The National Media Commission (NMC) gave its ruling on government’s complaint on the Joynews documentary “Militia in the heart of the nation”, on July 24, 2019.

Joy News accepts the ruling of the NMC. We note with satisfaction that Commission did not find sufficient merit in the complaints and consequently did not grant the reliefs sought by the complainants.

The key reliefs sought were a retraction, an apology, and any other sanctions the Commission may deem fit. None was granted. We would have had no difficulty at all apologizing if the Commission so held.

Joy News, however, disagrees with certain characterisations drawn therefrom. The ruling contained comments elevated as conclusions but was rather silent on the substance of the documentary, to which Joy News provided enough evidence to back. The NMC seemed to overlook material evidence (audiovisual and documentary) submitted and proceeded to make comments without substantiating them with any fact from the documentary.

We concede that we could have used a different photograph instead of the library photo used for an online promo, ahead of the airing of the documentary. But we reject the claims by the NMC that the investigations were unethical, the commentary on the documentary misleading and a misrepresentation. The photo was NOT a part of the documentary.

The NMC did not point to any ethical breach in the documentary itself on the basis of which it came to the conclusion it came to that there were ethical breaches. For the avoidance of doubt, no ethical breach was cited by the Commission in the entire process of the investigation. So a file photo so labelled used in the online promo cannot be the basis to describe the entire investigation as unethical.

Objection against Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh
Joy News objected to the inclusion of Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, the President’s appointee on the NMC, on the Complaints and Settlements Committee which adjudicated the matter. Our basis was the natural justice principle that no man shall be a judge in his own cause. While we don’t doubt Mr Ayeboafoh’s integrity we thought it was only fair for any perception of bias or the likelihood of same, to be eliminated.

Joy News consequently raised the issue of possible bias because the producer of the documentary (Manasseh) had previously questioned his objectivity even while he [Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh] still worked as a journalist with the state-owned Daily Graphic. Our objection was overruled. And Mr Boadu-Ayebaofoh chaired the proceedings, dealing with a petition filed another government appointee.

It’s noteworthy that government raised an to the membership of the president of the GJA, Mr Roland Affail Monney, citing comments he had made praising the work. They deemed the comments prejudicial. Even though that objection was equally overruled, Mr Affail Monney stayed out of the rest of the proceedings.

The Issues Govt raised and the NMC Ruling
The government raised nine (9) issues in its petition to the NMC. The NMC relied on basically two to make its ruling:

  1. the file photo used in the documentary promo and
  2. the name “militia”

and ignored all the material facts and evidence and the issues raised in the main documentary. Even in the two instances, Joy News explained that the picture was properly labelled as “file photo” (evidence provided), consistent with international standards and in any case, that photo was NEVER used in the documentary itself – no journalistic ethic was, therefore, breached in respect of the use of the photo.

1. Ayawaso Violence and Kumasi incident used to begin the Documentary
The NMC said the association of the documentary with the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election violence was misleading.

It is standard practice to provide a background to a story to the extent that it is properly contextualized. The storyline clearly gave the context. This documentary was about a vigilante/militia group and the Ayawaso West Wuogon and Kumasi incidents were activities of vigilante groups and evidence of the pain these groups can exact on our society.

2. When De-Eye Group Left the Castle
The NMC said: “On the issue of when the D-Eye Group exited the Castle, whilst the Government insisted that the group was evicted in October 2018, Joy News insisted it was after the airing of the documentary”. But the Commission failed to rule on the matter.

Joy News provided the NMC with video footages of the group in the Castle on December 10, 2018, talking about the Dombo programme it attended on December 7, 2018, at the Accra International Conference Centre. Joy News also provided the NMC with evidence of the group’s website, which still displayed that it operated from the Castle even after the documentary was aired in March this year.

The government admitted at the Commission that; indeed, the group held a get-together at the Castle on December 21, 2018 as reported by Joy News. But it claimed it gave the group permission to do so. Even as at the end of the hearing, the government had not provided evidence of the group’s permit it promised to make available.

 3. Association with President
The NMC also came to a rather strange conclusion thus: “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.”

This conclusion was strange because the only point in the documentary when the president was mentioned, was when JoyNews made a factual, uncontested statement that the Commander of De-Eye Group was a former bodyguard of the President. The leaders of the group, speaking themselves claimed in the documentary that the president knew about their operations at the Castle.

This was not a commentary or a claim by JoyNews. We presented this claim to the president and he denied it. His denial was published in full in the documentary. Joy News wishes to stress that we did not apologise to the President for linking him to the group and this matter of a purported apology never came up during the entire process at the NMC. We were, therefore, surprised to see it in the ruling.

5. De-Eye Group at the Dombo Event
The government also said Joy News did not provide evidence to support the claim that De-Eye Group provided security at the Dombo programme. There are visuals in the possession of the Commission to support this. At the hearing when the Deputy Minister of Justice and Attorney-General mentioned this, the only female member of the Commission asked him: “Did you watch the documentary before saying this?” The NMC ruling was silent on this.

