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Court of Appeal dismisses suit against Graphic

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson
Daily Graphic
Daily Graphic

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a defamation suit against the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), publishers of the Daily Graphic, the leading newspaper in the country.

A three-member panel of the court upheld an appeal filed by the GCGL challenging a judgment by the Accra High Court which found the company culpable of defaming a member of staff of the Bank of Ghana (BoG), Mr Benjamin Kwasi Duffour, in a story published in the June 30, 2008 issue of the Daily Graphic.

Not defamatory

The Accra High Court, in its judgment delivered on November 30, 2016, awarded damages of GH¢300,000 against the GCGL, but the Court of Appeal set aside the judgment on the basis that the said publication was not defamatory.

“In summation, we hold that the appeal succeeds for the reason that the trial court erred in coming to the conclusion that the said publication was defamatory.

“In the circumstances of this case, we find that what the publication Respondent (Mr Duffour) complained of was not libellous..... The judgment of the High Court, dated November 30, 2016, is hereby set aside,” the Court of Appeal held.

The court further ordered costs of GH¢5,000 against Mr Duffour and in favour of the GCGL.

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The unanimous decision of the court was read by a member of the panel, Justice Barbara Ackah-Yensu, while Justice Dennis Dominic presided over the panel, with Justice Alex Poku-Acheampong as the other panel member.

What led to court action

In the June 30, 2008 issue of the Daily Graphic, the banner story was headlined: “Bank of Ghana dismisses two trade union leaders”.

The story explained that Mr Duffour, who was the Chairman of the Senior Staff Association of the BoG, and the General Secretary of the association, Mr Frank Mensah, were dismissed over attempts to unionise workers of the central bank.

“Our sources said the bank’s Security Head was given a copy of the dismissal letters and instructed to retrieve the identity cards from the two workers,” the story stated.

Mr Duffour sued the BoG at the Accra High Court for wrongful termination of employment and the court ruled in his favour in July 2010.
It ordered his reinstatement and the payment of all his gratuities during the period he was dismissed.

Defamation suit

Mr Duffour followed it up with another suit of defamation against the GCGL on March 4, 2011. It was his case that the publication damaged his personal reputation and professional integrity. The plaintiff prayed for GH¢20 million in damages.

In defence, the GCGL argued that the story was true and based on established facts and denied that it was libellous.

According to its lawyers, the story was published because issues concerning the BoG were of public interest.

It further argued that the publication was done in good faith, without malice and also in sympathy with Mr Duffour and his dismissed colleague.

On November 30, 2016, the Accra High Court ruled in favour of Mr Duffour and held that the publication had tarnished his image.

According to the court, the publication message that Mr Duffour was dismissed connoted wrongdoing and awarded damages of GH¢300,000 against the GCGL.

Appeal

Dissatisfied with the judgment of the High Court, the GCGL filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal on September 2, 2017.

Lawyers for the GCGL argued that the judgment of the High Court was against the weight of evidence and also the costs awarded against the GCGL were excessive.

It was the GCGL’s contention that Mr Duffour only sued the company because of the use of the word “dismissal” in the story, especially the headline.

Lawyers for the GCGL also argued that the story did not just state that Mr Duffour was dismissed and left the reasons to the imagination of the readers.

Rather, they averred, the story went on to give the background leading to the said dismissal and even explained that Mr Duffour was dismissed because of union activities and not because of any wrongdoing.

They further contended the story rather sought to attract public sympathy for Mr Duffour’s dismissal.
According to the GCGL, the story was done in good faith and was also a matter of public interest.

Publication was without malice

The Court of Appeal, in its judgment on May 30, 2019, held that Mr Duffour was not defamed because the story was done without malice and was based on established facts.

It held that the GCGL was free to publish the story because it was justified and the company also had a qualified privilege due to the public interest nature of the story.

“We find the publication to have been made honestly and without malice. We are not persuaded by the respondent’s argument that he has been defamed, since it invites us to make an inference from non-established facts,” the court held.