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July 2010

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By Rodney Nkrumah Boateng

It is common ground among many observers of Ghana’s media landscape that the quality of journalism in the country leaves much to be desired. The crass language, the inaccuracies, the downright deliberate lies and propaganda that pass for news are all a cause for great concern. In the immediate aftermath of press liberalisation about twenty years ago, it was probably understandable that in their newfound excitement at being free, some press houses swiftly and completely swung to the other extreme and fell face down in the gutter.

After all, a desperately hungry man wolfs down food that is offered him and may even choke on his zeal. But one would have expected the dizziness of the early heady days to have settled down by now. That it has not is a very sad indictment indeed. Clearly something has to be done to ensure proper standards. The question is: what, precisely?

This issue has raised its head in the recent aftermath of the furore surrounding JOY FM and its Acting News Editor, Ato Kwamena Dadzie, over the GREDA death threats issue. This in turn has led to Ato being charged under s.208 of the 1960 Criminal Code. The question is whether this provision is an appropriate tool to fight alleged falsehoods maliciously peddled in the media.

Section 208 of the Code says a person who publishes “any 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 statement, rumour or report is false’ commits an offence.

From the above, the prosecution first of all has the burden of proving that the defendant knew his report to be false when he publicized it. Alternatively, it must prove the defendant had reason to believe that the said statement/rumour or report was false. The defendant’s refusal or failure to provide the source of the information on which he based his report/statement/rumour does not necessarily mean he knew or had reason to believe his statement was false.

Finally the prosecution has to prove the defendant’s report, rumour or statement, which he knew or had reason to believe to be false, is likely to cause public fear and alarm or disturb the peace. It is for the prosecution to establish that this was the likely outcome foreseeable by a reasonable man. There is no requirement anywhere under this law, in my view, for the defendant to have intended these consequences.

In this case therefore, the state must prove that JOY FM’s news item to the effect that some GREDA executives had faced death threats over the STX deal was known by Ato to be false. Alternatively it has to prove Ato had reason to believe it to be false, and that the likely result of its publication was public fear and alarm/breach of public peace. It is important for the prosecution to prove ALL these elements beyond reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction. There are insufficient facts in the public domain to establish conclusively whether Ato knew or had reason to believe the story was false. But GREDA’s denial, made public AFTER the news item was published and the police became involved, does not automatically mean the station knew or had reason to believe the story to be false at the time it was broadcast. GREDA’s denial therefore does not take us any further and in my view is insignificant as far as s.208 is concerned.

In my opinion, however, the last test – the likelihood of public fear and panic/breach of public peace due to the alleged death threats on the GREDA executives- provides the greatest difficulty for the prosecution. Most reasonable people, in my view, are unlikely to conclude that public fear/panic or breach of the peace is likely to result from JOY FM’s report, even if it is established that they knew or had reason to believe the story was in fact false.

In any event, if the police believe, as they have stated, that Ato failed to supply information that is crucial for the prevention of serious crime and he is therefore obstructing a police investigation, they are clearly barking up the wrong legal tree by charging him under s.208, which I believe is very poorly drafted anyway for reasons too many to go into here in sufficient detail. In my view therefore, s.208 is rather hopeless in dealing with this particular case.

Some argue that so long as the offence remains on our statute books, we should not begrudge the police for employing it and that we should all wait for due process to take its course and for the state to prove its case or otherwise. After all, we live under the rule of law and the media must not be exempted from the law. Of course, in its general application, this is an unassailable argument. But it is also misguided.

Just because a law is in the books does not mean you rush to slam it around willy-nilly. Of course the state has the power to prosecute this case under s.208, but in a democracy its citizens have the right to question whether that power is exercised responsibly and without malice or political bias. If the state is going to bring charges on any individual or corporate body, it is reasonable to expect that the charge is a relevant one and that it has a realistic prospect of success. After all it costs the taxpayer’s money to prosecute.

It is difficult to understand why in the past the police have failed to charge others under this law, given the numerous examples of people making wild claims that could arguably have caused real public fear and panic. This lack of consistency is worrying and cannot be good for the police’s image. It opens them up to the accusation of selective justice and of being the current government’s attack dogs. A public institution that saps public confidence from it through perceived selective prosecution and injustice cannot turn around and insist that the citizenry must allow that institution to work. The argument by the police that they needed the source of the news item so that they could offer the intended victims protection against possible government threats brings a rather wry smile to the lips.

It is important not to take lightly the suspicions that some Ghanaians have of s.208 being used as a backdoor mechanism to bring back criminal libel into our legal dispensation. As a country we have travelled a long way from the dark and stormy days of the brutalization of journalists who did not meet the approval of the government of the day.

The press freedoms we enjoy today are too precious to simply shrug the shoulder when the state, via the police authorities, starts hovering over a media outlet and seeks to drag them to court under the criminal law for something said or published. In particular, many of the vilest and crudest hostilities visited on journalists like Tommy Thompson, Kwesi Pratt, Malik Baako and John Kugblenu all occurred under the PNDC, the political parent of the current NDC government. It is perfectly understandable, therefore, that under this particular government, many would feel rather jittery when the police resort to the use of the criminal law when dealing with alleged press falsehoods, because justifiably or not, it raises uncomfortable reminders of past state censorship and victimisation.

The spectre of criminal prosecution with possible incarceration (however remote the chances, as in this case), must weigh heavily on the mind of any defendant. It may well be, as some people speculate, that the state realizes it has a weak case, but prefers to leave the matter lingering as a way of teaching JOY FM and Ato ‘where power lies’, thereby sending a message to unfriendly media houses. I sincerely hope this is not the case. The law is not, and should not be, an instrument of machismo, muscle-flexing or revenge. This issue is much wider than JOY FM or Ato Dadzie, even if one believes the station’s standards have slipped or one dislikes Ato’s style or comments in the past on any particular subject.

