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Militia documentary: Manasseh responds to gov't NMC petition

BY: Mabel Aku Baneseh
Militia documentary: Manasseh responds to gov't NMC petition
Manasseh Azure Awuni

Lawyers for Manasseh Azure Awuni, an investigative journalist, are praying the National Media Commission (NMC) to dismiss a petition challenging the authenticity of a Joy FM documentary on alleged militia activities at the former seat of government.

According to the legal team, the government’s petition to the NMC was an attempt to censor the media.

The response, filed on behalf of the journalist by Mr Samson Lardy Anyenini, a legal practitioner is arguing that Multimedia Group Limited “never engaged in any act of professional misconduct; neither did it breach any rule, code or law or the Constitution, and certainly never did all the complainant accuses it of including the claim of airing a documentary containing offensive, utterly false, a product of gross misrepresentation of facts and wild speculation.”

The respondent is accordingly arguing that the government (complainant) was not entitled to any of the reliefs it seeks because the complaint was baseless and unmeritorious and for that reason, it must be dismissed it in its entirety.

The respondent is further arguing that the government’s complaint was seeking to unconstitutionally and unlawfully fetter and frustrate respondent and the media in exercising the duty and obligation imposed on them and citizens in article 41 (f) of the Constitution to wit “to protect and preserve public property and expose and combat misuse and waste of public funds and property”.

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The respondent is also submitting that the government’s complaint was also to unconstitutionally and unlawfully fetter and frustrate the citizens’ right to information as guaranteed in article 21 (f) of the Constitution especially in matters of public interest.

Government’s petition, according to the respondent was also to unconstitutionally and unlawfully procure censorship and interfere with the freedom and independence of respondent and the media contrary to article 162 (1) and (2) of the Constitution.

Interference

It also accused the government of attempting to unconstitutionally and unlawfully prohibit and hinder Multimedia Group Limited from exercising the privileges as guaranteed in article 162 (4) of the Constitution that [e]ditors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by government, nor shall they be penalised or harassed for their editorial opinions and views, or the content of their publications.

Prevent

The respondent is pleading with the NMC not to allow the government to force its set of facts and interpretations on it “as this appears to be the thrust of the complaint and nothing more.”

“The complaint about what was contained in the first six minutes of the documentary is a most spurious attempt to dictate and direct discretion in clever censorship and same must be rejected outright. The said content was most relevant and a matter of public interest,” the response to the government’s petition noted.

The respondent argued that the matters complained about were matters of great public interest having engaged the entire nation and its leaders to the point of the President setting up a constitutional commission, directing political party leaders to work to end the phenomenon and instructing the Attorney-General to submit draft legislation for the purpose.

Background

On March 7, 2019, the television station, Joy News aired a 22-minute documentary titled "Militia in the heart of the Nation," which was partly aired on radio on Joy FM, Adom FM and Asempa FM.

The documentary was indicated that a "militia" [De Eye Group] had been uncovered training and operating at the Christianborg Castle at Osu in Accra, which is a "security zone" with the complicity of the government as it belonged the political party in power, the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

But dissatisfied with the documentary, the government, through the Minister of Information filed a petition dated March 13, 2019 and addressed it to the Chairman of the NMC.

The government is seeking a declaration to the effect that “the impugned documentary by Azure and Joy News is misleading and constitutes a dishonest and deliberate misrepresentation of facts and calculated at causing undue public apprehension, alarm and panic; secondly, an order for the retraction of and apology to the Government of Ghana on the contents of the said documentary referred to above, and finally further disciplinary measure(s) as your commission may seem meet.”

Explaining the rationale for the government’s action, the petition said: “we bring this complaint because the substance of the story complained of is in various material essentials utterly false, a product of gross misrepresentation of facts, wild speculation by the producer of the documentary specified above and same betrays a desperate attempt on the part of Multimedia and Awuni to vilify the sincere effort by the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, to end the worrying phenomenon of political vigilantism in the country.”

The petition said the documentary deliberately omitted to state the material fact that the National Security Council Secretariat had closed down the purported office of the company since October 2018.

“Indeed, as of the date of publication of the documentary in March 2019, there was no activity of whatsoever nature by the company at the Castle.

But Multimedia Group Limited refutes government’s allegations and insist the place was a security zone with the directors of the De Eye Group being retired security personnel among other issues.