Manasseh Writes: Behind the flawed ruling: Facts the NMC ignored

The National Media Commission [NMC] has denied the government’s demand for an “order for the retraction and apology to the Government of Ghana on the contents” of the militia documentary. The government also demanded “further disciplinary measure(s)” from the commission, but this was not granted.

The NMC ruling, however, contained disturbing comments elevated as conclusions and deliberate silence on issues on the substance of the documentary, which the Multimedia Group provided enough evidence to back its case.

The report signed by the NMC Chairman, Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, whose inclusion in the NMC Disciplinary Committee the Multimedia Group objected to but was overruled, overlooked material evidence (audiovisual and documentary) submitted by the Multimedia Group and proceeded to make comments without substantiating them with any fact from the documentary.

Objection against Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh

The Multimedia Group objected the inclusion of Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh because he is the President’s appointee on the NMC and should not preside over case brought by the government, headed by the President. He is first appointee of the President to chair the NMC. Besides, the Multimedia Group also raised the issue of possible bias because the producer of the documentary had had reason to question his objectivity even while he [Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh] still worked as journalist with the state-owned Daily Graphic. In an article published in the October 4, 2010, edition of the Daily Graphic and captioned “Politicians in journalistic cloaks, the example of Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh”, Manasseh Azure Awuni described Mr. Boadu-Ayeboafo as a “Danquah-Busia traditionalist [an NPP sympathiser] in the pastoral cloak of journalism.” This article and a detailed objection was submitted to the NMC, the objection was overruled.

Nine Issues and the Ruling

The government raised nine (9) issues in its petition to the NMC. The NMC’s ruling basically relied on the file photo used in the documentary promo and the name “militia” and ignored all the material facts and evidence and the issues raised in the main documentary. Even in the two instances, the Multimedia Group provided enough evidence to prove that no journalistic ethic was broken.

Even when the NMC had to talk about the fact that exposing the operation of the group at the castle was in the interest of the state, it said: “In the end, the Commission found out that the attempt to expose the fact that the group operated from the Castle was in the public interest.” The word “attempt’ was emphasised by the Information Minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, in media interviews as if the exposure of the group’s operation from the Castle was in doubt. The government admitted this, but the tone of the NMC in its ruling, appears too careful not to hurt the government in any way.

In fact, there are at least six (6) issues which the government was outrightly wrong and did not have any form of defence to back its claim, but the NMC, in its ruling, did not state even one instance when the government’s accusation against the Multimedia Group as contained in the complaint and its press conference was wrong. When it was clear the government was wrong, the NMC ruling either ignored the issue or just stated the complaint without comment.

This was despite the fact that the Multimedia Group, in its defence, asked the NMC to rule on each of the nine issues raised by the government before looking at the reliefs the government sought. The Commission failed to rule on most the issues even though they were either discussed at the hearing or contained in the government’s petition and the Multimedia’s defence. There was no agreement at the hearing that some issues be taken out.

At the last but one hearing, the Chairman remarked that the issues were many and there was the possibility that either party would have some rulings going in its favour and some against it. However, the NMC ignored every evidence provided by the Multimedia Group and ended up without even one ruling or comment against the government even though there were more than enough evidence to do so as indicated below.

In each instance, when the Multimedia Group provided enough evidence to refute an issue raised in the government’s petition, the NMC was silent in its ruling on the matter or it just stated the issue and left it open. Here are the issues that were determined by NMC.

1. Ayawaso Violence and Kumasi incident used to begin the Documentary

The NMC said the commentary and association of the documentary with the Ayawaso West Wuogon violence was misleading but it could not cite any aspect of the commentary in the documentary it found misleading. It is standard practice that in documentaries the background of the story is laid and the Multimedia Group argued with previous documentaries that documentaries, like research, could have the background of the story or a definition of the problem it tackles.

The 2014 ″Sad SADA Saga” documentary about the failed SADA programme in the north, produced by the same media house, started with life in Agbogloshie in Accra. And the “Grounded wheels documentary” produced by the same reporter began with the struggles of rural folks to access basic necessities of life such as education and health before moving on to how the money that could have been used to resolve their plight is wasted.

