Mr Akoto Ampaw, a human rights lawyer, on
Friday called for the drafting of a new Defamation Bill with active
consultation with all key stakeholders and the public to take account
of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression and the media.
He said the proposed Ghana Defamation Bill 2006 had lapses which
would not protect the reputation of the public.
Mr. Ampaw, reviewing a document entitled; “A Critical Review of the Defamation Bill 2006” by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in
Accra, said such a new Bill should be more expansive in its protection
of the right to free expression and media freedom than common law.
The Defamation Bill was the outcome of recommendations submitted by
the Law Reform Commission to the Minister of Justice as far back as 1984
under military rule, which has since been updated.
Mr. Ampaw, also a member of the MFWA's Regional Network of Lawyers
for the Defence of Media and Journalists in West Africa, said if the
proposed bill was passed it would bring back through the backdoor, the
repealed criminal libel and seditious libel laws which the past government repealed in 2001.
He said the critique was not launching a campaign to promote irresponsibility and lawlessness among the media but he wanted more firm laws that would be fair to all sections of the public.
“Some of the irresponsible publications in our media are simply indefensible … and if the media continue to be irresponsible in attacking government officials and members of the public when they decided to take them to court, there would be no civil support to defend such media houses.”
Mr Ampaw said there were, however, some positive and forward looking provisions in the Bill, such as the new defence of fair report and provisions on unintentional defamation and offer of amends.
He said the Bill failed to take in consideration as its guiding principle the radically new legal framework governing freedom of expression, introduced into the municipal law with the coming into force of the 1992 Constitution, especially the constitutional guarantee of fundamental human rights to freedom of expression.
That fundamental defect, he said, rendered the Bill incompatible with the aspirations and quest of the people for liberty and the needs of the country.
“What is more, the Bill is defective in many other respects. Its provisions are in some respects poorly formulated, self-contradictory and tend to conflate different subjects and issues. The result is that the Bill suffers from ambiguity, lack of clarity of expression and differentiation of issues,” he said.
He said while one would have expected that the bill would give greater ambit for the enjoyment of freedom of expression and of the media than pertained in common law, the sad reality was that the Bill, in many respects, fell far short of even the standards of the English common law and existing legislation on freedom of expression, not to mention the more libertarian and progressive developments in the judicial pronouncements of North American, South African Indian and even Australian variants of the common law.
Mr Ampaw therefore said it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Bill had been crafted as a response to the repeal of the much criticized and discredited criminal and seditious libel laws and further that it constituted a means of re-introducing through the backdoor of civil defamation and criminal laws repealed in 2001.
Justice William Atuguba, a Supreme Court Judge, who chaired the function, said the proposed Bill when passed would militate against the people, especially the ordinary people who could not get the platform to address their grievances.
He therefore called on the networking group to come together to put up a model defamation code for West Africa.