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10 Nov 2017 00:00
'Although these stories are important and need to be told, one must also be aware of the legal framework that places limitations on how stories of sexual assault are reported,' writes Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti (Anndito Mukherjee, Reuters)
In the past few months, disturbing allegations of sexual assault have been levelled against several men in powerful positions, both locally and internationally. Typically, the survivors have spoken out on social media and their stories have been picked up and reported in the print, broadcast and online media.
Although these stories are important and need to be told, one must also be aware of the legal framework that places limitations on how stories of sexual assault are reported.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Reporting on the complaint
The prohibition extends to the identities of the accused and the accuser. However, it is so broadly framed that it could be interpreted as a ban on publishing any story at all on an allegation of sexual assault during this time, regardless of whether the affected parties are named.
Once the accused has formally pleaded, the details of the story can be published. The wait could be a period of several months because there is usually a significant delay between the time a charge is laid and the time when the accused pleads, which happens at the commencement of the trial.
The prohibition is arguably unconstitutional because its scope is overbroad, it criminalises the publication of information that may already be in the public domain (for example, if the accuser has published the allegations on social media before laying a charge), and also because it does not contain any mechanism for journalists to obtain permission to publish.
Nevertheless, the prohibition reflects the law as it currently stands and it carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.
Reporting the identity of the complainant
The effect of this is that the media (and members of the public) cannot name the complainant before a charge has been laid. Although this prohibition is designed to protect complainants in such cases, it raises similar concerns about constitutionality given that the complainant may already have placed the matter in the public domain themselves.
Reporting the identity of the accused
Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti is a partner in the dispute resolution department at Webber Wentzel and specialises in media law
Read more from Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti
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