The essential elements of the reports in The NEWS, Daily Graphic and FrontPage Africa newspapers which prompted the contempt charge, centered on allegations that without the knowledge of the Chief Justice, the four Associate Justices misapplied over US$1 million, allotted in the last budget for 27 vehiclesto be used by various circuit courts and judges in the country.
Speaking through their lawyer, Counsellor Syrenious Cephu, in the chambers of the Supreme Court, the managing editors of The NEWS newspaper, Jerome Dalieh, and managing editor of the Daily Graphic, George Doe Watkins, admitted that the two separate articles were “ethically unbalanced and professionally un-researched,” thus undermining the integrity of the Justices of the Supreme Court and the judiciary.
They conceded through their lawyer that the publications had failed to meet the minimum ethical standards, and that the stories were “hurriedly published in the absence of due diligence, embarrassing the Court. The lawyer for the two papers pointed out that the “Supreme Court has never said that it was immune to criticism, but rather that criticisms against it or members of the Bench must be fair, counterchecked, and balanced.”
Cllr. Seman Serena Cephus, a one-time publisher, also observed that the publications “were not based on truth and facts,” adding that his clients regretted defaming the character of the justices.
“After thoroughly reviewing the articles, I realized that the content of the publications lacked the truth. Therefore, we want to apologize and we will ensure that it will not be repeated anymore. We regret the errors because we did not countercheck the articles before publication,” Cllr. Cephus told the court on behalf of his clients.
Asked what he could do to inform the public of his clients’ apologies, the defense counsel assured the court that his clients would publish their apologies in their respective papers beginning today.
When the court asked Daily Graphic managing editor Watkins as to how he got his information, he responded: “I got the story from the FrontPage newspaper and later published same in my papers. I want to apologize for falsely accusing you all and the damages my [publication] may have caused the entire judiciary system,” Watkins pleaded.
Watkins was also asked if he believed the Supreme Court to be a “Rotten Supreme Court” as was carried in the February 22, 2012 edition of his newspaper. He replied that the headline was “unjust.”
FrontPage managing editor, Rodney Sieh, took a different approach than his media counterparts. He told the court that he did not have a lawyer who knew media ethics.
When asked whether he had read the Writ of Summon for Contempt and whether he had understood the legal implications surrounding the case, he responded, “I never read the entire Writ of summon for Contempt, because I have been sick for the past time, so I never have the chance to read the writ. Moreover, I do not know if there is any lawyer in this country who is versed in media law and ethics.”
Sieh then asked the court to give him at least two days to file the appropriate response to the summons; but Associate Justice Francis S. Korkpor, speaking for the Court, gave Sieh one week to prepare his response. The Justice said the one week time is also meant to give Sieh time to find a lawyer to assist him.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Sieh did not at any time apologize to the court. Instead he told the court that he has known Wlemongar Ciapha, the paper’s judicial correspondent, for six years, and as such, has explicit confidence in him.