I believe that the way forward is for the National Media Commission to be equipped and emboldened to deal better with complaints and to sanction press houses that fail to live up to standards, truly independent of the state. An individual or organization whose reputation is allegedly besmirched by the media can head for the libel courts for civil redress, probably through a fast track mechanism. Of course, the media houses too have to do a lot of introspection and self-regulating, and to realize the enormous responsibility that is reposed in them by virtue of the press freedoms that their various gallant forbears have fought hard to secure, often at risk to their lives.

Press freedom is absolutely crucial in a modern, free society, and we cannot afford to have the state being perceived as tinkering with it by invoking the hated criminal libel law in a roundabout way. We’ve been there, done that and have the ugly scars to prove it.

Here is an excerpt from Broadcast News – Writing, Reporting and Producing, [Fourth Edition] by Ted White. It is on the issue of news sources and why journalists need to keep promises of confidentiality. Hopefully, it sheds some light on the recent issues.

The fastest way to lose a source is to break a promise of confidentiality. Few sources give reporters sensitive information without a promise of secrecy. Once a reporter gives that promise it must be respected, regardless of the consequences. A reporter’s right to protect sources has often been tested in the courts and reporters do not always win. On rare occasions, reporters have gone to jail or been fined for refusing to disclose a source…

If a reporter promises to keep a source secret and that promise is broken, it can be costly.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that news organizations cannot break promises of confidentiality to news sources. The landmark decision was the result of a suit brought by a public-relations consultant in Minnesota after two newspapers in that state broke their promise of confidentiality.

The plaintiff, Dan Cohen, was working for a gubernatorial candidate, Wheelock Whitney when he agreed to give the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch information about a shoplifting conviction of Marlene Johnson, a candidate on the opposing ticket.

Pioneer Press Dispatch reporter, Bill Salisbury and Star Tribune reporter, Lori Sturdevent had promised Cohen confidentiality. Their newspapers decided, however, to withdraw the agreement and identified Cohen in the stories. He was fired from his job with a large advertising agency the next day.

The lawyers for the newspapers argued that the public had the right to know who had disclosed the derogatory information about the candidate and argued it was the newspaper’s First Amendment right to publish Cohen’s name. The court voted 5 to 4 that Minnesota law requires “those making promises to keep them,” and that the newspapers had no right to break their promise of confidentiality.

Salisbury said the Cohen case “may permanently change the relationship between reporters and anonymous sources. It should discourage editors from breaking reporters’ promises, thus making sources feel more confident that their names will be protected.”

Salisbury said the ruling also “chips away at the press’s First Amendment protections, and it invites more lawsuits over broken promises.”

Cohen was awarded $200,000 for breach of contract.

A reporter should never use a source as a basis for a story until the information is checked for accuracy. Verifying a story is not always easy, especially when a reporter is working under deadlines. One of the best ways to ensure that a story is accurate is to find several other sources who will disclose exactly the same information. This is known as double- or triple-sourcing…

Since the police CID decided to charge me with publishing false news with the intention to cause fear and alarm, there has been an outpouring of support and encouragement from people far and near. “We are behind you,” is a phrase I’ve heard a lot recently.

I’ve also heard a good number of people say: “it serves you right.” Of course, this is from those who just couldn’t wait to break into a victory dance because Ato Kwamena Dadzie appears to be in trouble.

Truth be told, I don’t feel like I am in any trouble. I have not been thrown into a bunker – not yet! And I am not afraid to go to court to answer whatever questions I need to answer. I haven’t lost sight of the fact that I could be thrown in jail but that does not make me piss in my pants.

To those who are worried about me and wondering how I’m holding up, I want to say that there is no cause for “alarm”. Seriously, there is no “alarm”. There has never been any and so I am ok.

I have heard almost everything everyone has said about this issue. I could say a million things but a lot of my friends, well-wishers and advisers have asked me to lock them all up inside until further notice. I really can’t wait to pour them all out because they weigh too heavily on my heart and mind.

All I can say for now though is I owe no one an apology. I won’t reveal my sources and if that means going to jail, so be it. That is a small price to pay to make sure that journalists do their jobs – exposing what nation wreckers with privilege and power will go to every length to cover up.
So, to those on my side, I say “thank you”. I appreciate your concern, support and encouragement.

And to those who have broken into a victory dance over my supposed ‘downfall’, I’d say have fun. But, the last dance will be mine. I could be moonwalking all over the place before the Attorney General and the CID make up their mind on whether or not I should be placed in the dock.

I just can’t wait. In fact, I’d be quite disappointed if they don’t put me in the dock.

For now, I want to express my appreciation to friend and foe alike. You keep me on my toes and make me strive to be a better man, doing the best I can in the best way I know how.

Journalist charged after refusing to reveal sources

ACCRA, July 24, 2010 (AFP) – A Ghanaian journalist has been charged with reporting false information after refusing to reveal his sources to police, the head of the country’s journalists association said Saturday.

Ato Kwamena Dadzie, acting editor of Joy FM radio, was charged following a story that said the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association withdrew its opposition to a housing deal after some of its members received death threats.

The 10-billion-dollar construction deal was between the government and a South Korean firm.

After the government denounced the story, police called on Dadzie to reveal his sources, but he refused, according to Bright Blewu, general secretary of the journalists association.

He was charged on Monday with publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public, said Blewu.

"The police invoked an old law, from 1960," he said.

"The police asked him where he had got the information but… as a journalist, (he) didn’t want to say where he got the information."

Dadzie was released after bail was set at 5,000 cedis (3,400 dollars, 2,600 euros).

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has already criticised the move, calling on prosecutors to dismiss the "outrageous criminal charge.

