General News of Wednesday, 25 July 2001

Source: GNA

Libel law meets excited Parliament

The Criminal Libel Law described by the media as controversial and obnoxious met an excited and rowdy Parliament when it came for repeal.

The amendment Bill was given the second reading.

The Speaker, Mr Peter Ala Adjetey had a hectic time bringing the House to order as each contributor wanted to introduce collateral and peripheral issues into their contributions.

Just as the Speaker was about to have control over the House, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Attorney-General and the Minister of Justice, clashed with Alhaji Muhammad Mummuni, the Minority Spokesman on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, over the ruling of the Supreme Court in the Republic versus Tommy Thompson case.

Alhaji Mummuni, who was supporting the motion on the Bill, said the Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision over a libel case involving Tommy Thompson and others.

Nana Akufo Addo vehemently challenged the claim and said that the decision was not unanimous.

The Speaker warned that the lawyers should not shift their battle ground from the courts to Parliament and he agreed with Alhaji Mumuni that the decision was unanimous in one of the cases.

Mr Adjetey shouting for order several times urged members to concentrate on the substance to ensure the smooth passage of the Bill.

Alhaji Mummuni said the repeal of the law should make anyone, who speaks his or her mind freely, not to suffer any incipient mistreatment of being silenced from any quarter whatsoever.

Dr Kwabena Adjei, NDC-Biakoye, looking at Nana Akufo-Addo in the face, said: "Let not the Attorney-General run back to Parliament to amend an amended law under a state of urgency if the press begins to put him under fire" (Laughter).

Dr Adjei said: "We are today singing the dirge of a law and let not the NPP have any nostalgia for it."

Mr Alex Korankye, NPP-Asante-Akim South, said "teeth" should be given to the National Media Commission (NMC) to be able to monitor and evaluate the operations of the media so that it could enforce its decision on journalists, who might fall foul of the law.

Mr Abraham Ossei Aidoo, Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, presenting the report on the Bill said all members of the committee were unanimous that the Criminal Libel Law should be repealed but expressed the hope that the gap that would be created by the repeal should be filled by strengthening the National Media Commission (NMC) in its operations.

It also recommended that as a long-term measure media training institutions run in-depth courses on press law and ethics to equip journalists with the requisite skills.

The report said: "A free press is one of the most essential components of a democratic society, which in turn is a prerequisite for sustainable, social and economic development.

"The Criminal Libel and sedition laws are considered obnoxious and their repeal will not be to the advantage of journalists alone but also to the benefit of Ghana's democracy and the society at large".

The report said the committee, however, was not happy about the tenor of the memorandum to the Bill saying it was unnecessarily long, divisive and obstructive to the building of consensus on the substantive issue while others thought the memorandum only tried to state the infamous historical antecedents of the Bill.

Nana Akufo Addo tracing the history of the press in a memorandum said, the obnoxious criminal libel law found its root in the 1892 criminal code ordinance.

He said: "The purpose of the Bill is to fulfil the promise of repeal, and thereby to demonstrate the Kufuor government's determination to make good on its promises to the nation.

"It is further evidence of sincerity of the NPP government's commitment to the process of democratic consolidation in our country.

"The Bill seeks to repeal Chapter 7 of part two of the criminal code, 1960 Act 29, that is sections 112 to 119 which deals generally with criminal libel.

"The laws are unworthy of a society seeking to develop on democratic principles, on the basis of transparency and accountability in public life."

Nana Akufo Addo said: "Government is confident that the good sense of the Ghanaian people will ensure that the expanded space created for expression and the media with the repeal of these laws will be used for the development of a healthy, free, open and progressive society operating in accordance with the rule of law and respect for human rights".