The opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) has come out with a set of rules to guide party communicators about the ongoing election petition hearing at the Supreme Court.
The guidelines were divided into two parts – 11 Dos and 22 Don’ts.
A statement prepared by Kow Essuman, Esq. and issued by the party said, for instance, members of the communication team who go on radios must avoid using insulting, abusive, threatening or rude words or phrases in describing the judges.
It reminded its members not to pass personal remarks about judges since the judges are only doing their job by representing the State in the dispensation of justice.
They are also warned not to use words or phrases that may suggest that the judges have been influenced in one-way or another.
Nevertheless, the communicators are at liberty to give an account of proceedings in court but must make sure the account is accurate.
Below is the full statement
GUIDELINES TO ALL NPP COMMUNICATORS ON AVOIDING CONTEMPT
DON’Ts – Things you are not allowed to say or suggest through words, phrases or conduct
1. Do not use insulting, abusive, threatening or rude words or phrases in describing the judges.
2. Do not use words that are likely to be construed as provoking the judges.
3. Do not pass personal remarks about judges. Remember they are only doing their job by representing the State in the dispensation of justice.
4. Do not use words or phrases to attack the judges personally.
5. Do not describe a judge in a manner that will subject him or her to ridicule.
6. Do not use defamatory language in describing a judge. Defamatory language means anything that you say that will lower the judge in the eyes of right thinking members of society.
7. Do not use words or phrases that may be construed as discriminatory towards the judges on the grounds of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.
8. Do not use words or phrases that may suggest that the judge have been influenced in one-way or another. To be specific, do not say a judge has received bribes. You may make this allegation ONLY IF you have the evidence to support the allegation and you should be prepared to initiate proceedings before the Judicial Council and the courts.
9. Do not say or suggest that a judge is biased unless you have the evidence to support your allegation and again, you must be prepared to take action on the judge’s bias.
10. Do not predict the outcome of the presidential election petition no matter how confident you are about the case or how tempting it sounds. You are not a judge sitting on the panel and your comments in the media may be construed as prejudicial.
11. Do not say or suggest that you know the outcome of the presidential election petition. It is prejudicial and you are likely to be held responsible for that.
12. Do not disclose personal information about a judge including but not limited to the judge’s residential address, car number and names of family members, even if you have such information.
13. Do not give an inaccurate account of proceedings in court. If you must paraphrase proceedings in court, make sure your paraphrase is an accurate account of proceedings in court.
14. Do not use words or phrases that would undermine the dignity of the court or the judicial system.
15. Do not use words or phrases, which are likely to lower the authority of the court system as a whole or bring it into public derision.
16. Do not verbally assault a judge.
17. Do not say or suggest that a judge is habitually drunk.
18. Do not discuss evidence that the court has specifically ruled as inadmissible in your report of court proceedings. You may however mention that that piece of evidence was excluded because it was inadmissible.
19. Do not report anything indecent in your account of court proceedings even if it was said or done in court.
20. Do not discuss the merits of the presidential election petition.
21. Do not analyse the evidence, which has been presented to court. That is the responsibility of the judges. Analyzing the evidence may be construed as undermining the authority of the judges to determine the petition.
22. Do not draw your own conclusion on the election petition even if it is obvious and based on the facts and evidence before the court. That is prejudicial. Your conclusions do not matter.
DOs – Things you may say
1. You may give an account of proceedings in court but you must make sure the account you give is accurate.
2. You may give details of fact that are not in dispute before the court. Trying to explain facts in dispute between the parties may be construed as prejudicial and undermining the authority of the court to determine the dispute.
3. You may refer to the pleadings filed in court in your report or discussion but not the evidence tendered in court such as the pink sheets. A detailed discussion of the evidence is prejudicial.
4. Since the presidential election petition is of high public interest you may discuss issues generally related to presidential elections and possible reforms but not the specific issues arising from the petition before the court.
5. You may criticise a court’s decision but you must be extremely cautious in doing so. For instance, if a court makes decisions which outrage public opinion – such as a rapist being jailed for six months while a goat thief is jailed for five years – then it is the duty of the media to provide an outlet for that outrage.
6. Bad decisions can and should be criticised in the media but great care must always be taken in the way in which the courts’ decisions are criticised. Anything written or broadcast, which is likely to lower the authority of the court system as a whole or bring it into public derision and contempt may be held to scandalise the court.
7. You may criticise a judgment on the grounds that it is inconsistent with other judgments; or that it is out of touch with the public mood. That kind of criticism, strongly but fairly argued, should not be held to scandalise the court. However, the suggestion that a judge deliberately made an unjust decision, or that he was biased, or drunk, or incapable of carrying out his job, would be held to scandalise the court.
8. You may quote what a judge has said in open court but make sure you quote him or her accurately. It is always safer to rely on the record of proceedings when quoting judges.
9. You may quote a ruling or an order of the court but make sure that what you quote is accurate. It is always safer to rely on the certified copy of the ruling or order or judgment.
10. It is always safe to state a disclaimer at the beginning and end of any report, commentary or discussion on the petition. You must always say that your comment or discussion is without prejudice to the outcome of the petition and that it is the judges who have the final say in the outcome of the petition.
11. You must emphatically state that your opinion of the presidential election petition, whether justifiable or not, is irrelevant to the judges or the outcome of the case, and that same shall not be considered by the judges.
Kow Essuman, Esq.
7th July 2013