Libel file in court with gavel

Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Sulemana Braimah, says the frequency of arrest and prosecution of persons using Section 207 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), must be observed closely.

His concern is that it has the tendency of causing the abuse of rights of journalists.

Speaking on the Super Morning Show, Mr. Braimah said the trend is slowly gaining ground in the country, which is disturbing.

“We need to pay attention to how frequently the provision on the publication of false news is being used. There is so much recklessness in our media today,… but we are also witnessing a rate of arrests on the basis of false news that is becoming quite alarming,” he said.

His comment was part of discussions on the show, following the arrest of Accra FM journalist, Kwabena Bobbie Ansah, who was arrested on Thursday, February 11, 2022, after a show.

The Ghana Police service has clarified that his arrest is over “an alleged publication of false news and offensive conduct.”

On Friday 27 July, 2001, Ghana’s Parliament unanimously repealed the Criminal Libel and Seditious Laws, which had been used to incarcerate a number of journalists in the past.

This was in fulfillment of a promise made by the Kufour administration before the general elections of December, 2000, that it would repeal the law to allow for greater freedom of speech in the country.

This pledge was reaffirmed on January 7, when President John Agyekum Kuffuor was sworn into office, during which he said that the Criminal Libel Law would be “amended to expand the boundaries of freedom.” This act by the government reinforced press freedom.

Despite the repeal of this law, Sulemana Braimah believes the media is not entirely free since Section 207 of the Criminal Offences Act, imposes restrictions on free speech.

He lamented over what he said is a spate of reckless conduct by media practitioners. However, he stated that arrests made on such grounds ought to be critically examined to prevent the abuse of power by the government.

The producer of the ‘Citizen Show’ on Accra FM, which is hosted by Bobbie Ansah, said he (Kwabena Bobbie Ansah) was picked up by persons purported to be National Security operatives on Thursday.

Until Friday Morning, it was unclear what occasioned the arrest which ensued around the radio station’s premises after his political talk show ended at about 10:00pm.

Sources said the journalist was sent to the Nima Police Station after his arrest.

Some supporters of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) massed up at the Police station demanding that the journalist be released.

JoyNews’ checks revealed that he was later moved to the Police Headquarters in Accra. His arrest brings to three, the number of journalists arrested by security officials this year.

Commenting on the issue, Mr. Braimah partly blamed the development on the regulator (i.e the National Media Commission – NMC) and said its inefficiency is the reason why some of these breaches continue.

He, thus, cautioned journalists to be mindful of the way they conduct themselves since they cannot under the pretext of being a journalist, misconduct themselves and expect to be let off the hook in the name of press freedom.

“Crime is crime, it doesn’t matter who committed it, it doesn’t matter where it was committed. If you sit on the radio and commit a crime, you can’t run under press freedom and say you have immunity,” he said.