Judicial Service rejects GJA claims of threats against the media

The Judicial Service has debunked claims by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) that it sought to threaten the media following its recent statement in relation to the election petition. According to the Judicial Service, the so-called advice to pull down incendiary and vengeful stories about judges on the election petition case never constituted a threat to journalists insisting the GJA misled the public. “I say that the heading is misleading to a point of embarrassment because, the statement issued by the Judiciary, acknowledges the right to free speech in so many paragraphs. Reference is made particularly to paragraphs 9 and 10 of the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary,” a statement signed by lawyer for the Judicial Service Thaddeus Sory said. It would be recalled that the Judicial Service of Ghana days ago cautioned media houses against the publication of “incendiary, hateful and offensive” comments about the Supreme Court Judges. This comes on the back of what it described as “the flurry of statements and speeches” directed at the Justices, especially after the commencement of the hearing of the election petition. It claimed this has the tendency of “bringing the administration of justice into disrepute as unsuspecting Ghanaians are being deliberately misinformed and manipulated”, the Service through its lawyers Sory@Law, warned. “We must notify you, and we hereby do, that should you fail to heed our client’s demand as specified in paragraph 14 above, we have our client’s instructions to take appropriate action to ensure that you do not abuse the right to free speech by deploying and/or permitting your platform to be deployed in a manner that not only threatens our constitutional order and democracy but obviously, adversely interferes with the due administration of justice and also, brings it, into disrepute,” a part of the Judicial Service statement said. Below are details of the new statement by the Judicial Service  THADDEUS SORY RESPONDS TO GJA.
  1. STATEMENT BY GJA PRESIDENT.
  1. I have just read a statement issued by the President of the Ghana Journalist Association [GJA] on the statement issued on behalf of the Judicial Service regarding media discussions of the work of the Judiciary in judicial decision making.
  2. I am compelled to rejoin. The GJA statement itself affirms the right to rejoinders. My rejoinder is necessitated by the fact that the GJA statement completely misrepresents and therefore misinforms the public regarding the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary.
  3. I say first of all that no serious lawyer will countenance any attempt to suppress or in any way interfere with freedom of speech. Indeed, I have so many many many friends in the media. I congratulate them all the time for the work they do in making our lives better through the professional manner in which they carry out their duties.
  4. I, therefore, subscribe to the words of the learned philosopher who said that he may hate what a person says, but will defend to death their right to say it.
  5. I also agree and acknowledge, and will indeed fight to affirm the GJA’s right to react to the statement issued on behalf of the judiciary. I add immediately however that the right to freely discuss the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary, certainly excludes the liberty to misinform and distort the statement. It is in this vein that I exercise my right to react to the GJA statement.
  6. THE HEADING IS EMBARRASINGLY MISLEADING.
  7. The GJA statement says that it is a statement issued: “IN REACTION TO THREATS AGAINST THE MEDIA BY THE JUDICIAL SERVICE”.
  8. I say that the heading is misleading to a point of embarrassment because, the statement issued by the Judiciary, acknowledges the right to free speech in so many paragraphs. Reference is made particularly to paragraphs 9 and 10 of the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary.
  9. In paragraph 9 of the said statement, it is written as follows;
“9. Our client accordingly acknowledges the fact that in the delivery of justice, persons interested in the proceedings in one way or the other and who do not find the decisions of the courts favourable, are usually unhappy but hastens to add that in a civilised society such as ours, which is regulated by law, the expression of dissatisfaction with decisions of the courts must be dealt with in accordance with the same rules which accord persons the right to access the courts and no more.”
  1. Simple question, does this point not already represent a principle the GJA stands for? Should persons who are unhappy with decisions of the court, express their “dissatisfaction with decisions of the courts” otherwise than “in accordance with the same rules which accord persons the right to access the courts and no more”?
  2. Paragraph 10 says thus;
“10. It must be added immediately that the right to free speech and discussion                of judicial proceedings, decisions of the courts and the administration of justice is only legally permissible provided the criticism does not interfere      with the due administration of justice especially where as in this case it is intended to strike fear in the Justices whose constitutional mandate is to   determine the petition and/or bring the administration of justice into disrepute and also threatens our constitutional democracy.”
  1. Paragraph 10 of the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary again affirms the very principle which journalism stands for and makes it clear that the “right to free speech and discussion of judicial proceedings, decisions of the courts and the administration of justice is only legally permissible provided the criticism does not interfere with the due administration of justice especially where as in this case it is intended to strike fear in the Justices whose constitutional mandate is to determine the petition and/or bring the administration of justice into disrepute and also threatens our constitutional democracy.”
  2. The above statement is a repetition of what is taught in basic media law and the GJA statement itself affirms it. I will refer to it soon.
