Executive Secretary, National Media Commission, George Sarpong

Executive Secretary of the National Media Commission (NMC), George Sarpong, has advised against the use of a political standpoint to discuss and address the recent arrests of media personnel in the country.

Speaking on JoyNews’ Newsfile, he noted that the apprehension of journalists as seen recently did not emerge by accident, therefore, the need to have an objective view when addressing the matter.

Mr. Sarpong explained that the Supreme Court in its verdict on November 30, 2016, in the case of GIBA vs NMC, hinted of the use of Section 207 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) to protect the rights and reputations of other persons.

“People are asking if these laws have been there. Nobody has used them so why all of a sudden now. It started with the Supreme Court. The matter of GIBA and NMC is where the court in its orbiter statement drew for the first time public attention to the existence of those laws and their appropriateness in dealing with circumstances like this,” he told host, Samson Lardy Anyenini.

According to him, a part of the orbiter statement said: “Thus in the legislative antecedence of this country, all matters which have the effect of restricting free expression have been made laws by acts of Parliament. Examples are the Cinematographic Act 1961, Act 76, which permit some form of film censorship and create offenses with criminal sanctions for infractions thereof.”

“Public Order Act, 1994, Act 491, the Criminal Offenses Act 1960, Act 29 which criminalizes minor offenses like the use of insulting words, section 207, publication of false news, section 208 – all of which impose some restriction on free expression but they can be justified in terms of Article 164 of the constitution in the protection of the rights and reputations of other persons.”

Mr Sarpong added: “So the court hints for the first time, at the appropriateness of the use of these legislations. So when you have clear judicial direction like this, we do not need to hassle ourselves too much to know where this started from.”

Mr George Sarpong also noted that the Police have found it useful to use this legislation and believes the Service will continue to use it. He revealed that the IGP leveraged the same legislation to fight against false prophecy.

He stated that “every democratic society requires this kind of legislation”, however, its misapplication must be resolved.

“This is what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the US said addresses situations of shouting fire in a crowded theatre. There are circumstances that people can cause problems. Our difficulty now is that they are being applied in a circumstance that makes us uncomfortable.”

In view of this, Mr Sarpong said Ghanaians must understand the context in order to eradicate its misapplication.

“So if you want to address the problem, we need to address it in its context. The attempt to overanalyze it solely within the context of partisan politics is not going to help us address the things. Because we will leave the Akufo-Addo administration only to come to another administration that may find comfort in the application of the law,” he said.

His comments come after the arrest and subsequent prosecution of journalists by the police for various alleged offenses.

Onua TV’s Morning Show host, Blessed Godsbrain Smart, was detained by National Security Operatives after he had been granted bail by the court following his arrest over extortion.

He was detained along with another staff, Eric Dadzie Copperfield, popularly called DJ GH Boy who is also facing charges of abetment to extort.

On February 8, 2022, a journalist with Power FM, Oheneba Boamah Bennie, was handed a 14 days jail term for threatening and insulting President Akufo-Addo.

Also, Accra FM’s Bobie Ansah, who accused First Lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo of theft, was picked up by persons purported to be National Security Operatives and has been charged with the publication of false news and offensive conduct.