6. The question to the Director of Communications at the Presidency
Joy News gave the Commission the exact questions sent to the Director of Communications at the Presidency for a response, which covered enough of the subject and did not amount to any ethical breach. The government said Joy News “mischievously” took out the question to the President’s spokesperson from the documentary. Evidence of the question as provided to the NMC is: “Good evening. I called earlier. I’m doing a story on De-Eye Group, an NPP vigilante/militia group run by Nana Wireko Addo, aka Choman, a former bodyguard of President Akufo-Addo.

I have information that the group operates from the Christiansburg Castle. Some leaders of the group claim the President is aware of their operations there. I’ve spoken to a Jubilee House source close to the president who has denied the presence of the group at the Castle and the knowledge of the President but that’s not the official response, according to the source. I’ll be happy to have the official response on the matter by close of tomorrow.”

This is Mr Arhin’s response: “The President has no knowledge of the alleged activities of the group, let alone sanction their activities. My checks from National Security have revealed that no such group is operating from the Castle.”

From the above issue, Joy News did nothing unethical, but the NMC was silent on it.

7. The Group providing security services
One of the issues the government raised was that there was no evidence in the documentary to back the claim that the group provided security services in and outside Accra. Joy News showed evidence of this in the documentary and pointed the NMC to the Dombo event, but it ignored to comment on this issue in its ruling.

8. Aspersions on the President
Government raised the issue of casting aspersions on the integrity of the President. Joy News’s link with the president was only to the extent that his former bodyguard was the commander of De-Eye Group. It was the group that mentioned the President as knowing about its operations, not Joy News. The NMC ignored this issue in its ruling.
 

9. Is the Group Vigilante/Militia
The Commission also said, “the group did not manifest any violent conduct to be described as a militia or a vigilante group from the documentary as the people of Ghana have come to identify such groups.”  

Here are the facts we presented to the NMC on whether or not the group is a vigilante or militia as the Ayawaso Commission prescribed.
1. Our checks with the Labour Department have revealed the group is not licensed to undertake any job recruitment or placement. The Labour Department says it is an offence punishable by law to operate a recruitment or employment agency without a licence.

2. Our checks with the Ministry of Interior revealed the group is not licensed to undertake any security services or operations.

3. The Group’s registration details at the Registrar General’s Department has its nature of business as follows: “To train professionally and implement to operate employment for the youth, eg. Farming, electronics, carpentry and building.” This is not what the group was doing at the Castle.

4. The Group said in the JoyNews documentary that it was an “NPP Family.” Vigilantes (in the context of the documentary) are associated with political parties.

5. The 2012 Daily Guide report (which was submitted to the Commission) said it was a vigilante group formed to protect NPP Members against attacks. That story said the group had vowed to protect ballot boxes in the 2012 elections.

6. The UTV report on the group two years before the Joy News documentary said it was a vigilante group. The group did not contest any of these reports.

7. The TV3 interview had the leader saying they were over 5000 youth across the country who believed in the ideologies and policies of President Akufo-Addo.

8. The group stated that it was trained by ex-military men.

9. The website said the group undertook security training

10. The leader of the Group is addressed as “Commander

11. The motto of the Group is: “Vigilance and Protection.”

12. The Group was undertaking military drills as captured in our videos.

13. National Security confirmed that in 2017, the Group forcefully took over the duties of National Security operatives stationed at the Kotoka International Airport. It took an operation led by the National Security Director of Operations to drive them out and redeploy National Security operatives there.

14. At the time of the documentary, National Security Minister, Kan Dapaah, said they had placed surveillance on what he said were illegal activities of the group and that National Security was gathering enough evidence to arrest and prosecute them.

15. The Commander of the Group is heard in the JoyNews documentary telling members of the group that National Security had infiltrated their ranks to get evidence and destroy them so they should watch out and expose them (National Security operatives).

16. The Group provided security services at the Dombo programme at the Accra International Conference Centre.

17. The argument that they have not been heard in the news for violence is lame because the names the Attorney General submitted and which parliament added to the list of “vigilante” group in the country are not known to have been involved in any violence.

The Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, said at a press conference on March 8, 2019, that the leader of the Group, Nana Wireko Addo, was “evicted from the premises by a joint operation involving personnel of National Security and the police.” It does not take a joint operation of police and national security to simply ask a “law-abiding” person or group of persons to vacate the premises of an important state facility.

In the documentary, the Chief of Staff of the Group, Fraser Owireky Kegya, is heard complaining about the criminal activities by members of the group and warned that if they continued, he would allow them to wallow in police custody for some time after which he would bring them to the meeting and disgrace them. In the documentary, one of the trainers is seen and heard congratulating the group that on a particular weekend, no member of the group was arrested by the police.

The characterizations used by the NMC – unethical, misleading, misrepresentation – are all not founded, and in our view, will not be used if the full weight of the evidence we provided had been fully considered.

Elvis Kwashie
Managing News Editor, JoyNews