‘Peeping’ into the ‘thoughts’ of the Chief Justice

‘Peeping’ into the ‘thoughts’ of the Chief Justice

Just last week, the Chief Justice, Mr Kwasi Anin-Yeboah, made ‘landmark statements’ about the media in Accra.

Reportedly, he said : “The judiciary has no power or option of interfering with media freedom”, stressing that “Ghana must and will remain a bastion of freedom of speech.”

The caveat of the Chief Justice was, however; “we must urgently address the issues of standards and propriety in relation to court reporting, else we make ourselves vulnerable to misinformation that will mislead the citizenry.”

Justice Anin-Yeboah made these statements while inaugurating the Judicial Press Corps , besides launching a handbook for journalists on court reporting.

The Chief Justice added:”The media is not an enemy of the judiciary, rather the two entities are enjoined by the Constitution to fight for peace and development of Ghana.”

However, he cautioned media practitioners and other communicators to respect the sanctity of the law courts and assured that the courts will do their best to ensure the smooth operations of the media.

The fact of the matter is that none of the arms of government has any power or option , under our 4th Republican Constitution , to interfere with media freedom, free expression and freedom of speech.

Indeed, freedom of speech and expression is the lifeblood of any democracy. For instance, to debate and vote, to assemble and protest, to worship, to ensure Justice for all; all these rely upon unrestricted flow of speech and information.

Really, democracy is communication: people talking to one another about their common problems and forging a common destiny. And before people can govern themselves, they must be free to express themselves.

This column, however, whole-heartedly agrees with the Chief Justice that , “we must urgently address the issues of standards and propriety”, not only in relation to court reporting but also “high media standards” in all spheres of our media industry.

As modern societies grow in size and complexity, the arena for communication and public debate is increasingly dominated by the news media and this time round, the social media.

The news media in a democracy have a number of  overlapping functions . One is to inform and educate.

A second function of the media is to serve as a watchdog over government and other powerful institutions in the society, including the judiciary.

By holding to a standard of independence, objectivity and fairness; however imperfectly, the news media can expose the truth behind claims of governments and hold public officials accountable for their actions.

If they choose, the media can also take a more active role in public debates. For instance, through editorials or investigative reporting, the media can campaign for specific policies or reforms that they feel should be enacted.

Analysts point to another important role of the media: “setting the agenda”. Since they cannot report everything, the news media choose which issues to report and which issues to ignore.

In effect, the news media decide what is news and what is not news. Such decisions, in turn,  influence the public’s perception of what issues are most important.

Readers, not many people, including our Chief Justice,  may argue that the news media always carry out their functions responsibly.

Many journalists, who are “messengers of news” , may also aspire to high standards of objectivity and fairness, but the fact of the matter is that, in some cases, news is inevitably filtered through the biases and sensibilities of individuals and the enterprises for which they work.

The reality on the ground is that, news can be sensational, superficial, intrusive, inaccurate and inflammatory.

And the question is: what should institutions of state do in cases where the news media or other organisations abuse freedom of speech; with information that in the opinion of the majority, is false, repugnant, irresponsible or simply, in bad taste?

It may seem a paradox but some advocates of free speech claim that the solution is not to devise laws that set arbitrary definition of responsibility or to license journalists, but to broaden the level of public discourse so that citizens can better sift through the chaff of misinformation and rhetoric to find the kernels of truth.

Indeed, the “supersonic change of the world” is revealing but in 1919 a distinguished Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, Oliver Wendel Holmes stated: “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”

An American essayist, E.B White, puts it this way:”The press in our free country is reliable and useful not because of its good character but because of its great diversity.

“As long as there are many owners, each persuing its own brand of truth, we the people, have the opportunity to arrive at the truth and dwell in the light.”

So, My Lord Chief Justice, as you rightly stated; the media is not an enemy of the judiciary, the two entities are enjoined by the Constitution to fight for peace and development of our country.

The only snag here, in my view, is that the seemingly ‘germinating’  social media ‘terrorism’ in the country should not ‘infuriate’ the judiciary to sew “terrorism gowns and wigs” to counterbalance the irresponsibility of the new phenomenon where fake news is on “unstoppable” ascendancy.

Contact email/ WhatsApp of author:

asmahfrankg@gmail.com (0505556179)

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