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Ghanaian newspapers fined exorbitant amounts in libel case

On July 31, 2013, a fast-track high court in Accra, the capital of Ghana, fined two newspapers an amount of 180,000 Ghana Cedis (about US $86,282) in damages for publishing libelous information against Mr. Joe Baidoe-Ansah, a Member of Parliament.

The court presided over by Justice Uuter Paul Dery found the two newspapers – the state-owned Daily Graphic and privately-owned The Democrat – guilty of the offence and fined them accordingly.

Reporting the ruling in their August 1, 2013 publication, the Accra-based Daily Guide newspaper said that Mr. Baidoe-Ansah sued the Daily Graphic over its April 20, 2009 publication headlined "Last minute agreement halts destination inspection duties." In said story, the Daily Graphic suggested that the former minister had signed a document on December 28, 2008, extending the contract of Destination Inspection Companies (DICs), for another year.

At the time, the DICs were working on behalf of the country's Custom's Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) as the organization in charge of classification and valuation. The Daily Graphic reported that the move by the former minister would have prevented CEPS from raking in profits for the national coffers.

In the case of The Democrat, Mr. Baidoe-Ansah accused the newspaper of carrying the same story under a caption "Joe Baidoe-Ansah caused this mess."

Four years ago (May 6, 2009), the MFWA issued an alert reporting that Mr. Baidoe-Ansah, who was then a Minister of Trade, Industry, Private Sector Development and the President's Special Initiative under the erstwhile President Kufour administration, had filed a suit against the two newspapers.

Until the July 31, 2013 ruling by Justice Dery, the case had been heard by three different judges.

In his ruling, Justice Dery said that inasmuch as media houses had the right and freedom to publish information for public consumption, they should not publish stories that would defame people.

The MFWA regrets this incident and once again takes the opportunity to caution media practitioners about the need to uphold professionalism and be circumspect in the reportage. We urge the Ghana Journalists Associations (GJA) to increase sensitization of its members to abide by the standards and ethics of the profession.

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