EDITORIAL: Is the Ghanaian Media Going Overboard?
Santa Shipping Agency Limited, a shipping company in Tema, which was recently cited in a tax evasion case by the Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) and reported by the state-owned Daily Graphic, has sued CEPS and the Graphic Communications Group Limited, publishers of the Daily Graphic for defamation.
The plaintiff's claim against the defendants was for punitive damages in the sum of ¢15 billion for defamatory material the defendants published against the plaintiff in the Tuesday, August 2, 2005 edition of the Daily Graphic.
Also cited in the suit are Mr. Africanus Owusu Ansah, Assistant Commissioner of CEPS in charge of Tema, Maximus Attah, a reporter of the Daily Graphic and Mr. Yaw Boadu Ayeboafo, Editor of the Daily Graphic.
The statement of claim in a writ filed at an Accra High Court on behalf of the plaintiff by their solicitors, Zoe, Akyea and Co recalled a story carried on the 3rd August 2005 edition of the Daily Graphic claiming that the plaintiff has connived with others to cause financial loss to the state in the sum of ¢7.995 billion.
In the claim Santa Shipping Agency said the accusation was not true. It said the defendants caused the story to be published in "utmost bad faith" because their version was never sought.
It said the publication has been carried out "without regard to truth and without the due exercise of professionalism in not referring same to the Plaintiff for its version."
The writ said there was no move to evade tax on the part of the Plaintiff because "customs law and regulations require that goods for transshipment never attract custom duties The 1st and 2nd Defendants have been most mischievous, in that every document covering the goods in transshipment had been under their scrutiny and eventual approval," it said.
The plaintiff contended in their statement that the commissioner and CEPS "had processed the custom documents on the goods with due approval from the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, and after the Plaintiff had paid the requisite charges, the goods had been released for completion for transshipment to France."
The Plaintiff is praying the court for exemplary and punitive damages because the publication has dented its image. It said the Plaintiff has considerable international repute because its clientele include the United States Agency for International Development, Embassy of the Republic of China, OIC International, Yantai International China, Swift Freights UK, Narmade International Togo, and Syatels Mali SA.
The statement of claim said the publication has "seriously damaged, and continues to damage, its corporate image by reason of the criminal tag the Defendants have recklessly and unjustifiably put on it."
It is praying the court to restrain the Defendants from publishing or causing to be published any further defamatory material about it. Further, it wants the court to issue an order directing the "1st and 2nd defendants to immediately release the goods with declaration numbers 32005154951/0 and 32005154952/0 consigned to Handy SA 4 R Pomme 31000 Toulouse France."
In addition, it wants the court to declare null and void "a declaration that the barring of the Plaintiff from plying its trade at the Tema Harbour by the 2nd Defendant is unreasonable, and arbitrary."
This suit has come at a time when the credibility of the Ghanaian media has sunk to its lowest ebb. The Daily Graphic has been regarded over time as Ghana's premiere newspaper because of its long history over fifty years old and the massive government assistance it received in the eighties to invest in new equipment. Today, it ranks amongst Ghana's top companies, with ad revenues running ito the billions of cedis per annum.
Though very partisan in support of the PNDC and NDC before Election 2000, the publication has since the Kufuor Administration came to power just over four and half years ago, been trying to find a voice of its own. Some of its lead stories have raised eyebrows, because of their flatness.
Reckless journalism in both the print and electronic media is threatening the integrity of Ghana's media and this is reflected through the heavy fines that the courts have been handing down against errant newspapers.