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Ghana’s anti-LGBTIQ+ bill is being challenged in the supreme court. Why the decision to broadcast it live matters

A statue of a woman holding a scale
Live broadcasts of court proceedings are rare in Ghana. Getty Images

Ghana’s Supreme Court is live televising its proceedings on the country’s controversial anti-LGBTQI+ bill. This was on the request of Ghana’s attorney general, who cited public interest and transparency.

The bill was passed by the country’s parliament in February 2024 amid global furore and local outcry. The bill criminalises not only LGBTQI+ relationships, but also those who support queer rights.

After it was passed, two citizens filed a case before the country’s highest court, in an effort to restrain the president of Ghana from making the bill law. They have asked the court to rule that the bill contravenes aspects of Ghana’s constitution and should be declared null and void. Thus, the defendant is the speaker of Ghana’s parliament.

This is the second time the court has allowed cameras in. The first was during its hearing of a disputed presidential election in 2012. The court decided a live broadcast was required to dispel notions of bias.

Most countries allow live cameras in some lower courts. But most apex court proceedings are still conducted away from the public gaze. The United States Supreme Court, for example, has never allowed live television broadcast during its proceedings.

I believe that televising the proceedings presents both benefits and drawbacks. As a communication studies scholar, I’ve examined the effects of language around marginalised people. Debating whether other people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect could either improve things for them or continue to harm them.

The live broadcast will help promote transparency, education and accountability within the judicial system over a culturally tense issue. But it also puts the queer community in the national spotlight. It could make the climate even more hostile to queer Ghanaians.

Deepening participation

One of the primary advantages of broadcasting the Supreme Court proceedings is transparency. Citizens can see the judicial process in action for themselves, and hear the arguments directly.

This gives them a chance to learn how legal decisions are made. Democracy thrives when the public understands how specific laws that can take away their rights are made. And it is essential to explore how Ghana’s constitution protects citizens from government overreach, police brutality and abuse.

Because of what i’ve found in my research, I believe the voices of marginalised people should be heard when polices and laws are made. They have insights into the implications of such laws.

To safeguard Ghana’s democracy, people need to listen to principled moral arguments about why some parts of a person’s rights should be curtailed.

The broadcast will also give the public an opportunity to hear, in detail, the arguments against the bill. These were barely heard during the bill’s consideration and passage in parliament. The parliamentary debates were dominated by moral and religious arguments, not legal ones.

The case will be of educational value. It will help the general public understand constitutional law and human rights arguments. And it will be helpful for students, especially those who study law, media, journalism, politics and governance.

Lastly, broadcasting the proceedings will put a face to those who oppose the bill. Most of the time, opponents of LGBTQI+ criminalisation have remained invisible for fear of being ostracised or, worse, assault.

Seeing a lawyer and a researcher making rational arguments against the bill might “humanise” those who oppose criminalising queer people.

The case against broadcasting from court

The decision to televise the proceedings has been met with with apprehension in some quarters.

For example, the Ghana Journalists Association has expressed concerns that the live broadcasts will be abused. Its concern is that some journalists may prioritise the entertainment value over accuracy and fairness.

Some Ghanaian media houses already do this by selecting and overplaying particular scenes in courtrooms, distorting the reality. This is an unethical practice.

In following news reporting about LGBTIQ+ issues in Ghana, I have found that Ghanaian journalists are unfamiliar with the language relating to issues of gender, sexuality and queer rights. My research also shows that the media houses reproduce imbalanced reporting that tends to put the views of conservative religious leaders over those of human rights advocates.

On top of this, translating the proceedings from English into local languages could lead to a misinterpretation of the vital legal issues. Various linguistic scholars have noted the challenges with translating human rights doctrines and charters into African languages.

Some journalists have shown bias in their reporting against the queer community in Ghana; some have even formed an association.

Lastly, the highly charged nature of the case could create an even more hostile environment for queer Ghanaians. The broadcast could be used as a rallying point to intensify anti-LGBTQI+ sentiments – and even lead to violence.

What needs to be done

Policymakers, legal professionals and media houses must carefully consider the ethical, legal and social ramifications of televising cases involving queer issues in Ghana. Journalists in particular need to be trained on how to report such culturally dense cases. The police should open a special phone line service for responding to cases involving anti-LGBTQI+ violence, harassment and assault.

Finally, the Ghana Journalists Association should provide a rating system that can hold journalists and media houses accountable for providing accurate and balanced reporting.

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