22 November 2006

Ghana: Court Exonerates Newspaper's Publisher, Two Editors, in Libel Suit By Former First Lady

On 16 November 2006 an Accra high court exonerated Western Publications Limited, publishers of the privately-owned Accra-based "Daily Guide" newspaper; its managing editor, Gina Blay; and its former deputy editor, Ebenezer Ato Sam, of libel charges brought against them by the former first lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings.

The court, presided over by Justice Iris May Brown, ruled that the "Daily Guide" was performing its constitutional duties by informing the public, and that the information published about the former first lady was without malice.

The court also refused to grant the relief sought by the plaintiff, on the grounds that the defendants "had not committed libel".

On 28 July 2005, the former first lady brought charges of defamation against Blay, Sam and Western Publications Limited in relation to an article published on 6 July, headlined: "Milking the Sacred Cow, Konadu Owes C2.8 billion to the State".

The article alleged that Caridem, a company owned by the first lady's 31st December Movement, was indebted to the state of Ghana, and that the company had access to funding from international financial services due to her influence in her husband's government.

The judge ruled that since Konadu is the former first lady and was chairman of the board of directors of the said company which was indebted to the state, the matter should be considered of public interest.

The defendants denied the allegations in the former first lady's complaint, claiming that the publication was fair comment on a matter of public interest. The court held that it is not proper for Konadu to take the headline in isolation and accuse the defendants of libel when she had admitted the accuracy of contents of the story.

On the use of Konadu's picture in the publication, the court held that the defendants did that "only to capture the market and lure customers to purchase the newspaper".

In recent months, numerous libel cases have been brought against the media in Ghana, mostly by political figures in government and in opposition parties.

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