The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), the umbrella body of journalists in the country, has described threats against the media by the Judicial Service as an “unwarranted” assault on all tenets of freedom of speech and freedom of the media as guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution.
Mr Roland Affail Monney, the GJA President, at a press conference on Monday, said “If not reversed immediately, the ill-advised, ill-crafted and ill-issued, ill-served and ill-consumed 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 ranking globally and dim the beacon of our democracy”.
The hurriedly convened press conference was 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 2020 Presidential Election Petition.
The Judicial Service statement also said the media must prevent the publication of such statements and speeches.
It threatened to take what it called “appropriate action to ensure that the media do not abuse the right to free speech.”
Mr Monney said: “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,” he added.
Mr Monney said it was universally acknowledged that media right was not absolute, but qualified; stating that “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.”
He said in “crafting the scurrilous” statement, the GJA was principally of the view that the Judicial Service ought to have avoided any impression or situation that had the tendency to instill fear and promote a culture of silence in 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,” Mr Monney said.
He noted that Ann Landers once said: “The naked truth is better than a well-dressed lie.”
Mr Monney said contextually, the naked truth was that the Judicial was not immune from criticism.
“However, that criticism must be done in a manner that does not bring the administration of justice into disrepute,” he said.
He said to that end, the GJA urged the media community to be calm in their disposition and decorous in their pronouncements so that they would not be led into temptation to scandalize the court with unhinged comments or verbal stones, no matter how provocative the statement of the Judicial Service might be.
The President said: “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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Kwesi Pratt Jr, a senior journalist and Managing Editor of the Insight Newspaper, in his contribution, declared his unwavering support for the leadership of the GJA and their stand concerning the threats against the media from the Judicial Service.