"The police should not intimidate a journalist into disclosing his sources," the CPJ said in a statement.

In Ghana, police prosecute journalist with antiquated criminal law

New York, July 23, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Ghana’s attorney general to drop prosecution of prominent journalist Ato Kwamena Dadzie under the 1960 criminal code in an attempt to get him to reveal his sources.

The Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service on Monday charged Dadzie, acting editor of Accra-based private station Joy FM, with publishing false news “with intent to cause fear and alarm,” defense lawyer Shadrach Arhin told CPJ. Dadzie is free on a bail bond of 5,000 cedis (US$3,430) and faces a misdemeanor offense carrying a maximum sentence of two years in prison or a fine, according to his lawyer. Police referred the case to the attorney general’s office for legal advice, he said.

In a July 6 story, Joy had suggested that the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association had recently withdrawn their petition opposing a US$10 billion housing construction deal between the government and a South Korean company after receiving death threats in text messages, according to local journalists and news reports. Dadzie was charged after he refused to tell police names of members who were allegedly threatened.

Peace FM in Accra quoted police spokesman Kwesi Ofori this week as saying that the police were acting in the interest of "protecting life and property" in order to apprehend whoever sent the threatening text messages.

“We call on the attorney general to dismiss this outrageous criminal charge against Ato Kwamenia Dadzie,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “The police should not intimidate a journalist into disclosing his sources.”

Ghanaian Minister of Information John Tia Akologu dismissed the allegations of threats in a press statement as a “concocted report cloaked in investigative pretentions,” and demanded a retraction, according to news reports. In the same statement, Akoglu ordered police to investigate the claims. In a subsequent interview with JoyOnline, Joy FM’s website, the executive secretary of the developers association subsequently denied that there had ever been threats.

In a press statement on Thursday, Ghanaian Minister of Information John Tia Akologu said the government was not “interested in criminalizing speech and/or sending any journalist to court” but accused the media of “hiding behind press freedom to deliberately peddle falsehood and in other cases hate mongering.”
Ghana repealed its criminal libel law in 2001.

The Danquah Institute considers as disappointing, dangerous and back-stepping the action that has been taken by the Police, in particular, in responding to Government’s directive to investigate the news item in which Joy FM quoted a source as alleging that council members of the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association were threatened to withdraw their petition against the $10 billion STX agreement for the construction of 200,000 housing units in Ghana.

We believe there were enough clues for the Police not to have reduced the case to one of an ethical dilemma for the journalist(s) involved. Joy FM was not the first media house to report of alleged threats against the GREDA leadership. A newspaper had reported similar allegations, mentioning the name of a specific GREDA member that paper said was alleging he had been threatened.

Also, the multiple contrapositions taken by GREDA over the STX deal within the space of one month were enough to alert detectives that there could be more to the publication worth investigating than merely accusing the media house of false publication as Government was quick to do.

According to the Public Procurement Authority, 14 percent of the country’s GDP and 24 percent of total imports is consumed by public procurement, with over 80 percent of state funds being spent on public procurement after personal emoluments. This means we should not estimate the potential of Government exploiting this fact to abuse its relationship with the private sector. For a government to gag any contracting party or potential contracting party with threats of loss of deals, as alleged, would cause concrete and profound harm to our democracy. The qualitative entrenchment of our democracy relies on access to information and the protection of sources where necessary and it is the free expression of information, ideas, and opinions developed by responsible journalists, academics, commentators, experts, and others that lead to the formulation of sound public policy, including national security policy.

The Police action unnecessarily puts the Joy FM journalist(s) and Ghanaian journalism, generally, in a situation that could stifle the development of investigative journalism. The ethical dilemma here is that if a journalist reveals a source she may be in breach of her professional ethics. On the other hand if she refuses to reveal the identity of a source when so demanded by the Police, she risks criminal prosecution.

Government’s first reaction to the news on July 6 was to ask the radio station to retract the story and apologise while directing the police to investigate the matter. This action of the Government carried the potential risk of prejudicing police work, by putting some perceptible pressure on the Police to target Joy FM for the apportionment of blame.

Based on the circumstantial evidence available, the Police ought not have focused their investigation narrowly on finding Joy FM at fault. And, for the Police to conclude, just like Government has, by accusing the radio station of spreading false news to cause fear and alarm, in our view, suggests an inattentive and unpersevering piece of police investigation into this matter.

Are the Police saying there were no highlights of circumstantial evidence to support the story for them to resort to this extreme prosecutorial measure. We believe this calls for a serious debate on the consideration of a law that will place some legal obligation on journalists to protect their confidential source of information. It is held that the protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom. Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest.

The action of the Police against the Joy News Editor and the Ghanaian Times Editor this week are dangerous signals that the vital public-watchdog role of the press may be undermined and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected if some statutory checks are not introduced and we continue to rely on the discretion of the Police. Having regard to the importance of the protection of journalistic sources for press freedom in a democratic society and the potentially chilling effect an order of source disclosure has on the exercise of that freedom, the decision by the police to charge the news editor of Joy FM under Section 208 of the Criminal Code, 1960, for allegedly publishing false information to cause fear and alarm cannot be compatible with Articles 21 and 162 of the Constitution of the Republic.

Moreover, for Government to have concluded that the publication was false, within hours after it was put out there and to go on to insist on a retraction and an apology from Joy FM was certainly not helpful in encouraging the Police to do a thorough or impartial job on the investigation. It was a very curious conclusion for Government to jump to, without any supporting evidence that the news item carried by Joy FM had to be false.

We are disappointed by the supine work of the police here, where the focus appears to have been in seeking to compel the reporter and the news editor to disclose their confidential source of the allegation, rather than making sleuthhounding deductions from the facts available. Thus, once Joy Fm refused to identify its source the Police was content to conclude that there was nothing more to investigate.