This documentary was about a vigilante/militia group and the Ayawaso West Wuogon incidents and the Kumasi incidents were related to the activities of the vigilante groups. They are related subjects. The government’s response to the Ayawaso violence was not a restructuring of National Security, whose operatives carry out the brutalities. The government initiated a bill to fight vigilantism, meaning there is a link between the violence we depicted in the documentary and vigilantism/militia. So, a documentary on the subject of political party vigilantism cannot be said to be wrong when the background to the documentary contained those visuals. The narration in the documentary did not in any way say or suggest that the masked men seen brutalizing people in the Ayawaso West Wuogon were members of De-Eye Group. There was no confusion whatsoever between the background of the documentary and the activities of De-Eye Group.

2. When De-Eye Group Left the Castle

The NMC said in the ruling: “On the issue when the D-Eye Group exited the Castle, whilst the Government insisted that the group was evicted in October 2018, the Multimedia Group insisted that it was after the documentary that the eviction was carried out.” The Commission disingenuously left this point to hang without any comment or conclusion as if there was no evidence to arrive at a conclusion.

The Multimedia Group provided incontrovertible evidence to the NMC that the Group was still operating at the Castle beyond October 2018. The government did not provide any evidence to back its claim that the group was evicted in October, 2018.

The Multimedia Group provided the NMC with video footage of the group in the Castle on December 10, 2018, talking about the Dombo programme the group attended on December 7, 2018, at the Accra International Conference Centre. This means it was impossible to have vacated the place in October 2018. The Multimedia Group also provided the NMC with evidence of the De-Eye Group’s website, which still displayed that the Group operated from the Castle even after the documentary was aired.

When the Multimedia Group pointed out during the hearing, among other things that the group’s website still advertised the venue of the group’s operations as the Castle even after the documentary aired, the Chairman of the NMC disciplinary Committee, Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, said the group might have forgotten to change it on the website.

The government admitted at the Commission that; indeed, the group held a get-together at the Castle on December 21, 2018 as filmed by Joy News. The government, however, claimed that it obtained permission to do so. At the time the hearing at the NMC ended, the government had not provided the evidence of the Group’s application letter it promised to use to back its claim.

Surprisingly, however, the NMC deliberately left out these facts and put the above comment there in the report as if neither side was able to adduce evidence to support the claim.

3. Use of file photo for online Promo

One of the issues the government had with the documentary was the use of a library photo in the online promo of the documentary. This photo was labelled “File Photo” in the online publication. The NMC agreed at the hearing that that was the standard practice in journalism. A couple of Commission Members, however, said that there should have been a further explanation. We asked if they were seeking to change the rule and practice by introducing an additional labeling. The said picture was not in the content of the documentary. The NMC, however, used this as a basis to describe the whole investigation as having not followed the ethical standard.

4. Association with President

The NMC also came to the following conclusion in its report: “Again, whereas Multimedia provided evidence of attempts by government officials to remove the group from the Castle, it still associated the President with the group and the Commission held that it was unfair especially when the Multimedia Group later publicly apologised to the President.”

This conclusion is absurd and insults the intelligence the Commission. The documentary stated that the Commander of De-Eye Group was a former bodyguard of the President. The fact that government officials had attempted to remove the group from the castle did not and does not negate this material fact.

Besides, as shown in the documentary, it was the “Chief of Staff” of De-Eye Group who said in the President was aware of the group’s operations at the Castle. That point was not made in the commentary. The producer of the documentary only went to the President to respond to the allegation by the Group that he knew of their operations there. The President denied and his full response was carried in the documentary. It is therefore absurd for the NMC to fault Multimedia for linking the president. And the evidence that the government had attempted to remove the group from the Castle has no correlation with whether or not the president knew about the group.

And the Multimedia Group did not apologise to the President for linking him to the group. A comment made on the morning show sought to correct an erroneous impression that was not contained in the documentary.

This matter of purported apology never came up during the entire process at the NMC.

5. De-Eye Group at the Dombo Event

The government also said the Multimedia Group did not provide evidence to support the claim that De-Eye Group provided security at the Dombo programme. At the hearing when the Deputy Minister of Justice and Attorney-General mentioned this, the only female member of the Commission asked him: “Did you watch the documentary before saying this?”

