The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), on behalf of four media stakeholders, has called on President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to consider a repeal of repressive sections of the Electronic Communications Act and the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) being weaponised to muzzle free speech and media freedom in the country.
The call was made during a joint press conference by the GJA President, Albert Dwumfour; Executive Secretary of Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Sulemana Briamah; President of Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), Mr. Sunkwa Mills; and Nii Laryea Sowah, Executive Secretary of the Private Newspaper Publishers Association (PRINPAG) on ‘Criminalization of Free Speech in Ghana” yesterday at the International Press Centre.
In a joint statement read by the GJA President, he raised concerns about the use of Electronic Communications Act as well as the Criminal and Other Offences Act to arrest citizens and journalists, and to prefer criminal charges against them for press and speech offences, which are merely defamatory and for which civil remedies are available.
Mr Dwumfour explained that Section 76 of the Electronic Communications Act 2008 (Act 775) states: “A person who by means of electronic communications service, knowingly sends a communication which is false or misleading and likely to prejudice the efficiency of life-saving service or to endanger the safety of any person, ship, aircraft, vessel or vehicle commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than three thousand penalty units or to a term of imprisonment of not more than five years or both.”
Similarly, he quoted Section 208 of the Criminal and Offences Act 1960, Act 29, which stipulates: “A person who publishes or reproduces a statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace knowing or having reason to believe that the statement, rumour or report is false commits a misdemeanour.”
Based on this, he considered it ironic that “the government is supervising the surreptitious reintroduction of criminal libel through the use of the above-mentioned criminal laws”.
The GJA President cited the recent detention for seven days of Noah Nartey Dameh of Radio Ada on false publication charges in connection with a critical Facebook post.
“As you must all have read or heard in the news, Dameh posted on his Facebook post that the Police had abused one Benjamin Anim, a citizen of Ada and a patient at a hospital, by chaining him to his hospital bed. The post was accompanied by a picture of the chained Anim alongside a picture of businessman Daniel McCorley (McDan) whom the journalist accused of instigating the police action.”
He added that the said journalist was briefly detained and granted bail, saying “after reporting to the Police several times and a couple of court appearances, Dameh was in December 2022, freed by the Tema Magistrate Court which dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction”.
The GJA President emphasised that the obvious persecution of Noah Dameh is but one of many crucial and disturbing issues relating to press freedom and safety of journalists.
He also bemoaned that since the beginning of 2022, a number of journalists and one civil society activist had been prosecuted in Ghana using the Electronic Communications Act and Criminal Code, specifically Act 202 Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29).
The GJA President further recognised that the media and journalists can sometimes be reckless and unprofessional to the extent of publishing false and defamatory stories.
Fortunately, he stressed, the laws of the country provide aggrieved entities with remedies for civil actions against citizens, journalists and media organisations.
“It is regrettable, therefore, that repressive sections of the Electronic Communications Act and the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) are being weaponised to muzzle free speech under Akufo-Addo regime.
“It may be argued that the arrests and persecutions have been in accordance with the law. It is equally true that the victims of the ex-while criminal libel law were also dealt with in line with the law. Indeed, many of the world’s intolerant and autocratic governments typically deal with dissent and press offenses by exploiting the law, hence our call for repeal of the two laws,” the statement indicated.
He, therefore, reiterated the need to reconsider those laws to bring a positive change in media life. He also called on the government to adequately resource the National Media Commission (NMC) to effectively carry out its mandate of monitoring and regulating media content.
That, he believes, will discourage police involvement in the media regulatory space. He reaffirmed his commitment in ensuring the highest form of ethics and professionalism in the Ghanaian media landscape.