After John Agyekum Kufuor was sworn in as Ghana’s new president in January, he promised to make defamation a civil and not a criminal offense. On July 27, Ghana’s parliament unanimously repealed the country’s criminal libel and sedition laws, including clauses governing sedition and defamation of the president. Also scrapped were laws granting the president discretionary power to ban news outlets. As a result, all pending legal cases filed under the repealed sections were dropped.
In February, the court reopened a 1996 case against Kofi Coomson of the Ghanaian Chronicle, Eben Quarcoo, formerly of the Free Press, and Tommy Thompson of Tommy Thompson Books, Ltd. All three men were charged with “making false publications likely to injure the reputation of the state,” under section 185 of the Criminal Code, for alleging that the government of the time was involved in drug and arms smuggling. The case was finally dropped after the July amendment of the criminal libel and sedition laws.
In March, Seidu Paakuna Adamu, a minister in the government of former President Jerry Rawlings and a stalwart of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, attributed his party’s poor showing in the presidential elections to its antagonistic relationship with the independent media. Radical NDC members had pledged to keep criminal libel laws on the books if the NDC candidate won the presidential contest.
By contrast, President Kufuor seemed determined to cultivate an open and accessible image. In April, the president marked the first 100 days of his administration with a press conference featuring a free question-and-answer session with reporters–a first for Ghana. Kufuor promised to make such meetings a regular feature of his time in office.
After the libel law was repealed, the National Media Commission (NMC) and the Ethics Committee of the Ghana Journalists Association assumed responsibility for monitoring the country’s media. The NMC is one of several statutory bodies created by the 1992 Constitution. The first cases to be heard involved allegations of bribe-taking by journalists, as well as cases brought by individuals who felt they had been defamed in newspaper articles.
Other issues brought before the NMC and the Ethics Committee related mainly to the perceived lack of professionalism in the media. This led to calls for better pay for journalists to reduce their susceptibility to corruption. Meanwhile, the Ghana Journalists Association also came out with a code of ethics to guide the operations of its members.