Despite the substantial evidence provided by the Multimedia Group, the NMC was silent on this.

6. The question to the Director of Communications at the Presidency

The Multimedia Group also provided evidence of the exact questions sent to the Director of Communication at the Presidency for a response, which covered enough of the subject and did not amount to any ethical breach by the Multimedia Group. The government said the Multimedia group “mischievously” took out the question to the President’s spokesperson from the documentary. Evidence of the question as provided to the NMC was: “Good evening. I called earlier. I’m doing a story on De-Eye Group, an NPP vigilante/militia group run by Nana Wireko Addo, aka Choman, a former bodyguard of President Akufo-Addo. I have information that the group operates from the Christianbourg Castle. Some leaders of the group claim the President is aware of their operations there. I’ve spoken to a Jubilee House source close to the president who has denied the presence of the group at the Castle and the knowledge of the President but that’s not the official response, according to the source. I’ll be happy to have the official response on the matter by close of tomorrow.”

That Mr. Arhin responded thus: “The President has no knowledge of the alleged activities of this said group, let alone sanction their activities. My checks from National Security have revealed that no such group is operating from the Castle.”

From the above issue, the Multimedia Group did nothing wrong or unethical, but the NMC was silent on it.

7. The Group providing security services

One of the issues the government raised was that there was no evidence in the documentary to back the claim that the government provided security services in and outside Accra. The Multimedia Group showed evidence of this in the documentary and pointed the NMC to the Dombo event, but it ignored to comment on this issue in its ruling.

8. Aspersions on the President

The Government raised the issue of casting aspersions on the integrity of the President. Here again, the Multimedia Group pointed to the fact that the link with the president was to the extent that his former bodyguard was the commander of De-Eye Group. It was the group that mentioned the president ask knowing about their operations, not the Multimedia Group. The NMC ignored this issue in its ruling.

9. Is the Group Vigilante/Militia

The Commission also said “the group did not manifest any violent conduct to be described as a militia or a vigilante group from the documentary as the people of Ghana have come to identify such groups.” By the Media Commission’s ruling, it agrees with the government’s position that De-Eye Group are job seekers, not a vigilante or militia as the Multimeida Group said with evidence.
The Multimedia Group said it used the word “militia” after the Commission of Inquiry set up by the government to deal with the Ayawaso violence directed that the so-called political vigilante groups should be called “militia”. On this, the Multimedia Group provided the following write up to the NMC as the justification for describing De-Eye Group a vigilante/militia group:

On the name Militia, there are three issues at stake:

1. Whether De-Eye Group is a vigilante group;

2. Whether the Ayawaso Commission of Inquiry was right in describing Vigilante groups as Militias;

3. And, finally, in the matter before this Commission, whether JoyNews was right in using the word “militia” in the context used by the Commission of Inquiry and with attribution to the Commission of Inquiry.

Whether De-Eye Group is a vigilante Group

The Government has argued that the Group is a team of job seekers and Bryan Acheampong’s statement said the leader was running a recruitment agency at the Castle. The government has argued that the group is a law-abiding Group. The JoyNews investigation, like any credible research, relied on primary or firsthand evidence as well as other secondary and independent sources to arrive at the conclusion that the group is what was known in Ghana as vigilante groups. Below are some facts:

1. Our checks with the Labour Department have revealed the Group is not licensed to undertake any job recruitment or placement. The Labour Department says it is an offence punishable by law to operate a recruitment or employment agency without a licence.

2. Our checks with the Ministry of Interior has revealed the Group is not licensed to undertake any security services or operations.

3. The Group’s Registration details at the Registrar General’s Department has its nature of business as follows: “To train professionally and implement to operate employment for the youth, eg. Farming, electronics, carpentry and building.” This is not what the group was doing at the Castle.

4. The Group said in the JoyNews documentary that it was an “NPP Family.” Vigilantes (in the context of the documentary) are associated with political parties.

5. The 2012 Daily Guide report (which was submitted to the Commission) said it was a vigilante group formed to protect NPP Members against attacks. That story said the group had vowed to protect ballot boxes in the 2012 elections.