We believe there is enough circumstantial evidence available for the police to throw their searchlights farther beyond the studios of Multimedia and its employees. Below is a chronology of events which we believe the Police could not (or should not) have ignored.

(a) Tuesday, June 1: Parliament lays for approval after 48 hours a US$1.5 billion Supplier’s Credit Financing Agreement between STX Engineering and Construction Ghana Limited as Lender and the Government of Ghana in relation to the financing of the 30,000 housing units under the Security Services Housing Project, emanating from the 200,000 housing deal.

(b) Thursday, June 3: Civil society groups compelled to hold emergency stakeholders forum of the Ghanaian building industry to draw attention to the STX deal in the hope of stopping it.

(c) At forum, Frank Tackie, the President of the Ghana Institute of Planners, representing all the institutions of the Built Environment, criticizes the STX deal and says alternative local building materials, local expertise and better value for money can be achieved if Government focused on Ghanaian firms, materials and expertise rather than Korea.

(d) Sammy Amegayibor, representing GREDA, also laments how Government has refused to sit down with them to explore the option of getting the Ghana Real Estate Developers’ Association to undertake the project because local contractors are more than capable. He says average cost of STX housing at $50,000 cannot not be considered as affordable and that private sector already satisfying that end of the market. He adds, Ghanaians built all the major estates in Ghana and don’t need Koreans to build houses.http://blogs.myjoyonline.com/sms/2010/06/04/stx-housing-deal-is-bad-for-ghana-di-imani/

(e) Monday, June 21: three weeks later, GREDA issues a strong press statement calling for the STX agreement not to be approved. Some of the points raised are as follows: 200,000 units may just be a fraction of the total deficit thus leaving a lot for others to deal with if they want, but as Ghanaians and the professionals in this industry we feel it a duty to draw attention to the fact that this deal does not at all represent value-for money.GREDA is requesting that both Parliament and Government discontinue the approval process. Indeed in its present state this agreement will be damaging to Ghana, it should be cancelled. It is also shrouded in ambiguity, and does not offer value for money.

(f) Note: in that press release GREDA gave public notice that it was holding a press conference three days later to give more details, and present petitions to both the Speaker of Parliament and the President of the Republic to table its position against the agreement being approved by the House and to get Government to meet and discuss a local alternative with GREDA and others.

(g) “We will hold a press conference on Thursday 24th June 2010. At 10 AM, at the Ghana International Press Centre, to properly put out our case and explain our position to the general public. We will thereafter on the same day, present a petition to Parliament requesting that they do not pass the STX deal. We will then move to the Castle to present a petition requesting audience with The President to discuss how we can provide quality housing for Ghanaians at the right cost in support of the Presidents agenda for a ‘Better Ghana’,” GREDA announces, adding, “We believe our Government will listen, and our Parliament will support our call…
(h) “Our plea to Government is to sit down with GREDA and the built environment professionals such as Architects, Engineers, Planners, Surveyors to jointly consider an alternative to the STX.” http://blogs.myjoyonline.com/sms/2010/06/21/stx-housing-deal-is-disturbinggreda/

(i) Thursday, June 24: Journalists gather at the International Press Centre, Accra, in anticipation of the GREDA news conference. After more than half an hour wait, the President of GREDA announces that GREDA leadership met the Minister for Water Resources, Works & Housing the previous day and from that preliminary discussion GREDA has decided to cancel both the news conference and the decision to petition the Executive and the Legislature.

(j) Friday, June 25: newspaper headline: GREDA BOSSES THREATENED!…To Abandon Press Conference!

(k) The report in the Daily Searchlight reads: A major coordinated form of protest from stakeholders of the building industry to express their opposition to the controversial $10 billion STX deal to build 200,000 housing units in Ghana in 5 years has hit the snag following reports of threats from top government leaders! The Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) membership was scheduled to hold a press conference yesterday to present a petition to Parliament and the Castle to ask for a cancellation of the project, but the conference was called off at the last minute following what insiders describe as threats from high places! Journalists had showed up in their numbers with recorders, cameras, pens and papers, but the President of GREDA, Dr Joe Tweneboa was 30 minutes late. When he arrived, he went outside with his other executives and Kofi Bentil of Bentil Consultants and Imani, the consultant for GREDA. A long heated discussion took place. Journalists could overhear Dr Tweneboa saying “I’ve been threatened and it is scary. I can’t go ahead. I have received so many phone calls. I’m sorry… I’m sorry. Let’s just call it off.”http://thedailysearchlight.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=23836&Itemid=1

(l) Wednesday, June 30: The Speaker of Parliament, Justice Joyce Bamford-Addo, announces to the House that she was referring the $1.5bn STX agreement to the joint Committee on Finance and Water Resources, Works and Housing, following a petition to her by GREDA, requesting her to do all that is in her power “to ensure Parliament does not pass the STX deal.”

(m) GREDA was billed to meet the joint committee on Monday, June 5. She accordingly directed the joint Committee, after giving a hearing to GREDA, to present a composite report to the House the following Tuesday, for a resolution.http://www.ghananewsnow.com/politics/parliament-meets-greda-over-korean-housing-deal/

(n) Note: until then, the public had been told by GREDA that it had made a u-turn and was no more going to petition either of the two arms of government. Thus, in spite of its public announcement, GREDA, however, went ahead on the quiet to petition Parliament. So, to whom was that public message that GREDA was no longer going ahead with the petition meant? Though, GREDA claimed it had, since June 23, opened discussions with Government it still wanted Parliament to stop the STX deal. This is further evidence that GREDA was still committed to its opposition to the STX deal, but was reluctant to make noise about it. Did it have anything to fear?

