I see nothing wrong with the sentencing of the Muntie FM presenters

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Supreme Court’s action against errant Muntie FM presenters and management has generated needless controversy that we must end now. I have abstained from commenting on the event because to me, what is understood doesn’t have to be explained.  Now that a closure has been found to the matter, I am positioned to comment on it.

I will first say here that the 4-month imprisonment and the heavy fine imposed on the presenters and the management of Muntie FM may be regarded as heavy-handed; but once there is no clearly defined scope, the discretion lies with the Court; and that is exactly what has been cited to anger the defence counsel and the NDC that have regarded it as “too harsh” (See http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Montie-3-case-Shocked-NDC-condemns-harsh-4-month-sentence-458525).

There are some complications here, though. I wonder why the NDC machinery should wade into this matter the way it has done. The victims are known NDC operatives; but can they be said to be making those life-threatening utterances at the command of the NDC? I don’t think so. Why, then, the vitriolic reaction from Kofi Portuphy (National Chair of the NDC) to create a misleading impression as if the presenters were mandated by the NDC to say what they said?  Was it the NDC that sponsored them to go the way they did? What did the NDC seek to gain from such waywardness? To perpetuate the sordid impression of it (as spread by its political opponents) as a violent and murderous party?

Can’t Portuphy use his office to clean the NDC all the more (recalling here the former NDC Chair, Dr. Kwabena Adjei’s threatening utterance against the judges that “There are many ways to kill a cat)? Do these NDC people ever learn any lesson to improve their strategies for political mobilization? In our kind of democracy when people are constantly complaining about hardships, there is need for better ways to appeal top them for political capital. What new item is Portuphy bringing to get the NDC the support that it needs to retain President Mahama in office? Certainly, this problem with the Supreme Court on the basis of the Muntie FM fiasco is a disaster and must be kicked away as soon as reality dawns. And that reality dawned long ago!!

As a trained journalist, I find it difficult to accept the position of the NDC on this matter. The victims went on air to comment on issues before the court and got carried away to make life-threatening utterances for which they were held accountable. In any human situation, once a threat is made to life, there should be room for concern. And in this particular case where the judges are involved (and with hindsight about the sad fate of those three High Court judges who were abducted, murdered, and burnt in 1982), which judge won’t be scared by life-threatening utterances of the sort made by the convicts? And why won’t the legal point of reference be cited to rope in the culprits as has been done?

Folks, let’s be clear on this score. The utterances made by the presenters, using the auspices of the Muntie FM channel, were despicable and should be understood as such. Once we understand what it is, there should be no room for dissension, arguments, and needless politicization of the matter. That is Understanding Number One to deal with, self-explanatory as it stands.

Having read news reports on the reaction of judicial and political interests to the outcome of the trial, I can say that those condemning the Supreme Court judges are lost. And they are mostly NDC sympathizers agreeing with the conduct of the convicts. I find this stance to be reprehensible and I condemn it in no uncertain terms. Every wrong is a wrong and must be punished for what it is. Our democracy doesn’t need this kind of evil journalism or misguided freedom of speech. Anybody faulting the Supreme Court judges as such should bow his/her head in shame.

Freedom of speech is not absolute nor does it allow any individual to use any means of communication threaten the life of another. We are all guaranteed freedom of existence and expression under the Constitution. But we must be guided by the parameters set by our democracy: that once a case is before court and those equipped with the acumen to deal with it are handling it, no derogatory comment should be made, let alone one that threatens the lives of those dealing with the matter. Democracy allows freedom of speech but doesn’t encourage savagery!!

Those in the NPP celebrating the verdicrt5 also need to be reminded that the matter transcends mere and porous political divides. Our records show that characters in the NPP have made worse utterances but escaped punishment, even if such misguided utterances aren’t helping their political cause (Bring in here Akufo-Addo’s infamous “All-die-be-die” nonsense and Kennedy Agyapong’s clarion call to Asantes to kill the Gas and Ewers ion their midst). Fortunately for such vivisecting political comedians, their utterances had nothing to do with any matter being heard by any court. That explains why they got away with it, even if it continues to cost them in diverse ways.

