An Accra Fast Track Court (FTC) has sentenced the Editor of the Free Press, a private Newspaper and two directors of the paper to 15 days imprisonment for contempt.
Frank Boahene, the editor, Claude Decker and Thomas Kpakpo Thompson, both directors of the paper were found liable for disobeying the orders of the court in a judgement given on November 1, 2004 in respect of series of libellous articles written against the Tema Regional Police Commander, Mrs. Agnes Sikanartey, which they could not defend.
The court, presided over by Justice Victor Ofoe, yesterday passed the sentence following an application of contempt of court issued by the Tema Regional Police Commander, attaching Claude Decker, Thomas Kpakpo Thompson, Augustus Thompson and Frank Boahene.
The court, on November 1, 2004, gave judgement against the Free Press Newspaper in favour of Mrs. Sikanartey in the sum of ¢80 million in exemplary damages.
It further ordered the newspaper to retract the said publication and offer an apology to the plaintiff, which should be published continuously in three issues of the Free Press newspaper, beginning a week from the judgment date and with front-page prominence.
However, the defendants refused to comply with the orders given by the court to publish the retraction in three issues of the paper; instead they made only one publication in the November 8 to 14, 2004 edition of the newspaper and failed to make such further publications as ordered by the court.
The court, in its judgment, noted that Boahene, Thompson and Decker were served with the contempt application against them on May 31, 2005 but when the application came up for hearing on June 23rd, 2005, only Boahene was present in court.
The court indicated further that the respondents never filed any motion in opposition to the application brought against them and when Boahene's attention was drawn to it, he told the court that, his lawyer was meeting him in court that day.
Nonetheless, neither the respondents nor their lawyers were present in court on June 29th, 2005, being the next adjourned date, the court emphasised.
In view of this, the court heard and found the respondents liable for contempt of court, adding, "since they were not in court, I ordered their arrest to come for sentence."
According to the court, the contemptuous behaviour was against any law or ethics of the media profession.
It held that it was only when media practitioners did their work responsibly, objectively and independently as required of them, that they would not grieve over any failures in the chosen democracy that the country had entered.
"Yes, we have freedom of speech but what is the content of the speech we are legally permitted to utter?
Do we in our speech expose truth, decency, ignorance, lies, profanity, indecency, political bias etc?"the court wondered aloud and further condemned situations where the media trade insults against chosen presidents and other public figures, noting that such actions must be seen as an attack on the constitutional democracy of the country.
Ending its judgement, the court noted, "We need the media, more than before; the delinquent ones must fall out or reform.
"The choice is for each media practitioner. But the court, when called to the service of the nation, will pull any erring media practitioner to fall in line in our common march towards a vibrant and firm constitutional democracy."