6. The UTV report on the group two years before the JoyNews documentary said it was a vigilante group. The group did not contest any of these reports.

7. The TV3 interview had the leader saying they were over 5000 youth across the country who believed in the ideologies and policies of President Akufo-Addo

8. The group stated that it was trained by ex-military men.

9. The website said the group undertook security training

10. The leader of the Group is addressed as “Commander”

11. The motto of the Group is: “Vigilance and Protection.”

12. The Group was undertaking military drills as captured in our videos.

13. Their salute is “Ahoo, Ahoyaha!” as used by the military

14. The National Security has confirmed that in 2017, the Group forcefully took over the duties of National Security operatives stationed at the Kotoka International Airport. It took an operation led by the National Security Director of Operations to drive them out and redeploy National Security operatives there.

15. At the time of the documentary, the National Security Minister, Kan Dapaah, said the National Security had placed surveillance on the what he said were illegal activities of the group and that the National Security was gathering enough evidence to arrested and prosecute them.

16. The Commander of the Group is heard in the JoyNews documentary telling members of the group that the National Security had infiltrated their camps to get evidence and destroy them so they should watch out and expose the National Security operatives in their midst.

17. The Group provided security services at the Dombo programme at the Accra International Conference Centre.

18. The argument that they have not been heard in the news for violence is lame because the names the Attorney General submitted and which parliament added to the list of “vigilante” group in the country are not known to have been involved in any violence. The groups that were added to to the Bill to outlaw vigilantism in parliament on July 9, 2019 are: 66 Bench, Al Jazeera, Al Quaeda, Aluta Boys, Asamankese Forces, Baafira, Kukurisung, Burma Camp, Eastern Mambas, Gbewa Youth, Lions, NATO Forces, Pentagon, Rasta Boys, Se Se Group, Taliban Boys, The Dragons, the Rock, and Tohazie. These groups are seemingly obscure and are not in the news for violence so if they are added to vigilante groups to be outlawed, then on what basis would the NMC declare that De-Eye Group is not a vigilante Group despite the above facts that point to what the group is?

19. The Minister of State in Charge of National Security, Brian Acheampong, stated that the leader of the group was arrested after a third warning to cease operations at the Castle. This cannot be the hallmark of a law-abiding Group.

20. The Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, said at a press conference on March 8, 2019, that the leader of the Group, Nana Wireko Addo, was “evicted from the premises by a joint operation involving personnel of National Security and the police.” It does not take a joint operation of police and national security to simply ask a “law-abiding” person or group of persons to vacate the premises of an important state facility.

21. In the documentary, the Chief of Staff of the Group, Fraser Owireky Kegya, is heard complaining about the criminal activities by members of the group and warned that if they continued, he would allow them to wallow in police custody for some time after which he would bring them to the meeting and disgrace them. In the documentary, one of the trainers is seen and heard congratulating the group that on a particular weekend, no member of the group was arrested by the police.

With these facts, we have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Group fits the description of what we referred to as political Vigilante Groups in Ghana.

THE SECOND ISSUE is whether the Commission of Inquiry was right in describing vigilante Groups as militias.

1. There is no doubt that the Commission knew the difference between vigilante and militia, but decided that what we called vigilantism here was not the right description of the phenomenon.

2. Prof. Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu (a Criminal Law Lecturer of the University of Ghana and former member of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations), made the pronouncement that the groups be called “militia” and not vigilantes. The Chairman of the Commission, Justice Emile Short (a former CHRAJ Commissioner and former judge on the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) seconded and added that “even my friend Martin Amidu is a citizen vigilante,” and what was happening in the country was not vigilantism.

3. The Secretary to the Commission, Kofi Abotsi, later explained extensively in a television interview after the Commission had submitted its report to the President, that the Commission stood by the name militia for what was called vigilantes in Ghana. He said the Commission came to that conclusion after assessing the evidence it had received on how the groups were organized and operated: “The reality is that the Commission having listened to the evidence, recognised that the proper term to use was militia and not a vigilante,” Mr. Abotsi said on the PM Express show on Joy News TV, March 18, 2019.”

4. Our sources say the Commission of Inquiry in its final report, used the word “militia” to describe the phenomenon often described as “vigilante groups”.

