“He is here,” Patrick Sogborjor, the lawyer for Yaw Boakye, pointed to the Daily Graphic reporter, Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson, who sat in the Supreme Court in his blue suit.
The Daily Graphic’s court reporter had been summoned over a story he had published on April 13 on graphic.com.gh, titled “Trustees chase Yaw Boakye for property: As controversy over Osei Boakye’s assets deepens.”
The story was about a fight over the property of the late industrialist, Edward Osei Boakye of Boakye Mattress fame, which has been a subject of litigation since 2008.
The property is primely located between Opeibea and the Golden Tulip Hotel in Accra. Yaw Boakye had rented out the property to FBN Bank. But the Supreme Court, after several years of litigation, ruled that the property belonged to the trustees of a trust fund set up according to the will of the late Edward Osei Boakye.
The two parties– the trustees on one hand, and Yaw Boakye and FBN Bank on the other–had reached a settlement, the story indicated.
But Yaw Boayke’s lawyer, Sogborjor, was unhappy about the story and claimed it was written “purposively to disparage” his client. He said the story contained information that was not yet released as public information.
He was surprised that even before that angle of the case would come before the court, the story was in the media, courtesy of the Daily Graphic reporter.
The lawyer did not also understand why, out of all the many issues pending at the Supreme Court, the journalist would “single out” their case for publication.
He claimed his case at the Supreme Court was of “no public interest” and was clear in his mind that the story violated a “known and accepted practice” in journalism.
He wanted the court to get to the bottom of the matter and get the journalist to explain why he did the story and how he got his information.
“He can just mount the witness box and disclose his source,” another lawyer, Kojo Sarfo, representing FBN Bank, beckoned the journalist.
The lawyer for Ebo Hawkson, Samson Lardy Anyenini, shook his head, his wig gently trembling at the request from the lawyer.
Kojo Sarfo said his client was concerned that the story had put the bank in a bad light.
“People who read the publication would be of the opinion that the bank was about to be thrown off” its rented premises, he said.
Yaw Sarfo said customers were calling the bank over the story as if “the bank is using depositors’ money for fun.”
The Daily Graphic publication contained how much it was costing the bank to rent that premises –$3.3 million.
The two lawyers claimed the story was “contemptuous” and suggested it was also defamatory.
It was now the turn for Ebo Hawkson to speak. But he came with his lawyer Samson Lardy Anyenini. Justice Clemence J. Honyenuga, sitting as the sole judge, beckoned Mr. Anyenini to take the floor.
That was when the case against Ebo Hawkson began to unravel.
Samson Anyenini asked his opposing lawyers to state exactly what kind of regulation had been breached by the journalist in publishing the story.
He explained that for the highest court of the land to summon a journalist into a dock over a story, it is important that the exact breach is explained to the reporter because “judicial matters have consequences.”
Samson Anyenini rejected Sogborjor’s claim that “this is a simple matter.”
“Disclosure of source is not a simple matter,” he said, which is why his client had filed processes in court that very morning for the case to be heard appropriately.
He indicated that there was nothing factually inaccurate in the story that captured both sides of the case using information that was available in court and at the court registry.
Mr. Anyenini accused the two lawyers of misleading the court, by reading purported extracts of the story which he said simply did not exist in the publication.
Sogborjor said if the lawyer for Ebo Hawkson wanted to escalate a “simple” matter by suggesting they should sue for defamation over the story “we are more than happy to go down that route.”
Sarfo, the lawyer for FBN, was also unhappy at the accusation by Anyenini that he had misled the court when he quoted non-existent extracts from the story.
“I was only paraphrasing,” he said.
In the exchanges, Justice Clemence J. Honyenuga intervened and explained that the substantive case between Yaw Boakye, FNB Bank versus the trustees of the Edward Osei Boakye Trust Fund had been settled amicably.
Displeasure over a media report should not undermine the process of settlement, he noted, and said he was cautious about handling media matters.
The court fell silent as he wrote his judgment. After several minutes, the judge broke the silence he had imposed.
He said if the two parties who had caused the journalist to be summoned to court felt so strongly about a perceived breach, they could go ahead and sue.
But as far as he was concerned, the Daily Graphic reporter, Ebo Hawkson, was “discharged.”