(o) Contents of the petition were unequivocal on GREDA’s opposition to the STX deal. Although GREDA said it appreciated and commended Government’s desire to help solve the housing problem in the country, it stated in the petition that so many things were wrong with the STX agreement. “As professionals, we have analyzed the deal in detail and wish to state that there is a lot wrong with the agreement. Many pertinent details are missing; there are loopholes, which give cause for worry. We can also say that the financial aspects of the deal make it unacceptably expensive,” GREDA stated in the petition signed by its President, Dr. Alexander Tweneboah.

(p) On Monday, June 5, GREDA met the joint committee, but in another bizarre twist in the GREDA/STX tale, the media reported that GREDA withdrew its petition and went on to tell Parliament to pass the STX deal. However, GREDA had its own proposal for parliamentary consideration.

(q) One, Parliament was not the appropriate place to present a proposal for an award of a contract. If that was all GREDA wanted to do it should have rather redirected its proposal to the sector Ministry. However, GREDA’s proposal was relevant to Members inasmuch as it assisted the legislatures to assess the value-for-money aspects of the STX agreement.

(r) Again, it is strange for GREDA to present a proposal that effectively argued that GREDA could undertake the entire 200,000 housing project proposed by STX, with amenities and onsite infrastructure of $3.7 billion, instead of $10 billion (or 30,000 units at $540m) and yet drop its principled position that STX was too expensive for Ghana.

(s) There is also enough evidence to suggest that something unusual might have compelled GREDA to opt for that confusing position on the morning of June 5, when its executives arrived at Parliament. This is because the complete documentary presentation that they prepared for Parliament that morning ran contrary to their oral statement before the joint committee that they were withdrawing the petition. After the Powerpoint presentation, GREDA had to leave a copy to the Committee and it was that copy that exposed the fact that GREDA’s shift to withdraw the petition was very likely to have been sudden. http://news.myjoyonline.com/docs/GREDAtoParliament.pdf

(t) Above is the full presentation. If the Police had interviewed members of the joint committee and GREDA members as some of us have done, they would have known that GREDA’s prepared document which was left in Parliament and copies made available to MPs contained 23 slides, a significant number of which gave a negative analysis of the STX deal; yet GREDA allegedly skipped some pages, starting from slide 6. It did so in a seemingly desperate attempt to avoid criticizing STX, while promoting its interest.

(u) It is instructive that Slide 2 of the GREDA presentation states boldly:
The STX Housing Deal
1. STX DEAL IS NOT VALUE FOR MONEY
2. GREDA HAS A LESS EXPENSIVE OPTION
3. GREDA WOULD DELIVER A BETTER SOLUTION IF GIVEN
THE SAME TERMS

(a) Detectives ought to have at least probed the obvious dangling question: what could have forced GREDA to change its position on STX between the time it got to Parliament with its prepared presentation and before it met the joint committee? The chronology of events shows that GREDA did not even find the time to amend its prepared presentation to reflect its revised position on the petition.

(b) It is equally instructive to note that no member of GREDA was prepared to comment in the mass media on their reported volte face on that Monday, in spite of relentless attempts by the media. It does not mean that journalists could not get through to GREDA members; it may only mean that GREDA members were not willing to go on record in the media. One person who was heard to have granted Joy FM an interview that day, June 5, was Mr Alban Bagbin, the Minister for Water Resources, Works & Housing.

(c) The Joint Committee report on the GREDA Petition was dated June 5. It showed details of GREDA’s alternative proposal which is estimated at $540 million for 30,000 housing units. It reads: In response to the concerns of Members as to whether GREDA still stands by the issues raised in the complaint, the representatives of GREDA explained that at the time the complaint was presented, the issues stated therein represented their position. However, subsequent discussions with the Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing and further information received from the Ministry of Water Resources Works and Housing have resulted in a change in their initial stand on the STX Agreement. The Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing assured the Committee and the representatives of GREDA that Government will be ready to consider any proposal from GREDA aimed at reducing the housing deficit.

(d) The Joint Committee report concludes: The Committee, after carefully considering the complaint and submissions made by the representatives of GREDA, came to the conclusion that GREDA no longer stands by its initial position on the STX deal. The Committee therefore recommends that the Finance Committee go ahead with the process for the consideration of the STX Agreement.

(e) Tuesday, June 6: Joy headline: Death threats forced GREDA’s back-traction.

(f) Joy News reported, The Ghana Real Estates Developers Association (GREDA) might have withdrawn its petition to Parliament on the STX housing deal because its executives were threatened with death. Source close to GREDA tell Joy News some members of the association also became worried that their contracts with government could be abrogated after the association criticized the proposed deal with the Korean company, but GREDA has declined to confirm or deny the reports.

(g) 3pm, Tues, June 6: Speaking on Asempa FM’s Ekossii Sii programme, Sammy Amegayibor, the Executive Secretary of GREDA denied the threats allegations. He said, as far as he is concerned none of the GREDA members has received any death threats from anybody for petitioning parliament on the STX housing deal. Can that be interpreted to be conclusive that no GREDA member has been threatened? He went on to say that since the Association never enters into a building contract on behalf of its members, nor has it applied for a building contract from Government on behalf of its members, GREDA could not say whether or not any of its members had a contract with Government that could be threatened or had been. http://news.myjoyonline.com/news/201007/48763.asp

(h) Tuesday, July 6, John Tia Akologu, the Minister for Information, issued a statement and said it “finds it curious that the radio station presented no shred of evidence to support its false claim” and wondered why Joy FM went ahead to rebroadcast the claim severally and kept it on its news website even after GREDA Executive Secretary Sammy Amegayibor, denied the claim of death threats.