As the matter stands now, those seeing the convicts as NDC activists are unhappy and cursing the Supreme Court judges, citing previous instances of “contempt of court” to support their vituperation. I disagree with them. Any comparison of this matter with any other is pointless. It is bootless as well because the gravity of each offence must be considered within the context of what is at stake, the allowances and limitations, and how not to offend the law of the land.

Those claiming that a less heavy penalty was exacted on Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, Samuel Awuku, and Hopeson Adorye when they were convicted of contempt against the Supreme Court during the hearing of Akufo-Addo’s useless petition after losing Election 2012 and wondering why the Muntie FM squad should be so heavily punished have no foundation in truth to guide them. The discretion lies with the Supreme Court, even if one wonders why such discretion is limitless. Probably, the existing law could be refined to prescribe specifics. But then, once the operational word is “discretion”, the clout still remains with the Court to wield.

But in terms of other things, I may have my qualms. When I saw how much fine was imposed on the contemnors, I wondered why it should be so high. But that’s up to the judges to decide, according to the operational word, “discretion”, again. Once this “monster” dogs whatever happens on the judicial road, anybody walking there should be circumspect. How that fine will factor into the financial status of the judiciary is another matter. How are all these fines used, anyway? To improve conditions in the judiciary or to be added to the national coffers?

We are not done yet. Those condemning the judges for being too high-handed or for turning the matter into a political game are wrong. I don’t know what the political persuasion of those judges are but I am tempt6ed to believe that they acted within the confines of the law that put them where they are and that will shape their future. That is why the panel chair (Sophia Akuffo) could say that the judges were so independent that not even the President of Ghana can control or dictate to them. That’s a powerful statement to make on the occasion to assert a kind of judicial independence. But it opens up a hole: Who appoints the judges? And what criteria warrant their being chosen for the appointment? More conundrum for our kind of democracy!

Folks, we have been exploring the idea that whatever is understood in life needs no explanation. The particular matter at issue is one. What is understood is that the presenters made utterances that went beyond mere comments on issues; they were life-threatening as well as undermining the integrity of the Supreme Court hearing the suit regarding the voters register and what the plaintiffs (Abu Ramadan and another) were seeking. The utterances purportedly infringed a principal tenet of journalism as far as matters before courts for jurisdiction are concerned.

Any journalist or anybody conversant with the legal ramifications of public comments on matters being heard by a court of competent jurisdiction knows that the “sub judice” element forbids any prejudicial comment on the matter. It is simple. The understanding is that once the matter is being adjudicated, any open/public comment on it in the public domain (which will be available to the judges) shouldn’t be countenanced. Once that understanding is accepted, whatever happened on Muntie FM has no legal justification. That explains why the panel of Supreme Court judges didn’t hesitate in finding the panelists and the management of Muntie FM guilty of contempt.

Understanding Number Two is that the presenters and the management of Muntie FM admitted wrongdoing and apologized, seeking to mitigate their offence with reasons that anybody caught up in such a mess will advance. Nothing like “kpokpogligli” (a ball of nauseating nonsense!!) or whatever else will succeed in toning down the enormity of the offence. No democracy that allows subterfuge  or abuse of the media for hooliganism of this sort can survive. In our particular case in Ghana when our democracy seems to be perpetuating the mantra of “might” over “right”, we must be careful how we go about issues. What is legally repugnant must be faced up to and tackled so we can smooth the rough edges to move forward. That’s how governance can be improved to solve existential problems.

Folks, I have said much to prove that I don’t support the misuse of the so-called “freedom of speech” and to argue that those who fail to read between the lines and tread where angels fear to go should be punished. As such, I consider what has happened to the Muntie FM presenters as a useful lesson to be learnt by all. No one should think that the system is open enough to be abused. Any democracy seeking to grow must be nurtured with discipline behaviour at all levels. I hope that when the dust settles, common sense will rule in our democracy.

PS: I have been monitoring all that is happening at the congresses of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in the United States and can say that they offer a lot of useful lessons in discipline, decorum, and pur5posefulness for others elsewhere in the world. One must be accountable for one’s comments, especially if such comments injure the reputation of established institutions of democracy. That’s an impetus for democratic growth. No more!!

I shall return…

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