to bring the image of the country’s judges into disrepute.

The journalist appeared to have expected his conviction. Ahead of the verdict, on February 8, 2022, he posted on his Facebook wall this poignant message;

“The Lord is my strength. Each and every one of us will face our own judgment one day. Today is mine. Tomorrow will be that of President Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo and Godfred Dame [Ghana’s Attorney General]. Time will tell. Good morning”

A similar incident occurred on July 2, 2013, when the Supreme Court convicted Ken Kuranchie, editor-in-chief of the Daily Searchlight, newspaper of criminal contempt and sentenced him to 10 days in jail.

 The journalist had published critical editorials on June 27, 2013, about the court’s handling of a petition by the opposition New Patriotic Party following Ghana’s December 2012 presidential elections.

The MFWA has in the past flagged what we consider to be serious ethical breaches by some journalists and a number of radio stations including Power FM and Ohenaba Boamah Bennie. As part of efforts to promote decent campaign language on radio, the MFWA engaged the Management of the stations which had recorded infractions in the course of our Elections Campaign Language Monitoring exercise. We, therefore, admit that professional standards in the media leave much to be desired.

While we concede that Oheneba Boamah erred in publishing the unsubstantiated and libellous material about the Supreme Court judges, we still consider his jailing as unfortunate and avoidable.

We would have wished that, in the spirit of the constitutional guarantees for press freedom and the global trend towards abolishing custodial sentences for press and speech offenses, the court would have handed him a suspended sentence and a heavier fine rather than commit him to serve a jail term.

Having said this, the MFWA urges media organisations and journalists to prioritise capacity building with a view to promoting ethical standards and professionalism in their work.

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