Rights are not absolute; free speech may have criminal consequences – Ace Ankomah

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The Managing Partner for Bentsi-Enchill, Letsa & Ankomah, Ace Ankomah has educated Ghanaians on the constitutional provisions on free speech and the freedom of the media.

Speaking at a roundtable discussion on freedom of speech and media freedom on Friday, February 25, 2022, at the Alisa Hotel, Mr. Ankomah said “Since 1969, every Ghanaian constitution has guaranteed freedoms of speech, expression, and press. All persons shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media; freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, which shall include academic reform.”

He added that the constitution however permits the existence of a law that contains a provision that says that “it is reasonably required for the purpose of safeguarding the people of Ghana against the teaching or propagation of a doctrine which exhibits or encourages disrespect for the nationhood of Ghana, the national symbols and emblems, or incites hatred against other members of the community, except so far as that provision or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority of that law is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in terms of the spirit of the constitution.”

He emphasised that the constitution is not antagonistic towards the media.

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“It has an entire chapter 12 devoted to guaranteeing its freedom,” he added.

They are however expressed to be “subject to the laws that are required in the interest of national security, public order, public morality and for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights, and freedoms of other persons. Article 164.”

“No rights are absolute. They are subject to limitations. Free peech, expression, and free press may yet have civil and criminal consequences. We can never forget that.”

He noted that not all speeches or expressions have been decriminalized.

“What you express in speech, writing, conduct, including singing, could be criminal,” he added

Recent incidents of arrest of journalists and media practitioners, public figures for publication of false news using the criminal code have brought the issue of freedom of speech and its boundaries back to the limelight, sparking a debate about the use of Article 207 and 208 by the police to prosecute such persons.

Dancehall artiste, Charles Nii Armah Mensah known in showbiz circles as Shatta Wale is facing prosecution for faking reports that he was shot by some unknown gunmen on Monday, October 18, 2021.

Radio presenter Captain Smart was also arrested recently for making “some unsavoury pronouncements” that the police claimed “hinge on peace and security”.

Power FM’s Oheneba Boamah Bennie was also jailed for 14 days and fined GH¢3,000 for contempt of court.

He was cited for contempt when he claimed that President Akufo-Addo had met with judges of the Supreme Court to influence them on the judgment of the 2020 Election Petition brought by former President John Dramani Mahama and his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

The Host of ‘The Citizen Show’ on Accra FM, Kwabena Bobie Ansah, was arrested by security operatives for alleging that the first and second ladies, Rebecca Akufo-Addo and Mrs. Samira Bawumia respectively had fraudulently acquired State lands at AU village, and around the Kotoka International Airport, Accra for the construction of the “Rebecca Foundation”, a Non-Governmental Project.

Mr. Mensah Thompson of ASEPA had alleged that relatives of President Akufo-Addo had used the presidential jet for shopping in the United Kingdom.

The Ghana Armed Forces released a statement to deny the claim and put out facts concerning the presidential jet. Mensah Thompson publicly apologised and retracted the false publication.

The roundtable discussion also featured the Executive Secretary of the National Media Commission (NMC), George Sarpong, founder of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Prof. Kwame Karikari, and was moderated by Vivian Kai Lokko, Head of News at Citi FM and Citi TV.

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