Panellists at a roundtable in Accra yesterday appealed to journalists to carry out their reportage on the judgement of the Supreme Court on the election petition in a professional manner to avoid committing contempt.
They asked journalists to be guided by the code of ethics of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) in the exercise of their duties.
The discussion, which was organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and the Editors Forum, Ghana, in collaboration with the Public Affairs Section of the United States Embassy in Accra, drew the discussants from civil society and the media.
Speaking on the topic, 'Press freedom versus Professional responsibility: Avoiding the traps of contempt in court reporting', the Director in charge of Newspapers of the Graphic Communications Group Limited, Mr Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, said the GJA code of ethics should serve as a guide for all professional journalists in the discharge of their duties.
He said journalists could fall foul of the law of contempt in varied ways, but the most notable was the publication of material likely to prejudice fair trial, with the tendency to sway the verdict of a juror, publications that could interfere or undermine the cause and course of justice.
He said journalists could also fall foul of the law of contempt by intimidating a witness, reporting trials in-camera, publishing the photograph of a suspect around the period that an identification parade was to be organised or exposing the past misdeeds of a suspect before his guilt in a new case could be established.
Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh, therefore, enjoined journalists to be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and analysing or interpreting information by always seeking the truth.
The Executive Director of the MFWA, Prof. Kwame Karikari, described the law of contempt as a self-serving law that gave judges arbitrary powers.
He, therefore, called for the law to be properly codified in the statute books, with the accompanying punishments spelt out clearly.
Prof Karikari noted that the press history of the country had been partisan and advised journalists to be guided by the GJA code of ethics in order not to fall into the traps of the law of contempt.
He said the creeping in of political stance in the media landscape had made it difficult for some journalists to be objective and advised journalists not to allow that to affect their reportage.
Prof Karikari stressed the need for the media, as an agency for enlightenment, to be circumspect and professional in their work.
He said press freedom also required a robust media and that the courts could not insulate themselves from genuine criticism of the media.
The moderator of the discussions, Mr Kwesi Gyan-Apenteng, appealed to journalists and media practitioners to exercise their press freedom responsibly to maintain and protect the peace of the country.
He said the National Media Commission (NMC) and the National Communications Authority (NCA) were working together to ensure that the media adhered to professionalism.
The News Editor of CNN International, Mr David Gurien, said the media had a greater responsibility of operating within the confines of the law.
'With great power comes greater responsibility,' he said, and stated that it was incumbent on journalists to be professional in their reportage.
By Michael Donkor/Daily Graphic/Ghana