Ghana: Sentences for radio panellists, host, owners highlighted in Ghanaian media

Accra, Ghana (PANA) – Sentences handed to two panellists and host of an Accra-based radio station on Wednesday by the Supreme Court for contempt was one of the major stories highlighted by the media in Ghana this week.

The court also sentenced the owners of the pro-government Montie FM as well as the owner of the frequency.

And as expected, the sentences have generated a debate in the country.

The state-owned Ghanaian Times, in its story under the headline, “Montie FM trio jailed” reported that the Supreme Court on Wednesday cracked the whip by sentencing the host of a political programme and two panellists at Montie FM to four months imprisonment in hard labour for treating the courts with disdain.

It said Salifu Maase, alias Mugabe (host), Alistair Tairo Nelson and Godwin Ako Gunn (panellists), were also ordered to pay 10,000 Ghana cedis (US$1=3.94 Ghana cedis) each or in default serve additional one month prison sentence in hard labour.

The court ordered Network Broadcasting Company Limited, owners of the radio station and ZeeZee Media Ghana Limited, owner of the frequency, to pay a fine of 30,000 Ghana cedis each by the close of Thursday or serve a prison term. All the contemners have since paid the fines.

The court also ordered Network Broadcasting Company Ltd to submit to the court by last Thursday policies and measures they had developed to ensure that the operations of all their stations, namely Radio Gold, Montie FM and Gold TV, were conducted in such a manner as shall effectively ensure that the contemptuous, unlawful acts and impropriety never occur again.

It also ordered ZeeZee Media Ghana Ltd to produce to the court policies and measures put in place to ensure that the utilisation of the Frequency by Network Broadcasting Company Ltd. did not and could not give rise to unlawful and contemptuous acts.

Justice Sophia Akuffo, who presided, said that the punishments would serve as a deterrent to other media house owners and panellists who had made it their stock-in-trade to bastardise prominent personalities and institutions at the least opportunity.

She said that the court was aware of the invaluable services of the media but condemned the unwarranted attacks some people unleashed on citizens in the name of press freedom.

The headline of the Graphic read, “Montie trio in cooler; Operators of radio station fined.” The story said the Supreme Court on Wednesday sent a strong warning to people who made irresponsible comments on media platforms by sentencing two radio panellists and a programme host to four months imprisonment each for scandalising the court.

It said the two panellists, spurred on by the host, threatened the lives of judges of the superior court, especially those who heard the case on the credibility of the country’s electoral roll.

They were found guilty of scandalising the court, defying and lowering the authority of the court and bringing the name of the court into disrepute.

The court, however, did not sentence the trio for the threat of harm and death that they made against the judges. It said that constituted another matter for another branch of government to take action.

With regard to the directors of Montie FM, the court held that they provided the platform for the contemptuous comments to be made. It also held that the NBCL and ZeZe Media ought to have paid more attention to the activities of the radio station.

The ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) reacted swiftly by condemning the sentences.

The Graphic in a story under the headline, “NDC condemns jail term for Montie three” reported that the party, in a statement signed by the National Chairman, Mr Kofi Portuphy, said the jail sentences were an “excessive censure of the right to free expression’’, which had the propensity to erode the country’s democratic credentials.

“This judgement sends an unfortunate impression about Ghana and its judiciary and severely dents our enviable reputation as a beacon of democracy on the African continent and beyond,’’ the statement said.

The NDC expressed “utter shock, disbelief and dismay” at the jail terms handed down to the contemners.

It said the party respected the verdict of the court, and condemned the utterances and comments of the three but it was extremely disappointed and saddened by the severity and harshness of the punishments.

‘’Our utter disappointment not only stems from the fact that the accused persons themselves demonstrated considerable remorse, but also there have been an overwhelming outpouring of both condemnation of their conduct and pleas for the court to be lenient in its judgement and avoid custodial sentence.’’

“Media fraternity expresses shock over Montie 3 sentences,” was the headline of a story in the Graphic, which stated that the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) had expressed shock at the four-month prison term slapped on the two panellists and host.

The President of the GJA, Mr Affail Monney, said the sentences had come as a surprise, as he believed that the conviction was punitive enough to serve as a deterrent to others.

“Our initial reaction is that it came as a shock because they had been convicted and we thought the conviction was punitive enough to deter others.”

Mr Monney said the conviction emphasised that the country’s media landscape was “still latent with all kinds of legal land mines and potholes in which we should not fall”.

He was, however, of the view that the law must take its course, regardless of the status of the offender of the law, adding that the GJA was, nonetheless, against any move that would prevent journalists from doing their work.

However, the former president of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), Mr Sam Okudzeto, has led a chorus that says the contemners deserve harsher punishment.

The Graphic said Mr Okudzeto said: “…I would have given them much longer (jail term) than that because, I am so worried about what I call irresponsibility that has almost crept into the political arena whereby people use the radio and television stations as a platform for vulgar abuse, threats.”

“I think that a lot of the characters that are appearing on television, they should not be allowed. I think the stations themselves should have been punished heavier, they should be fined heavily; sometimes that’s the way people feel it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the media reported that two Accra-based radio stations and a television station owned by the Network Broadcasting Company temporarily shut down on Wednesday in solidarity with the three contemners. Radio Gold, Montie FM and TV Gold, which broadcasts on satellite, went off air around 1510 GMT on Wednesday.

On Thursday, calls were made to the president for presidential pardon for the contemners, as supporters of the ruling party protested against the sentences in the street.

The Graphic said lawyers for the convicts had indicated their intention to petition President John Dramani Mahama for a presidential pardon.

In a statement, their lawyers Nana Ato Dadzie and George Loh, described the sentence by the court as “harsh and excessive”.
-0- PANA MA/AR 30July2016

30 july 2016 11:55:59

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