An Accra High Court has given Manasseh Azure Awuni and JoyNews the greenlight to show ‘The Returned Bribe’ investigative documentary.
The ruling by Justice William Boampong comes seven months after the documentary was scheduled to be broadcast on JoyNews.
The Head of Legal at the Food and Drugs Authority, Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow, had filed for an injunction to stop the documentary from being broadcast on television.
She also sued Mr Awuni, The Multimedia Group, and Samuel Ato Duncan, the CEO of COA FS (now COA Mixture) for defamation.
She argued that if the documentary was aired, the damage to her reputation could not be adequately compensated in monetary terms.
Lawyers for Mr Awuni and the Multimedia Group, led by Samson Lardy Anyenini, argued that the Constitution of Ghana guarantees the right of the citizens to information, and enjoins and empowers the media to disseminate information to inform the public.
They argued that the content of the documentary was factual and if Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow won the defamation she could be adequately compensated.
Justice William Boampong said he had viewed the two-minute promo of the documentary attached to Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow’s suit, as well as the 30-minute documentary attached to the defence by Manasseh and The Multimedia Group.
He said he was also minded by the fact that the radio version of the documentary had already been broadcast and believed there was no strong basis to stop the documentary from airing having considered both sides of the argument and his own extensive reading on the subject matter of the suit.
He said in arriving at his decision, he had to balance the right of the plaintiff to protect her reputation and the right of the public to be informed.
In the matter under consideration, therefore, he thought the right of the individual should not override the right of the entire society.
Citing the constitutional mandate of the media, Justice Boampong added that timeliness was very essential in the publication of news. He, therefore, dismissed the application and awarded a cost of GHc1,000 against Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow.
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“The Returned Bribe” scandal
In November 2020, Manasseh Azure Awuni released an investigative report titled “The Returned Bribe”.
In the said documentary, the CEO of the COA FS food supplement, Prof. Samuel Ato Duncan, alleged the FDA attempted to extort money from him when his product gained popularity in the wake of the COVID-19.
In the investigative report, Mrs. Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow was cited in a $200,000 bribery saga. She allegedly demanded a bribe of $100,000 for the CEO of the FDA and another $100,000 for herself.
This happened at the same period FDA, in April 2020, suspended the production license of COA FS, citing breaches in safety protocols.
A day after the meeting, she met with the COA FS CEO and took an amount of GHc600,000 but returned it later citing a number of reasons.
Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow denied admission by US-based university
While Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow was fighting the publication of the documentary in court, some institutions had already taken note of it outside the country.
The Thomas R. Kline School of Law at the Drexel University in Philadelphia, USA, denied her admission because of “The Returned Bribe” scandal.
Mrs. Dapaah-Ntow had applied to study the LLM in Healthcare & Pharm Compliance for the Spring Semester of 20-21, but the admission team sent her the following response in an email:
“Thank you for applying to Drexel University. After careful consideration of your application, the Admissions Committee has determined that we are unable to offer you admission.”
Unsatisfied with the response and curious to know the reason for the denial of admission, the FDA lawyer wrote to the university to find out.
“I am passionate about the programme and would want to reapply,” she said in her letter. “I hope you will be kind enough to point to me what worked against me in my last application so I do not repeat the same in my next attempt.”
In a response sent by the Assistant Dean of Enrolment Management, Audrey Woods, on December 17, 2020, the university explained that the denial of admission had nothing to do with her academic credentials.
“We found you to be a very qualified candidate, however, it came to the attention of the admissions committee that you were under investigation for allegations of bribery which is not in line with our values and code of conduct,” the university said in an email to the FDA lawyer.
FDA sacks Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow
A week after The Fourth Estate broke the story of the denial of admission by the US-based University, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) terminated the appointment Mrs. Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow.
The decision was taken after a disciplinary committee found her guilty of misconduct.
The FDA instituted internal disciplinary proceedings against Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow following an investigation by the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni, that implicated her in a bribery scandal.
The disciplinary committee requested and was given the television version of Manasseh’s investigative documentary even though Mrs. Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow, had sought a court injunction against the broadcast.
An internal memo sent to the staff of the FDA said:
“Management would like to inform Staff that effective 18th May 2021, Mrs. Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow, Head of Legal, will cease to be a staff of the FDA. The decision was arrived at after Mrs. Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow was taken through the internal disciplinary process of the Authority, following a charge of misconduct leveled against her.
“The Disciplinary Committee recommended to the Board that the appointment of Mrs. Cynthia Dapaah-Ntow be terminated. The Board has subsequently accepted the recommendation and given her the required notice of termination of appointment.”