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General News of Wednesday, 29 November 2000

Source: GNA

Scrapping Ghana’s criminal libel law requires debate

Scrapping the Criminal Libel Law in Ghana would require further debate by stakeholders; it would not be abolished simply because it is "archaic", Mr John Mahama, Minister of Communications, said on Tuesday.

Speaking at his Ministry's turn of the "Meet the press" series, Mahama said "laws are taken out of statute books only if they lose their relevance to the purposes for which they were passed."

The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), political parties and other concerned bodies have made numerous calls for the Law to be scrapped arguing that it was passed in the colonial era and poses a threat to press freedom.

They also maintain that public officials use the Law to intimidate journalists when there are other avenues of redress for aggrieved officials, including rejoinders and the National Media Commission (NMC).

Mahama said in view of certain inflammatory media reports, especially in the private media, the Law is needed to infuse responsibility in the reportage of journalists. He said for journalists to operate freely and public officials to be spared unfair media reports, the Ministry would strike a balance between what is acceptable practice by both parties, while checks would be put in place to stop the media from going to extremes.

Mahama identified "poor reading habits among the population, especially the emerging middle class, and quack journalists as some drawback to the industry." He assured the NMC and the GJA of the Ministry's willingness to assist them in weeding out misfits in the profession.

The Minister regretted the high incidence of violence and sex scenes in local and foreign films, and videos and announced that the Ministry has set up a committee to review the Cinematography Act "for subsequent re-legislation."

"In the meantime, classification symbols have been introduced to help parents determine films that are suitable for viewing by their children," Mahama added. He said the Ministry is in touch with the police and the respective agencies to root out obscene and pornographic films, including one on an Ivorian dance form called "Mapuka", illegally imported into the country.

Mahama said the recent boom witnessed in local film production is dwindling with the influx of foreign films, especially from the sub-region. Ghanaian film directors, he suggested, should explore new themes and veer from the recurring themes on superstition, which, he said, were "over-flogged."

He said themes on crime, economy and employment stand the chance of capturing cinema goers in countries in the sub-region. He mentioned the storage of historical documentaries as the challenge facing the Ministry, saying most of such films are being stored at places outside the Ministry due to lack of a modern archive.

In this regard, he disclosed that UNESCO has approved a grant (did not state figure) to employ the services of a consultant to arrest the deterioration and upgrade the quality of old films.