The National Media Commission (NMC) says the JoyNews documentary on the presence of D-Eye group at the Christiansborg Castle in Osu, was in the public interest but cites aspects as sensational.
In March this year, government filed a complaint at the commission against Joy News demanding a retraction and an apology. The commission did not grant the reliefs. It however said a background to the documentary citing the activities of so-called vigilante groups in the country made portions of the story misleading. The 30-minute piece described how the spectre of violent vigilantism nearly marred the Ayawaso Wuogon by-election. But the NMC says because the D-Eye Group was not responsible for the disturbances there, it was wrong to have included it in the documentary.
The commission maintained, however, that it “finds the presence in the Castle of the D-Eye Group problematic and unacceptable.
Below is the NMC ruling:
THE NATIONAL MEDIA COMMISSION RULING ON THE GOVERNMENT VRS. MULTIMEDIA
On March 13, 2019, the Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah filed a complaint on behalf of the Government against the Multimedia Group before the National Media Commission, in accordance with Article 167 (b) of the 1992 Constitution and section 2(1) (b) of the National Media Commission Act 1993 (Act449).
The complaint was against a documentary, “Militia in the Heart of the Nation” by Manasseh Azure Awuni of Joy FM/TV. The complaint was that the documentary had made certain claims which could not be supported by the facts adduced and in line with the law, there was the need for the NMC to investigate the matter and direct a retraction and apology as well as any other appropriate sanction.
It is unfortunate that before the complaint was submitted, the Government went public on the matter.
As part of the settlement process, the complaint was forwarded to Multimedia for their response. In their response, they maintained that the documentary was a reflection of the facts gathered by the journalist.
They maintained that the complaint was aimed at censorship and undermined their Freedom of Expression and that the Government lacked the capacity to initiate the action and appealed to the NMC to dismiss the complaint instantly.
Multimedia failed to respond within the statutory period and also unfortunately published the response before they filed it with the Commission.
The response was forwarded to the Government for its reaction after which formal hearings commenced.
At the first hearing, the Commission admitted the complaint and asserted its capacity to deal with the matter. Both parties accepted the ruling but raised objections against some members of the committee. While the complainant raised objections against Mr Roland Affail Monney for having commended Mr Manasseh Azure Awuni for the documentary and thus could be prejudicial, the respondent raised objections against the Chairman of the Committee, Mr Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh for possible bias because he was the nominee of the President of Ghana.
Proceedings were thus adjourned for the determination of the objections. This prompted the Chairman and Mr Affail Monney recusing themselves for other members of the Committee to rule on the objections. After two sittings, the panel dismissed the objections and explained that the chairman was not chairing the Committee and the Commission merely because he was a nominee of the President but because he was elected by members. In the case of Mr Monney, the Committee held that his comments did not constitute bias since the issue was about ethics to be determined on the face value.
This then paved the way for the determination of the substantive matter.
The Minister of Information after opening the case of Government reiterated that the documentary did not contain any material fact and was full of an exaggeration to cause sensationalism.
He indicated that the respondent applied the wrong word to describe the D-Eye Group, which did not demonstrate any predisposition to violence and that more importantly at the time of the story, respondent knew the Castle was no longer the seat of Government and was not a security zone. The place was open to the public.
In their defence, the Multimedia Group reiterated the fact that the documentary was factual, that they offered Government more than enough opportunity to explain issues which were rebuffed and that there were evidence to suggest the Castle was a security zone.
They said they felt vindicated in their use of militia, and cited no mean a person than Prof. Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu, a legal Academic and member of the Justice Emile Short Committee which investigated the violence during the Ayawaso West Wuogon bye-election who reiterated the word. They further pleaded justification, privilege, fair comment, public interest, and assertion of their fundamental freedom of expression.
The Commission set out the issues for determination to include the issue of what is a militia or vigilante, when the group exited the Castle and whether the portion of the documentary focused on the group exposed any act of violence. The Commission took into account the argument of both parties and concluded that the disagreement did not so much affect the meaning of the word, but the question of whether some violent conduct had been exhibited.
In the end, the Commission found out that the attempt to expose the fact that the group operated from the Castle was in the public interest. However, in the attempt, the investigation had not been consistent in following the ethical standards defined by the Ghana Journalists Association code of ethics, particularly guideline 23, which states that “a journalist ensures that photographs and multimedia content adequately reflect an event and do not highlight an incidence out of context’’.
This resulted from the fact that whereas the respondent used a photo from a BBC report on an attack on the Nigerian senate to promote the documentary online, they failed to relate it appropriately.
Again, the inclusion of shots from the Ayawaso West Wuogon violence and attack on the Ashanti Regional Security Coordinator were at variance with the activities of the D-Eye Group as captured at the Castle. The Commission concluded that there was no predisposition to violence in the documentary. Therefore, the association of the D-Eye Group with the Ayawaso West Wuogon Violence and the BBC story from Nigeria, were sensational.
On the issue when the D-Eye Group exited the Castle, whilst the Government insisted that the group was evicted in October 2018, the Multimedia Group insisted that it was after the documentary that the eviction was carried out.
Again, whereas Multimedia provided evidence of attempts by government officials to remove the group from the Castle, it still associated the President with the group and the Commission held that it was unfair especially when the Multimedia Group later publicly apologized to the President.
The Commission is of the view that whereas it finds the presence in the Castle of the D-Eye Group problematic and unacceptable, the group did not manifest any violent conduct to be described as a militia or vigilante group from the documentary as the people of Ghana have come to identify such groups.
The Commission finds the commentary on the documentary and the association with the Ayawaso West Wuogon violence as misleading and a misrepresentation. However, because the Multimedia Group published a rejoinder from the Government, we direct that it publishes our ruling.
The Commission commends both parties and their Counsel for their co-operation and diligent manner in which they pursued the matter before the Commission.