Stop the Media Witch hunt

Fri, 5 Jul 2013 Source: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

: “Hypocritical & Selective” is surely not an Insult to any Judge

To whom much is given, much is expected. A Supreme Court Judge in Ghana is one who is believed to be seasoned with wisdom and very accomplished. Society reveres and adores such individuals. In fact, some see these judges above reproach. A Supreme Court Judge is expected to be sophisticated, savvy and nuanced. And so, to whom we give much respect and responsibility, we expect a bout of maturity and less pettiness. A Supreme Court Judge must live above the fray.

Given our expectation of what judges should be and do, we have a right and a fundamental one, to question or criticize their actions, when it does not meet our tamed expectations. We expect judges to be fair, wise, treat all equally, and not be selective in their actions. This is what we expect! This is why the current attempt by the Supreme Court to muzzle free speech must be treated with the contempt it deserves. Free speech is not necessarily sanitized and desired speech. Free speech can be offensive and must be tolerated. In this particular case, there is no offensive speech here.

The Supreme Court is free to issue a gag order for all. This way, no one can comment on the case. Barring the latter, it must not go after the press because of what some of us see as fair criticism. What is contempt or not contempt is purely a subjective call by the Supreme Court. The key argument here is that the basis for issuing their warning is flimsy and self serving at best. Try following an imaginary line and tell me how far you get. How a court case is reported by the media should not be a preoccupation of the court. This media witch-hunt must stop! The media must revolt and stand up for their right or lose significant grounds. Stop this “my lord” cherade!!

I am frankly shocked that some can allude the comments of Sammy Awuku to chaos and all kinds of societal ills. It is frankly shocking to witness the rude behavior of some lawyers right in front of these judges without any sanctions. Yet they are worried about respect for their actions? If we can’t say that a judge is hypocritical and selective, how can we say that the president stole the elections to start with? Is calling the president a thief respectful and proper? How can we say that this president, ex-presidents Kufour and Rawlings are corrupt if we must respect our elders and not criticize them? Will these judges throw any citizen in jail for calling the president names or accusing him of insidious acts? Justice Atuguba’s assertion that the media’s wings must be clipped is frightening. Never mind the bullying from this ego driven judges! Lord have mercy on us!!

If I, as an individual or party member, believe that a judge has acted in a hypocritical manner, either by ignoring the full picture or picking on just a particular news source, am I free to say that without being called disrespectful or charged with contempt of court? Is there any law in Ghana that says that I can’t observe that a judge has acted in a hypocritical manner? Who says I can’t express an opinion about the actions of a judge? These judges are not lords or gods! To be told that you are a hypocrite based on your action is not an insult but a biased or subjective observation. There is nothing wrong with making a subjective observation. Yes, the person saying it could be wrong but perspective is reality for the person to whom those perceptions arise. To say that a judge has been selective is not an insult. All you are saying is that the judge did not consider all the aspects of an issue as he or she is supposed to.

If a judge believes that a Deputy Communication Director of a party has misrepresented facts or made incorrect observations, the judge has the right to refute such in the media. The judges could issue a rebuttal. It is not the place of any judge, in my view, to tell people what to say. We are not in the Soviet Union. I am not even sure why these judges are issuing warning to the press. Let the press be truly free. Indeed, in this case, Sammy Awuku was not reporting a matter of fact but expressing an opinion. How is he supposed to express views that sit well Atuguba and co if he is to be critical of them? Trying to whip the press into coma is bad for democracy. What matters most is the action of the judges not what perceptions citizens express. Judges must have a thick skin.

These Judges must not allow themselves to be trapped into the correctness, fairness, holiness, appropriateness, and purity of reporting by the media. Perhaps someone should remind these judges that, unfortunately, the media is not about morality or holiness. The judges must also trust the wisdom of the people to be final arbiters. We are not invalids to be fed with pap or sap, concocted judges. All over the world, judges are criticized roundly every day. Some of the criticisms are just and others are unjust. We cannot have a Supreme Court that is more concerned about image than it is about substance. This form of judicial McCarthyism must be resisted at all cost.

Why really, should judges worry about insults to start with? In countries like Iran, they have morality police beating and arresting people for what they wear and say. Is that what we want in Ghana? How do insults, if what Sammy Awuku said is seen as insults, change the facts of a case or affect the judge’s ability to do his or her work? Are we talking about Supreme Court Justices here? Again, to be a Supreme Court judge means you carry a temperament worthy of emulation. A Supreme Court judge is suppose to be level headed and exude a demeanor that calms the nerves of disputants and dulls the anxiety of a flailing country or public. If the Court is seen as dabbling in pettiness and strong arming the press to say exactly what it wants to hear, it loses significant credibility. It is not the business of the Supreme Court to manage the media or press. The Supreme Court must focus solely on dispensing justice and let the chips fall where they may.

This whole fiasco brings me to our Ghanaian culture in general. It has been a mainstream criticism of some that anytime you are direct with the truth, you are being disrespectful. I beg to seriously differ. Presentations or expressions has to do with style. Some prefer to be direct and to the point. Others prefer to sugarcoat and beat around the bush. Others do a hybrid of the aforementioned styles. The bottom line for me is that, people must be able to speak their perspective in a blunt manner if they so choose. Saying it as you see cannot possibly and necessarily be construed as insults. This tactic of shutting people down in the name of respect for authority and your elders is one of the great covers for incompetence, corruption, misdeeds and a slew of other ills that has retarded our society. Enough of this canard!!!

We must be able to challenge authority! We must be able to speak up and criticize our elders when we believe they are wrong. And yes, we will make mistakes in our criticism but it comes with the territory. The critical thing is to foster a culture that tolerates constructive criticism and supports our right or privilege to challenge authority. I don’t believe for a nano second that saying a group of judges have been hypocritical and selective is insulting. You are free to disagree! If you can’t stand the heat, then vamoose from the kitchen. You cannot hold public office without acquiring a thick skin. Freedom of speech is part of democracy and must be allowed to thrive. Freedom of speech does not mean that I should say what you want to hear or even say the truth as you see it. What it means is that I may say some things you don’t like! Tough! We need to grow up as a country! After all truth, honesty and respect are all relative and subjective.

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Affectionately dubbed the double edge sword and now tagged as Santrofi Anomaa)

I don’t gave them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell----Harry Truman

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka