Feature: Onus of Proof Rests with Herald Editor and Publishers – By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.

My very busy schedule has prevented me from studiously following an epic legal battle that has been circulating in the Ghanaian media for several weeks now. It regards a defamation lawsuit launched at the Accra Fast-Track High Court against Prime Mark Company Limited, publishers of The Herald newspaper (See “Okyenhene Challenged to Prove Defamation” Graphic Online 6/6/14).

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According to the most reliable versions of news reports, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori-Opanyin II is praying the Court to award His Majesty the whopping deterrent damages of GHC 5 million against the parent company of the Herald newspaper, the paper’s editor, Mr. Larry-Alans Dogbey, Mr. Kofi Nyame, The Herald‘s staff reporter who composed the allegedly defamatory story impugning the dignity, reputation and integrity of the Okyenhene; and a presumable kin and perennial familial nemesis of the Okyenhene’s by the name of Nana Kwame Adjei-Boateng.

As its pre-trial defense, the defendants claim that more than several other media organizations have published the same allegedly defamatory allegation against the Okyenhene. In essence, The Herald‘s publishers and editor are alleging that Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori-Panyin is personally involved in the vigorous prosecution of Galamsey – or illegal – mining operations in and around the Akyem-Abuakwa royal capital of Kyebi.

Of course, nobody needs an Oxford- or Harvard-University doctorate to soundly arrive at the all-too-predictable conclusion that the mere fact of many other media organizations – both print and electronic – having either reported or published similar allegations does not necessarily authenticate the accusation of the Herald‘s proprietors and operatives against His Majesty. Neither does the mere fact of a humongous number of media organizations having published similar allegations exonerate the Herald‘s publishers and editor from verifying the validity of such serious allegation before going to the press with the same. This is not what “professional journalism” is about; not by any stretch of the imagination, at least as far as yours truly is concerned.

Of course, it could also be soundly argued that there is no smoke without fire; and in this case, a long-billowing smoke that simply refuses to subside and thin into the air. Nevertheless, what would be quite interesting to learn about is Mr. Dogbey’s reported claim that the defendants have in their possession forensically sustainable evidence, in the form of “various receipts emanating from the Office of the Okyenhene, and [authentically] given to persons carrying out [illegal] mining activites.”

In the past, we must promptly and frankly observe this, the Okyenhene has been widely reported by the media to have scandalously asserted that even if His Majesty were, hypothetically, involved in Galamsey activities, it would not be totally out of place because, as the Supreme Commander and Leader of Akyem-Abuakwa, the land was his personal property.

Rather scandalous a pronouncement to make, because in Akan law and custom, the Okyenhene is only a prime trustee of Okyeman lands and not the proprietor. The land is collectively owned by the various royal families and citizens constituting Okyeman. For, Akans are by our very culture democratically constitutional with our land-tenure system. The land is the commonwealth of the people, not the private property of any individual, irrespective of that individual’s status or stature within any particular Akan polity.

The preceding notwithstanding, what shifts the onus of proof from the Okyenhene, the plaintiff, to his alleged defamers, or the defendants, is the latter’s purported possession of evidentiary material inextricably linking the Okyenhene to the illegal Galamsey industry. Traditionally, the practice has been for the plaintiff to prove the malicious case, or act, of defamation allegedly committed by the defendant, Mr. Dogbey and his employers and associates, in this case (we must also quickly point out that the Graphic Online version of the report, on which this column is based, also had the last name of the Herald‘s editor spelled as “Dogbe”).

In other words, rather than ask the Okyenhene to prove the malicious intent of the defendants in publishing the aforesaid defamatory story, it is now the duty and/or obligation of Mr. Dogbey and his associates to present their purported evidence allegedly linking the Okyenhene to Galamsey activities to the presiding judge of the Fast-Track High Court. What is also equally interesting to observe is the Herald editor’s reported contention that his publication of the news article in question could not have any remarkably damaged and/or injured the hard-earned reputation of the Okyenhene any worse than it was before.

The implication here, of course, is that the Herald‘s operatives bear absolutely no responsibility, whatsoever, for whatever notoriety the Okyenhene may perceive himself to have acquired. We must also, for the sake of reportorial balance, highlight the fact that this is not the very first time that Nana Kwame Adjei-Boateng, the Okyenhene’s alleged kinsman, has made the banner headlines, or prime-time news, for reportedly alleging the Okyenhene to be deeply and shamelessly involved in Galamsey activities.

To say that the global Okyeman and Ghanaian community is watching the outcome of judicial proceedings with keen interest is, of course, a gross understatement. Hopefully, this long-running resource-wasting acrimonious battle will be definitively settled by the Fast-Track High Court, so as to ensure that the real culprits are promptly brought to book, and the gravely polluted and damaged Okyeman water bodies and lands duly restored to a comparable status of their former potable and pristine existence.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D. Department of English Nassau Community College of SUNY Garden City, New York Board Member, The Nassau Review

E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net

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