The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) fears some media organisations could be extinct if the courts do not show a compassionate concern in awarding costs against them.
Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director for the Foundation says although some media organisations have been reckless in their reportage, the courts must also recognise the environment within which they operate by imposing reasonable fines on them rather than “prohibited fines”.
Two newspapers – Daily Guide and The Informer – were last week slapped with Gh¢250,000 and Gh¢300,000 respectively – for publishing articles deemed libelous by the Fast Track High Court in Accra.
The Daily Guide was found guilty of defaming Johnson Asiedu Nketia, General Secretary of the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC), by publishing an article claiming Mr. Asiedu Nketia used his position as chairman of the Bui Power Authority Board to divert building materials for his personal building project.
Similarly, the Court also found The Informer culpable for a publication alleging that former Chief of Staff in the John Kufuor Administration, Kwadwo Mpiani, connived with his friends at Evans Timbers to clear goods at the port without proper documentation and also under-invoiced. The plaintiff, Evans Timbers argued that the publication caused serious damages to its corporate image and reputation as a timber processing and exporting company by being portrayed as guilty of subverting the national interest and causing financial loss to the state.
But speaking on Saturday, March 8, 2014 on Newsfile on the Joy News channel on Multi TV and broadcast live on Joy FM, Sulemana Braima wants the courts to mull over the vital role of the media in promoting democracy and shaping society before such sanctions are applied.
“We wouldn’t be that much bothered if we were having a situation where if there is proportionate damages rather than what we are experiencing now, which I think is quite prohibiting…looking at the economy in which we are operating; looking at the circumstances under which our media operate and the financial resources to them…these [fines] are monies that one can say amount to very, very prohibitive sanctions against the media.
“Even if the media were asked to pay a million Ghana cedis, I don’t think that in its self will be able to remedy whatever damages [that] would have been caused to the persons affected”.
Mr. Braimah, however, advised journalists to be circumspect in their reportage in order to avoid being dragged to court over charges of libel and defamation of character.
He announced plans by the Foundation to launch a project to “focus on ethics, and indeed we are going to be monitoring ethical violations in the media and at the same time, we are going to be providing funding to support some quality and professional journalism in the country”.
Veteran journalists and Editor-in-Chief of the New Crusading Newspaper, Abdul Malik Kweku Baako, also pleaded for the courts to be sympathetic with the media in awarding ‘hefty’ judgment against them.
“You cannot challenge the right of somebody to go court…I will appeal to the judiciary to be a bit more sensitive to the environment within which we operate. The first freedom is free expression…if it suffers, all the other freedoms will suffer,” Mr. Baako noted.