The Minister stated, "Meanwhile, Government has directed the security agencies to investigate the claim because death threats are not to be handled lightly." Government’s main concern, according to the statement, was that though the allegation "of a death threat was not linked to any particular group, any discerning person is likely to conclude that since Government is the chief promoter of the STX deal, then Government might be behind the threat. This linkage was made stronger when Joy FM proceeded to claim falsely that some GREDA members were afraid their contracts with Government will be abrogated hence the change of mind."

(i) Wednesday, July 7: Deputy Minister of Information, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, told Citi FM’s Bernard Avle that by putting out the report without any evidence, “Joy FM is creating fear and panic in the Business community and the international community that is listening and reading websites from Ghana and all of that is going to say that this is a government that twists arms and threaten people out of their contracts when people offer divergent views.” http://www.citifmonline.com/site/business/news/view/7967/1

(j) Wednesday, June 7: Mr Amegayibor explained to RADIO GOLD’S POWER DRIVE that GREDA had soften their stance on the deal after claiming to have fully acquainted themselves to the details of the STX deal. Contrary to their initial understanding of a 30 percent local content in the agreement, Amegayibor said, they have now been assured of a 70-80 per cent local content. Yet, the facts as they later became apparent during the parliamentary debate on STX indicated that GREDA’s concerns, as stated earlier, were far from resolved. He also explained that their fears of government using the oil revenue to fund the project have been allayed. Well, we can all hail the patriotism of GREDA on the oil option. But, shouldn’t the Police, at least, wonder why this patriotism was pulled back from stretching to the main issue of whether or not the entire deal was value for money?

(k) Asked if STX deal will be beneficial to the people of Ghana, Amegayibor said, “it depends on how you look at it”, adding that GREDA has not made any official statement on whether the deal is good or bad for the country. This also further confuses the GREDA position.
http://www.myradiogoldlive.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2531&catid=2531


Mr Amegayibor, on that same Asempa programme on June 6, said, what he was to repeat on Radio Gold, that GREDA as an association has no contract before Government and that it had not received any complaints from any of its members that their individual contracts, if any, with Government had been threatened with unilateral abrogation if they proceeded with their opposition to the STX deal. This is dangerous for the necessary interplay between the public and private sectors. With Government being the single largest agency for procurement, any suspicion of such a threat could have a devastating effect on the quality of our governance.

For the private sector to be cowed from critiquing Government policies at the pain of losing contractual favour with Government would harm good governance principles. The obvious display of public aghast which met the news that GREDA had ‘chickened out’ and withdrew its petition, advising Parliament to go ahead and pass the STX deal, was enough to raise eyebrows.

While on Monday it told the Joint Committee of Finance and Works & Housing that it was withdrawing its two-part petition against the STX deal, GREDA went ahead to promote one part of the petition, which was to present its alternative project to the joint committee. It showed that, given the same conditions as being offered to STX, GREDA could put up 30,000 housing units at a total cost of $540 million. This immediately exposed the STX deal, priced at $1.5 billion for 30,000 units as a very bad deal for Ghana.

Thus, not only did GREDA withdraw its petition it also went ahead to present a much better offer only to tell Parliament that it should still go ahead and pass the STX deal. It is legitimate to pose the question: why would GREDA criticize a deal only to say at the same time that that deal must be allowed?

GREDA gave two reasons why it was withdrawing its opposition to the STX deal. First, it said it was happy to be told that Government has removed the obnoxious clause which sought to mortgage the country’s oil to the Koreans. Second, it has since received assurances from Government that local content has been enhanced from 30% to between 70-80%.

While we welcome GREDA’s commendable display of patriotism for fighting for the oil payment option to be removed, the STX agreement, which was laid before the House for the debate, still contained the provision of 30% local content.

We notice that anytime GREDA pulls back on stating its position of opposition on the STX deal it cites an ‘assuring’ meeting it held with the Minister of Water Resources, Works & Housing the previous day.

Another case in point is when GREDA cancelled its scheduled press conference last month. On Monday, June 21, GREDA issued a press statement in which it made its stance clear:

“We wish to state as professionals that STX has not provided any basis for pricing the units, it has not revealed the location of the project and other important facts, which will enable a professional compute the cost of a building, we therefore request that they put that information out.” Up to date, that request has not been met to justify GREDA’s u-turn.

The fundamental ethical principle of journalism is that journalists are cloaked with the moral imperative to give a guarantee of anonymity to genuine confidential sources providing bona fide information. There can be no ambiguity in the trust that their sources must have in them as professional journalists. We cannot expect our journalists to ferret bona fide information from `deep throat’ confidential sources about the State’s alleged illegal activities unless we empower them to give some reasonable level of guarantee of anonymity to those primary sources.

The Police, sadly, have once again displayed a worrying haste to ‘keep’ Government happy. To arrest and charge a journalist on the pretext of ‘protecting and property’ while doing very little in pursuit of that purported higher good is disappointing, dangerous and back-stepping for our democracy. We cannot toy with press freedom on some flimsy excuse of responsible journalism.

 

Written by Nana Attobrah & Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

 

The Ministry of Information has described as unfortunate statements attributed to the Ghana Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), National Media Commission (NMC), Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and others in the matter of the caution statement taken from JoyFM over the publication of alleged death threats.

A statement signed by Honourable John Tia Akologu said the Ministry has also noted the deliberate attempt by JoyFM to continue the peddling of falsehood in this matter by claiming in its news broadcasts that its news editor has been charged for refusing to disclose his source of information for the death threats JoyFM claimed were received by some executives of the Ghana Real Estates Developers Association (GREDA).

“The police according to reports monitored by the Ministry has explained extensively that its discussions with JoyFM have related only to knowing the persons who are being threatened with death in order to give them protection, and nothing else. This case is not about the disclosure or protection of a source. It is about JoyFM claiming that some members of GREDA have received death threats. ”

The statement noted that it will be important for persons commenting and accusing government of attempts to truncate press freedom in the country to educate themselves on and about the issues at stake, understand the position of the police and also the legal limits to press freedom.

