SC Justices to Media: ‘Criticise Us As Violently As You Can But Don’t Insult Us’

Chief Justice of Ghana, Justice Anin Yeboah

Accra, Ghana//-Justices of Ghana’s Supreme Court (SC) have asked the media to criticise them as violently as they can but they (media) should not insult them.

The justices made the call at a joint press conference organised by the Judiciary Service of Ghana, the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA), National Media Commission and the Ghana Bar Association in Accra on Wednesday, 3 March 2021.

Speaking on behalf of the justices, a Supreme Court Judge, Justice Emmanuel Yonny Kulendi, appealed to the media not to speak hatred of the Justices although they can freely be criticised.

He said: “His Lordship has said I should tell you that as trustees of the people’s power of justice, we are willing and happy to be criticised. Criticise us as violently as you can but for Christ’s sake, don’t insult us, don’t berate us, don’t speak hatred, don’t malign us.

Don’t because like yourselves and the work that you do and the heart that you bring to bear on it, it’s a similar responsibility, it’s a similar consciousness with which judges embrace their work”.

This call comes after the media called the bluff of the Judiciary in an earlier statement.

The GJA had described as “obnoxious” and “threats to media freedom”, a warning issued by the Judicial Service through its lawyers Sory@Law, that it will take appropriate actions against media houses who fail to delete certain comments 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”.

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 a bastion 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. 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. 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, but qualified. 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.

African Eye Report/Classfmonline

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