  3. My basic understanding of journalism is that, it should at least be fair. A fair reporting of the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary will definitely require that the Service’s statement acknowledging and affirming the right to free speech be stated to the public.
  4. Graphic displayed the highest level of professional journalism in the manner it accurately reported the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary. The GJA may want to take a look at it, compare it to the statement itself and judge against their own understanding of the statement in terms of what they have communicated to the public in their statement.
  5. Reference is made particularly to paragraph 13 of the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary which says thus;
“13.        We particularly take note of the fact that Justices of our client have in          the discharge of their constitutional duties, affirmed and enforced the        right to free speech and by reason thereof, accommodated a reasonably                   wide latitude in so far as criticisms of the administration of justice is              concerned the reason for which all judicial proceedings including the             election petition, are conducted in public, thereby providing a platform          for free public debate on the proceedings.”
  1. The above quotation says clearly that Justices of the Service “have affirmed and enforced the right to free speech and by reason thereof, accommodated a reasonably wide latitude in so far as criticisms of the administration of justice is concerned” how then can they now be said to be threatening the media?
  1. The statement says that it is because the Judiciary welcomes criticism to its work that “all judicial proceedings including the election petition, are conducted in public, thereby providing a platform for free public debate on the proceedings.” It is obvious here again that there is a basic misunderstanding of the statement.
III.  THE GJA ITSELF ADMITS THAT THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH HAS LIMITS.
  1. In paragraph 11 of the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary, it is stated thus;
“11.  It must be added immediately that the right to free speech and discussion of judicial proceedings, decisions of the courts and the administration of justice is only legally permissible provided the criticism does not interfere with the due administration of justice especially whereas in this case it is intended to strike fear in the Justices whose constitutional mandate is to determine the petition and/or bring the administration of justice into disrepute and also threatens our  constitutional democracy.”
  1. The above statement is acknowledged in the GJA statement itself. It puts it in the following manner;
“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.”
  1. Emphasis is made on the following requirements stated in the GJA statement above quoted;
  2. Dictates of the law.
  3. Due process.
iii.Legitimate aims and objectives.
  1. The question that agitates my mind here is this, in what way does the GJA’s view of responsible journalism differ from that stated in paragraph 11 of the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary?
  2. Earlier on the GJA statement also acknowledged as follows;
“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…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 scandalize the court with unhinged comments or verbal stones, no matter how provocative the statement of the Judicial Service might be.”
  1. It is repeated that in the above quotation the GJA admits that free speech
  2. must be done in a manner that does not bring the administration of justice into disrepute and accordingly cautions.
  3. the media community to be calm, and not to be led into temptation to scandalize the court…
  4. The point I make is that, it is the same thing the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary says.
  5. Given the obvious unity in the parameters of free speech agreed upon between the GJA and the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary, one finds the very caustic language contained in a statement which cautions against the excessive use of words with the pelting effect of stones quite difficult to reconcile.
  6. STATEMENT ISSUED BY THE JUDICIARY.
  7. From the discussion so far, it is said without any fear of contradiction whatsoever that the statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary;
  8. Acknowledges press freedom.
  9. Affirms the law that free speech must be contained with the limits allowed by law and agrees that such speech,
iii. must foster legitimate aims and objectives. The statement issued by the judiciary is clearly headed; RE: INCENDIARY, HATEFUL AND OFFENSIVE STATEMENTS AGAINST MEMBERS OF THE JUDICIARY. The question that I ask, resulting from the GJA statement is simple. The statement issued on behalf of the Judiciary dealt with “incendiary, hateful and offensive                 statements against members of the Judiciary.” This being the heading, how did the GJA  reach the conclusion on its heading, that the demand contained in the statement had to do with “THREATS AGAINST THE MEDIA”? It is true that the statement calls on the media to pull down “incendiary and spiteful publications, immediately”. But should such statements not be pulled down? Have so many institutions, platforms and people not been blocked from various platforms including twitter and Facebook for publishing offensive statements? And is the GJA          saying such “hateful, spiteful, vengeful and incendiary communication against Justices of” of the Service is permissible? Did Dr. Monney say such statements should not be pulled down? This will conflict clearly with the GJA’s own admission that journalism should be carried out within the confines of the law which certainly prohibits such statements against members of the Judiciary. The statement issued on behalf of the judiciary was carefully paragraphed. There is no suggestion as to which paragraph threatens free speech. The statement that the media should “not abuse the right to free speech by deploying and/or permitting your platform to be deployed in a manner that not only threatens our constitutional order and democracy but obviously, adversely interferes with the due administration of justice and also, brings it, into disrepute” failing which “appropriate action” will be taken only reiterates the consequences of irresponsible journalism.

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