According to Honourable Tia, while government is not interested in criminalizing speech and/or sending any journalist to court, government also believes that journalists and the media as a whole have a responsibility to be objective, truthful and professional, “instead of hiding behind press freedom to deliberately peddle falsehood and in other cases hate mongering.”

The Minister expressed regret that JoyFM which broadcast the false news item refused to give government’s rejoinder to the alleged death threat and GREDA contract cancellation story equal airtime and prominence as the original story.

“This was despite the fact that other media houses had published the government statement and officials of GREDA had denied the JoyFM claims”, it added.

“The Mills administration believes in the strengthening of our institutions including the media and will be the last to truncate the freedom of the press, but the rights that are enjoyed by the media must be balanced with responsibility”, the statement continued.

The Ministry reminded journalists of Articles 164 and 165 of the Constitution which talks about the limitations to press freedom, explaining that the two provisions must be looked at in terms of how the media can and must contribute to national development.

The statement confirmed a meeting with the GJA on Wednesday at which the Association following an official letter sent to it by JoyFM engaged the Ministry on the latest developments on the false JoyFM death threat story.

“We discussed broadly with the GJA matters of mutual concern including media accountability and unethical practices in the journalism profession.”

Mr. Tia Akologu, who explained that the Ministry does not consider criminal prosecution an answer to the many cases of unethical practices, recounted many instances of JoyFM’s unprofessional broadcasts. He also observed that the work of the police must be delinked from central government and for that matter the Ministry of Information because the decision to caution the JoyFM editor and refer the matter to the Attorney General was and remains the decision of the Police.

The statement however said, the Minister welcomed the request from the GJA for the Ministry to assist to discontinue the case against JoyFM.

 

Signed: John Tia, Information Minister

The Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) wishes to express its grave concern over the arrest and formal charge yesterday of the Acting News Editor of JOY FM, Mr. Ato Kwamena Dadzie, for refusing to disclose the source of a story carried by his radio station on the STX Housing deal. Without going into the specific facts of the case, we wish to remind the State and all its agencies, including the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of the Interior, that they are enjoined by the Constitution to respect and promote respect for the rights and freedoms enshrined in Chapter 5 of the 1992 Constitution as well as the specific protections accorded the media in Chapter 12 of the Constitution.

We note that, Article 162(4) of the Constitution states unequivocally and without limitation that, "Editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by Government, nor shall they be penalized or harassed for their editorial opinions and views, or the content of their publications."

Furthermore, the Constitution mandates the mass media "to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of Ghana." Protecting the confidentiality of one’s sources is integral to the practice of journalism; demanding, under threat of arrest or prosecution, that a news medium or journalist reveal or disclose their anonymous sources strikes at the heart of the practice of investigative journalism in Ghana, especially given the habitual and entrenched culture of secrecy on the part of the State and its agencies.

As a result of the private initiative and enterprise of media owners and publishers and other practitioners of journalism, the media space in Ghana has expanded progressively since the coming into force of the 1992 Constitution. The repeal in 2001 of the repugnant Criminal Libel Law, which had been used to hound and harass the media in the 1990s, was expected to usher the country into a new era devoid of censorship and other media repressive actions by the state and its agencies.

It is therefore alarming that the Ghana Police Service, in just a few months, has had cause again to activate the moribund, anti-free press and antidemocratic provision of Section 208 of the Criminal Code, 1960, which criminalizes the publication or reproduction of "any 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." This action of the Police is as retrograde as Section 208 itself.

Section 208 of the Criminal Code of 1960 is a throwback to the era of authoritarian rule in Ghana. Unfortunately, it is not the only such law still existing on our statute books. Sections 183,183A, and 185 are among the existing laws that have no place in our Fourth Republic. So-called "false news" statutes similar to Section 208 have been struck down or repealed as unconstitutional impediments to free speech in a number of Commonwealth countries. They are also routinely criticized by the UN Human Rights Committee as violating international instruments protecting free speech, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (of which Ghana is a signatory).

Section 208 is clearly offensive to the spirit of the 1992 Constitution. Its continued existence in our statutes and revived application clearly threatens to undermine the gains Ghana has made in promoting and protecting media freedoms and advancing democracy in the Fourth Republic – something for which the country has received international acknowledgement and praise.

For these reasons, we demand the immediate cessation of the actions instituted against Ato Kwamena Dadzie and Joy FM. We demand a stop to the continued application of Sections 208, 183, 183A and 185 of the Criminal Code of 1960 and call on the Government and Parliament to move to repeal these archaic
and obnoxious provisions of our Criminal Code.

Signed: Prof. E. Gyimah-Boadi, Executive Director 

 

A few hours ago, I was charged with a criminal offence. It’s the same charge being faced by Nana Darkwa, who accused Rawlings of setting fire to his own house.

The state is charging me with the offence of publishing news “with intent to cause fear and alarm” after I refused to name the sources behind a news item broadcast on Joy FM. If convicted, I could be jailed for no more than three years.

As some of you may be aware, I have been acting as news editor at Joy FM since Matilda Asante’s resignation in April.

On July 6, we published a news story that the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) withdrew its petition to parliament against the STX Housing deal after some of its members were threatened either with death or the abrogation of government contracts.

The next day government issued a strongly-worded statement alleging that the story had been “concocted”.
“The station, by this wild and deliberately concocted report cloaked in investigative pretentions, sought to cause fear and anxiety amongst the business community and the general citizenry,” the statement, signed by Information Minister, John Tia, said. “Government is deeply offended by the JoyFM publication and demands that the management of the station substantiates its claims immediately or retracts the allegations and apologizes to the President, Government and people of Ghana accordingly. Meanwhile, Government has directed the security agencies to investigate the claim because death threats are not to be handled lightly.”

