Court fines journalists for contempt

An Accra High Court has ordered Investigative Journalist Manasseh Azure Awuni and three others to pay a fine of GH¢2,400 each after finding them guilty of contempt of court.

Manasseh and the three in default will serve one month imprisonment each, for publication of issues yet to be determined by the Court.

The court presided over by Mrs Justice Harriet Akweley Quaye ordered the respondents in the case titled (The Republic versus Manasseh Azure and three others, Ex-Parte Lighthouse Chapel International) to render an unqualified apology to the Lighthouse Chapel International and its leader, Dag Heward Mills.

The court ordered them (respondents) to render the apology in the “same spaces” they wrote the articles.

Lighthouse Chapel International (LCI), in January 2022, filed a contempt application against Manasseh and three others.

The contempt application averred that Manasseh, Edwin Appiah an Editor, Sulemana Briamah of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and the MFWA as an entity (respondents), had published “highly prejudicial” articles against the Church.

It said they also made “commentaries” as well as “conclusive statements” of fact on unresolved issues, which were yet to be determined by the High Court.

The application, therefore, urged the court to commit the respondents to prison for contempt of court for the publications.

The contempt application stemmed from three separate suits initiated by six former pastors of the Church, who, among other things, alleged the non- payment of their Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) contribution by the Church.

They are Larry Odonkor, Emmanuel Oko-Mensah, Edward Laryea, Seth Duncan, Edem Kofi Amankwah and Faith Fiakojo.

The Church, in its affidavit stated that, in the three defamation suits, it forewarned the respondents that the first three publications were not only defamatory but “potentially in contempt of Court”.

Despite the caution to the respondents and after being served with copies of defamation suits, “the respondents threw all cautions to the wind”, and went ahead to make “first, second and third publications on their Facebook walls on December 25, 2021,” it said.

The applicant stated that by the defiant republication of the articles, the respondents “demonstrated to the High Court that there can be no limit to the way they practiced their brand of journalism”.

That, the Church noted “regenerated a fresh heated public debate and discussions on six suits pending before the Honourable court.”

The Church indicated that the three articles, which had been the subject matter of the contempt application titled, “Darkness in a Lighthouse” were published on April 23, 27 and 29, last year.

Another article titled, “Lighthouse begs for more time to file defence,” was published on May 25, 2021.

Two of the articles, which were published on August 25 and 26, 2021, were titled: “Lighthouse Pastors were not employees-SSNIT rules”, and “Evidence: How Lighthouse incriminated itself, but SSNIT looked away”, respectively.

The Church noted that the article titled: “Darkness in the Lighthouse”, was published 37 times between April 23 and May 1, 2021, on the respondents Facebook walls and twitter accounts and same generated 1,000’s of comments and shares on Facebook and other social media handles.

The applicant held that the conduct of the respondents amounted to “serial contempt in the highest”, considering, especially the repeated and defiant republications.

It said the respondents were liable to be convicted for contempt of court without the option of a fine- a custodial sentence because they were, “unrepentant and without any remorse whatsoever. They will continue to bring the administration of justice into disrepute by conducting media trial”.

Source: GNA

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