Former Dean of the School of Information and Communication Studies at the University of Ghana, Prof Audrey Gadzekpo, wants the Ghana Police Service to be mindful of arrests being carried out on grounds of offensive conduct and publication of false news, particularly when it has to do with defamation.
According to her, it is not the job of the police to arrest people who publish or broadcast false news, rather, persons involved can resort to seeking justice through the law courts (civil libel) to have their reputations redeemed.
The concern follows recent arrests of some journalists by the police on grounds of offensive conduct or publication of false news.
Within a period of two months, the Ghana Police Service has arrested and charged four Ghanaians for publication of false news and offensive conduct conducive to breaches of the peace.
Power FM presenter, Oheneba Boamah Bennie, was jailed over his claims against President Akufo-Addo and judges.
The presenter has been handed 14 days jail term by the Accra High Court after Godfred Dame, the Attorney General charged him with contempt. He was also fined ¢3000 by the court presided over by Justice Elfreda Dankyi. Justice Elfreda Dankyi said the 36-year-old was guilty of the charge against him.
Also, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Social Equity and Public Accountability (ASEPA), Mensah Thompson, was detained at the Teshie District Police Command in Accra and charged with the publication of false news.
According to the police, a formal complaint was brought against the suspect by the Ghana Armed Forces regarding allegations that members of the President’s family traveled on the presidential jet to the UK for shopping. He was granted bail of ¢50,000 after pleading not guilty to two criminal charges.
An Accra FM presenter, Kwabena Bobie Ansah was also picked up by the police after his evening program on February 10, 2022.
According to the Police, Kwabena Bobbie Ansah’s arrest “became necessary after he turned down several invitations from the Police to him and others involved in the case to assist with investigations.”
He was also charged with the publication of false news and offensive conduct but was later granted a ¢50,000 bail by the Kaneshie District Court.
The Bono Regional Chairman of the New Patriotic Party, Kwame Baffoe, also known as Abronye DC was also arrested and charged for publication of false news and offensive conduct.
The Police said that preliminary investigation established that his claims against former President John Mahama that he is plotting a coup, were untrue. Abronye DC was subsequently arrested.
The Police in a statement revealed that the NPP regional chairman failed to substantiate his claims but he was later granted a bail of ¢100k.
Despite various justifications by the police, the Professor believes some of the arrests were unwarranted.
“For instance in the Bobie Ansah case, I struggle to see why the police should come in at all. He has allegedly defamed the first lady and the second lady and they are entitled to a lawsuit,” she said.
She contended that although some of the claims “may be [classified as] false news, it is not the duty of the police to go round looking for false news that have been published in a newspaper or broadcasted, that’s not their job.”
She argued that since this is not a case of treason or a case of causing fear and panic to the public, the police shouldn’t have involved themselves unless the persons involved press charges.
She, however, warned journalists to be mindful of their utterances.
“There’s a crisis in journalism and how people express themselves that ought to be addressed; irresponsible utterances, misinformation, deliberate fabrication without evidence and we know journalism or free speech in the public is evidence-based and ought to have facts,” she said.
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