5. It appears the Ghanaian civil society groups agrees with the Commission that we cannot work with the dictionary definition of vigilantism when dealing with the problem at hand.

6. When the Vigilantism and Other Offences Bill was introduced by the government, the Executive Director of CDD, Prof. H. Kwesi Prempeh wrote this on Facebook on June 11, 2019: “Political vigilante groups as we have come to know them in Ghana are not “vigilantes” in the standard English dictionary meaning of the term. Thus, to draft a law that seeks, ostensibly, to disband and criminalize the activities of so-called political vigilante groups by relying on the standard English dictionary definition of vigilante (e.g., “a member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority, typically because the legal agencies are thought to be inadequate”) is to misfire completely, despite the best of intentions. So-called political vigilante groups in Ghana are not formed for the purpose of self-help law enforcement, despite the pretense and what the bill curiously assumes or suggests in the manner it has defined “vigilante group…”( KWASI PREMPEH VIGILANTE&epa=SEARCH_BOX)

7. When religious groups, civil society organisations met the Parliament’s legal and constitutional committee to discuss the Vigilante Bill, they were unanimous in saying the name vigilante did not reflect the phenomenon that was used to describe the political party security groups and motives. The National Peace Council actually came with a written submission to this effect in which it disagreed with the use of dictionary definition for vigilantism in Ghana.

This means there is consensus among some influential section of the society that when it comes to the problem at hand, reliance on dictionary definition cannot address the kind of “vigilantism” in the Ghanaian context.

THE FINAL AND MOST IMPORTANT part of this issue is the reason we are here, and which the Media Commission is to make a determination. Did JoyNews break any journalistic ethics in using a term prescribed by a Commission of Inquiry to describe a practice to which the Commission of Inquiry ascribed that term and attributing to the Commission of Enquiry?

The answer is no.

In Journalism School, students are taught that journalists are not experts and should not present themselves as such. Prospective journalists are advised to rely on sources and expert views on matters and attribute such views to the appropriate sources, except when they are writing or stating their opinions.

JoyNews did not create the term militia or introduce its usage in this context. The documentary was clear that the situation was called “vigilantism” and stated that the Commission of Inquiry had prescribed the name “militia.” It proceeded to play the voice of a member of the Commission, giving the full reason for which the name should change if the nation was to cover the full scope of the menace and find an appropriate solution to it. A journalist or media house which uses such prescribed term and duly attributes the source of the term cannot be said to have done anything unethical even if the Commission is wrong.

Indeed, when journalists are asked to rely on experts and sources in reportage, we are aware this comes with an extra responsibility to get the right, credible experts or sources. It may be wrong to speak to any man or woman on the streets and refer to them as experts on important matters.

So, the critical question here is whether the Commission of Inquiry set up by the President of the Republic of Ghana had the credibility and integrity to enable the reasonable man to rely on their judgment or pronouncements?

The answer is yes.

The Members of the Commission on Inquiry into the Ayawaso Violence are persons with unimpeachable credentials whose judgment or pronouncement on the reasonable man would accept. Even the opposition party, which could be unreasonable, could not raise issues with the members of the commission. The President and the government received unanimous praise from civil society groups and the general public for selecting what many believed to be very credible and competent members of the society to deal with the matter.

When Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia was swearing in the members of the Commission on February 8, 2019, he declared: “I don’t know anyone who can really question the integrity of the commission.”

JoyNews, after the pronouncement by the Ayawaso Commission, ceased using “Vigilante groups” in our news. We used “militia” and started a campaign #DisbandPartyMilitiasNow long before the documentary aired. Mr. Chairman, the journalist and the media house, like many Ghanaians, believe this is one of the best selection of members to constitute a Commission of Inquiry. The government was highly praised for the quality of the Commission. If journalists are expected to rely on expert opinions and give attribution, and in this matter before you, the journalist and the media house relied on the expert views of what is considered a very credible and unimpeachable commission, then what rule in journalism was broken? Even if someone does not agree with the opinion of the Commission, which is within their right to do so, can the journalist be faulted for being unethical for making reference to its pronouncement and attributing same?

Source: Manasseh Azure Awuni

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