Regional News of Sunday, 29 July 2012
Mr. Akoto Ampaw, an Accra based Legal Practitioner has called on the National Media Commission (NMC) to be responsible in the authorization of broadcasting frequencies while relying on technical expertise of the National Communication Authority (NCA).
“The NCA should be responsible for the management of frequencies and its general categorization,” Mr. Akoto Ampaw said at a workshop organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) through the Ghana Political Parties Programme for senior media practitioners and political party leaders on the theme: “The role of the media in an election year,” at Akosombo.
He discarded argument that frequencies involved more than broadcast frequencies and extended over matters of national security, aviation, shipping and that the NMC did not have the capacity to manage and authorize frequencies.
He questioned how the NMC can effectively sanction broadcast stations that threaten our very peace and existence with their inflammatory language saying, “if it cannot impose the ultimate sanction of suspension or withdrawal of frequencies for inflammatory content”.
Mr. Akoto Ampaw, who is also a member of the NMC, said the resurgence of the mass media, especially the birth of independent broadcast media, was not matched by a corresponding regulatory regime that was founded on transparency, equity, the institutionalization of professional and ethical standards.
He said NMC had the two-fold fundamental constitutional mandate of ensuring the freedom and independence of the mass media while at the same time, taking all appropriate measures to ensure the establishment and maintenance of the highest journalistic standards.
He said the NMC was by its establishment legislation and its constitutional instrument structured so as to be a mechanism to protect the independence of the mass media.
“This includes the lack of a comprehensive broadcasting law, the power of the NCA to authorize frequencies for broadcasting, the opaque, undemocratic and inequitable process of frequency allocation for broadcasting, the lack of effective legislative powers of the NMC to authorize and withdraw frequencies and to sanction journalists and media houses that violate the professional and ethical standards of journalism,” he stated.
He said in view of the challenges, the NMC tended to rely more on the processes of self-regulation, mediation and settlement as well as exhortation to maintain ethical media standards rather than using the stick and sanctions.
“No doubt, given the times in which the NMC was born, this could not necessarily be faulted. But it seems to me that we have taken too long to respond effectively to the changing media landscape and unsavory culture of hate speech, insults, propaganda, plain lies,” he stated.
Mr. Akoto Ampaw said the NMC in this regard was suffering from two major defects, the lack of a regulatory legal regime of sanctions by which it brought to order erring media practitioners and media houses, while still employing the culture of persuasion, self-regulation and exhortation.
It is significant in this regard to note that, even as the Constitution sought in the very explicit provisions to guarantee the independence and freedom of the mass media and to prohibit the control over, or influence or direction of the media by the Executive, these objectives were systematically undermined by a number of factors.
He argued that, the fact that it was the NCA, a body under the direct statutory and political control of the Executive that had the statutory power to issue frequencies for broadcasting, it thus, tended to subvert the independence of the mass media from Executive control, influence or manipulation.
“What this meant was that as and when this party came into office, it tended to allocate frequencies, through an opaque process of licensing to its cronies. The result has been a situation where politicians, either directly or through surrogates, own broadcast stations, which they then employ in a parochial and sectarian fashion to champion their political ambitions.
The other debilitating outcome of this system was that the NMC, which was responsible for taking all appropriate measures to ensure the establishment and maintenance of the highest journalistic standards, could not impose effective sanctions.
Mr. Akoto Ampaw said the NCA on the other hand, easily became hostage to the vagaries of party partisan politics and the incoherence of its legislative functions.
It was aware that it had no jurisdiction to regulate content. That was clearly the Media Commission’s mandate. However, as the body authorizing frequency allocation, it ostensibly had the power to suspend or withdraw frequency authorization.
But, naturally, it was averse to imposing sanctions on broadcast stations aligned to the party and government of the day. That being so, any attempt by it to sanction stations that were not aligned to the government of the day was likely to arouse the clamor of executive control and attempt to stifle free expression.
The workshop was attended by senior media practitioners, security personnel, lawyers, academia, politicians and civil society actors.**