A few days after the release of that statement, we received a letter from the CID Headquarters, inviting me to report at the CID headquarters to help with the investigations. I responded to the invitation last Friday – in the company of a lawyer, the producer of the Super Morning Show and the business development manager for the Multimedia Group, Charles van Dyke. After waiting for about 45 minutes we were ushered into an office whose walls were almost entirely adorned with the photographs of former heads of the CID – even from as far back as the colonial era.

There were four men seated at a large table. The man at the head of the table spoke first in a raspy voice.
“My name is Dorvlo,” he said with a smile. “I hope you have heard the name before.”

“Not really,” I said.

“Well, I am the new CID director,” he announced, asking to be pardoned for his voice because he had a cold.

He proceeded to tell us why he had invited us to his office – they were investigating a story aired on Joy FM. He then handed us over to two men later led us into another office on an upper floor in the CID headquarters building for questioning.

They asked me to name the source of our report, saying they needed to know those who had been threatened so they could offer protection for those who had been threatened, and possibly, prevent a crime from being committed.

I refused to name the sources, insisting that no journalist worth the paper he writes on would reveal his sources.

Then they took my caution statement. They set a bail of five thousand cedis for me and asked me to report to today.

I went back to the CID headquarters, as scheduled, this afternoon at 1pm. After waiting for about an hour, I was told to call my lawyer. I did and shortly after he showed up – along with some members of the top brass of the Multimedia Group – I was informed that I was being charged with the “publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm.”

Once again, bail was set and Charles van Dyke signed the bail bond. I was released and initially told that I’d make my first court appearance on Wednesday. But about two hours after I returned to the office, the investigator called to tell me that I will be informed about the court date on Wednesday afternoon.

“I need to submit a report to my bosses first,” he said.

I have no choice so I’ll wait for those “bosses” to make up their minds.

In the meantime, lawyers have advised that I refrain from making any comments on the criminal charges leveled against me. All I can say, for now, is that I am unfazed. I am hoping for the best but I’m very prepared for the worst.

President Mills chose the most inopportune time to sack Sekou Nkrumah from the National Youth Council. It would hurt him. But it puts him in good company. He’s just following the footsteps of his main political mentor, who happens to be none other than Kwame Nkrumah – Sekou’s father.

Sekou, son of our nation’s founding president, had a few days before his dismissal criticized the President’s leadership style, wondering – like most Ghanaians often do these days – about the direction the Mills administration was taking the nation.

It was only after Sekou Nkrumah’s scathing criticism that we got to know that the board of the National Youth Council had recommended his dismissal for anything ranging from insubordination to incompetence. The president, in his usual “slow but sure” manner, had put off a decision on the recommendation – until Sekou dared to criticize him.

So the obvious question even the most dim-witted Ghanaian asks is: would the president have given Sekou the boot if he hadn’t dared to open his tiny red lips so wide?

I am guessing not!

You see, President Mills loves Sekou’s dad. Mills draws a lot inspiration from Nkrumah and from the way he made Ghanaians celebrate Nkrumah’s 100th birthday, I am tempted to think that he dreams of becoming the second Nkrumah. His problem, though, is that he is not as radical as Nkrumah.

To make up for that, President Mills probably prays for God to assign Nkrumah’s ghost as his guardian angel. So deep down in his heart, President Mills is not the sort who would rush to crack the whip on a Junior Nkrumah, lest he incurs the displeasure of the (very dead) Senior Nkrumah. Who would guide him to “slow but sure” presidential excellence? That’s why he put the recommendations for Sekou’s dismissal as low as he could on his list of priorities.

Secondly, the president knows that Sekou is not the worst of all his incompetent appointees. If he were to dismiss people on the grounds of incompetence (which is as rare as seeing a Ghanaian in a space suit) Sekou definitely wouldn’t be the first on the list. Even Azumah-Mensah and Zita Okaikoi are still at post.

Thirdly, the president knows that nothing much happens at the National Youth Council. Nothing, in fact, gets done there. Sekou was just sent there to do nothing. And nothing he has done quite remarkably. That’s why the argument that he has underperformed sounds like hogwash to me. To make even more nonsense of the underperformance argument, it has emerged that no one told Sekou what was expected of him. So how on earth were they assessing his performance?

I suppose the very fact that Sekou was sent to an agency where he had so little to do (other than showing up in the office) informed his decision to publicly question and criticise the president’s leadership style, which he said was ineffective and ineffectual. He got almost everything spot on. Sekou spoke the mind of the ordinary Ghanaian and being the son of Nkrumah, no one should be surprised that he took the radical outspoken route.

What’s surprising, however, is rush decision to suddenly act on the supposed earlier recommendation by the board of the National Youth Council that Sekou be sacked. Whoever advised the president to act at the time he did must have his head re-examined. Sacking Sekou at the time the president did only vindicates his position – that our leader is not as proactive as we need him to be. He only responds to situations around him – often on the advice of some of the ill-mannered, ill-tempered and vindictive sycophants he has surrounded himself with.

The president, it appears to me, was advised to sack Sekou – from an agency as useless as the National Youth Council – to send a message to the increasing number of people within the ruling party who are gradually being emboldened to open their mouths to criticize the administration. This objective would largely be achieved. Very few in the NDC who look up to the president and the administration for the ‘crumbs’ of political office will dare to speak out (even privately) against the president.

But in the wider population, President Mills is now being seen as the intolerant leader who chose none other than the son of his idol to show the nation that he won’t countenance dissent. That’s not good.
Kwame Nkrumah might not be so pleased that his son has been made an example of. But he will also smile because President Mills is doing exactly as he would have – kill off dissent and weed out all the critics.