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Presumed Guilty: The Perils of Media Trial And The Erosion of Presumption Of Innocence3 min read

Presumed Guilty: The Perils of Media Trial And The Erosion of Presumption Of Innocence<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">3</span> min read</span>


In the intricate tapestry of justice, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a thread that weaves through every democratic legal system. This principle, rooted in fairness and human rights, insists that individuals are innocent until a court of law establishes their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. However, the recent incident involving Ms. Cecilia Abena Dapaah, former minister of state in Ghana, highlights the precariousness of this principle when media sensationalism hijacks the narrative.

In 2022, Ms. Dapaah reported the theft of money from her bedroom, a seemingly straightforward event that morphed into a media frenzy when news of the matter broke.The spotlight has quickly shifted from the alleged culprits to the woman who reported the crime. As the news proliferated, unfounded accusations, speculative assumptions, and suspicions about the source of the money and her decision to keep it at home flooded public discourse. This scenario serves as a classic example of a “media trial,” where public opinion jumps ahead of due process, often leading to a verdict without evidence.

The legal principle of “audi alteram partem,” or “hear the other side,” has long been a linchpin of justice. However, in today’s era of instant news and social media, this principle can be overshadowed by the allure of sensationalism and premature judgment. Media trials, driven by conjecture and incomplete information, can irrevocably tarnish a person’s reputation long before official legal proceedings take place.

Baseless accusations are akin to constructing a house of cards—impressive in its structure but profoundly unstable. The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” guards against such tenuous foundations, preserving an individual’s dignity and rights until concrete evidence undergoes scrutiny in a fair, impartial court. Unverified claims, regardless of their volume, cannot replace the importance of evidence, proper procedure, and an unbiased assessment of facts.

Ms. Dapaah’s case serves as an admonition, reminding us that media trials, fueled by sensationalism and speculative assumptions, can erode an individual’s reputation and undermine the very bedrock of our legal systems. Conjecture cannot replace evidence, nor can public opinion replace the need for due process, evidence evaluation, and a neutral judgment.

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In the context of Ms. Dapaah’s situation, her legal representatives have intervened, addressing a media house about the importance of accurate reporting and responsible journalism. This intervention underscores the gravity of misreporting and its potential consequences on an individual’s life and reputation.

Examples from various jurisdictions resonate with the dangers of media trials. Instances where what was tried and said in the media drastically differed from the actual legal outcome remind us that sensationalism can blur the lines between fact and fiction, rendering justice elusive. It is imperative to recall the adage “Fiat justitia ruat caelum”—let justice be done though the heavens fall. True justice demands adherence to due process, uninfluenced by external pressures or media sensationalism.

The media’s influence on public perception is formidable, but it must be exercised with caution and responsibility. As spectators, we bear the responsibility to uphold the sanctity of the presumption of innocence and withhold judgment until the courts speak. Media trials come with profound consequences, emphasizing that in the pursuit of truth, we must allow evidence, due process, and equity to prevail, resisting the allure of hastened judgment.

As the narrative surrounding Ms. Dapaah’s case unfolds, may it serve as a reminder that in matters of justice, a fair trial trumps the tempting but perilous realm of media sensationalism.

Let the law speak!

The author, TWENEBOA-KODUAH DICKSON, ESQ., is a Practicing Lawyer and formerly a Media Practitioner 

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