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11.11.2004 Crime & Punishment

Newspapers to Pay Police Commander in Libel Suit

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As court awards ¢80-million damage cost And orders Free Press to retract story and apologise... An Accra Fast Track High Court presided over by Justice Victor Ofoe last Monday awarded a damage cost of ¢80 million against the Free Press and two others, after having found them liable for libelling the Tema Regional Police Commander, Mrs Agnes Sika-Nartey in a series of publications.

Mrs Sika-Nartey filed a writ at the court against the Free Press and the two others, seeking an amount of ¢500 million as damages for libel contained in series of banner headlines and articles written, printed and published by them.

She sought also for an injunction from the court restraining the defendants from the publications of the said words, and a retraction of the said publication and an apology by the defendants to be delivered in four issues of the Free Press and a national daily with the same front page prominence.

The defendants failed to raise any legal defences to the publications, and were therefore deemed by the court to have admitted the averments in the plaintiff's statement of claim.

The judge who before giving judgement referred to the said publications as presented in paragraph three of the statement of claim stated that the publications, which clearly refer to the plaintiff in their ordinary and natural meaning, meant the plaintiff is fraudulent, dishonest, and that she has been involved in bribery and corruption and has dishonourably been misusing her subordinates in perpetrating crime.

He said the publications also cited her as having been involved in breaching the human rights of the citizenry in exchange for gifts and cash and that she is not fit to be and remain a regional police commander.

He said the publications are no doubt defamatory of the plaintiff and horrifying; the least the defendants could have done was to come to court and raise legal defences to the publications.

They surprisingly enough did not file any processes nor file any defence, to which he said, they are deemed to have admitted the averments in the plaintiff's statement of claim.

"Is it that they made the allegations; knowing that the allegations are untrue and cannot be substantiated that is why they did not come to court?" he asked.

"If that is the case shouldn't an apology and retraction be a more responsible and honourable thing to do as dictated by their own professional ethics? .I do not hesitate in indicting these publications of the defendants as irresponsible and a contumelious disregard not only to the rights of the plaintiff but to the decency of the Ghanaian society".

He said whilst the courts in its social function will apply the laws of this country to protect and defend the press in its crusade of holding all accountable to the constitution and all other laws of the country and thereby give meaning to the Freedom and Independence of the Media in Chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution, it will be failing its duty if such grave and delinquent behaviours of defendant are not swiftly and firmly dealt with.

" No doubt the publications are sensational ones which would have benefited the defendants. All the facts and circumstances of this case considered that it would be fair for the plaintiff to have eighty million cedis for damages caused.

I consider the damages also exemplary damages as warning signals to the others in the media who may want to be reckless as the defendants herein" he declared.

While a lot of people wonder if the Free Press could settle the amount, Mrs Sika-Nartey thinks differently. She thought the amount should have been more than the ¢80 million.

Speaking to the ADM in Tema, Mrs Sika-Nartey a deputy commissioner of police said the publication indeed caused harm to her human dignity among others. She said she was so humiliated and felt so embarrassed going out into the public as the FM stations kept calling in bombarding her with all sorts of questions, which gave her sleepless nights.

Meanwhile, the court has ordered the Free Press and its allies to retract the said publications and offer her an apology, which should be given front-page prominence.

The court also awarded ¢5 million as plaintiff cost against the defendants but as to whether these punitive measures taken against could help restore her ruined reputation still remains a big question to Mrs Sika-Nartey.

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