Journalists and Contempt of Court
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Within a short period, three journalists, namely, AbdulhamidAdiamoh, proprietor of “Today” newspaper, Lamin Njie, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of “The Daily News” and SidiqAsemota, reporter with the “Daily Observer” newspaper were remanded at Mile 2 Central Prison.
AbdulhamidAdiamoh was given the heaviest punishment when he was fined D100, 000 by the Banjul Magistrates’ Court. He was said to have analyzed court proceedings in his newspaper which was tantamount to contempt of court.
Justice Nkea of the High Court was not happy with Journalist Lamin Njie for falsely reporting proceedings at his court.
He was also charged with contempt of court.
Journalist Lamin Njie apologized to Justice Nkea who forgave him and released him to go home.
The reason why SidiqAsemota was remanded at Mile 2 was not established. The arrest and detention of SidiqAsemota followed an arrest warrant issued by the Special Criminal Court judge, Justice Nkea. But he was freed later.
Court reporting is not an easy task. This is why many reporters are avoiding going to the court to cover their proceedings. Most reporters fear that they may get into trouble with magistrates or judges.
But court reporting is very interesting. The beauty about court reporting is that there are sometimes arguments by lawyers, and very interesting rulings or judgments by magistrates or judges.
If all the reporters stay away from court reporting, who will give the public what is transpiring at the courts? We owe the public an obligation to inform them about the proceedings at the courts. Court reporting is a challenge. Running away from it is not the solution.
A court reporter should have a good command of the English Language because it is English that is spoken by lawyers, magistrates and judges at the courts. If the reporter does not understand what is being said, he would not report correctly.
A court reporter should always try and sit in front to capture what is happening. He/she should be able to listen attentively, and be able to write very fast.
At the end of court proceedings, reporters should verify their notes to see whether they have missed some points,.
As a court reporter, it is not safe to publish court proceedings that took place in your absence. This may be tantamount to contempt of court.One day, as I was covering a court case at the Kanifing Magistrates’ Court, the magistrate asked if a “Daily Observer” reporter was in court. There was another reporter from the “Daily Observer” who stood up and told the magistrate that the particular reporter she was asking for was not present in court. The magistrate again asked whether there was a reporter from “The Point” newspaper. I stood up and told her that I was representing “ The Point” newspaper.
She asked me to go in front. I did so as she ordered.
“The ‘Observer’ reporter misquoted me. What the reporter wrote in their paper is not correct. I am not happy at all. As from now on, I don`t want to see the reporter in my court, “the magistrate said angrily.
“Your Worship, if any reporter has misquoted you, I am apologizing on their behalf,” I told the magistrate.
“it`s all right,” the magistrate replied.
Then I went back to my seat.
I could remember when another magistrate at the Kanifing Magistrates’ Court shouted at a “Foroyaa” court reporter for publishing that the NIA case (Salimina Drammeh and co. case) was adjourned for judgment when it was adjourned for the prosecution to call more witnesses.
“Who told you the case was adjourned for judgment? Where did you get your information? The case is just starting,” the magistrate said.
“Your Worship, I am sorry. This is the first time to make such an error. It would not happen again,” the “Foroyaa” reporter apologized. He was not sent to Mile 2 for contempt of court. I was happy.
Out of the courtroom, I asked the “Foroyaa” reporter: “Who told you the case was adjourned for judgment?”
“I was informed,” said the “Foroyaa” reporter.
Court reporters time and again have constraints to have access to court records.
Some court clerks would tell you that they are not allowed to give out court records to reporters.
Sometimes you are told that you have to apply to the High Court Registrar to have access to court records.
Imagine the time it would take for the High Court Registrar to approve your application. It may take days, months or years for your application to be approved.By the time the High Court Registrar approves your application, the story you want to write would become stale.
It would be very helpful if the magistrates and judges allow their clerks to make available court records to court reporters to avoid publishing false information.
Author: Mr Dawda Faye