On Sunday December 6, 2020, the National Communication Authority (NCA) issued a statement captioned: “Directives to TV and Radio Station.” The statement cautions broadcast frequency authorisation holders about the terms of their authorisation and threatens that, “a breach of the law, once established, will compel the NCA to revoke or suspend the licence or authorisation of the radio or TV station on grounds of national security or public interest.”
The statement further states that: “…the NCA cautions all Authorisation Holders to cease and desist from engaging or participating in activities of any political party as established convention which prohibit political parties from engaging in political activities or campaign 24 hours before the elections due to be held on 7th December 2020.”
While the MFWA supports calls for media organisations to be professional and act in ways that will promote and consolidate the peace of the country, we hasten to caution that let no institution wrongfully ascribe to itself the power to “direct” the media in Ghana on what and how to broadcast.
The matter of what and how the media do their work is guided by professional codes and ethics of the journalistic profession. Individual media organisations also have internal editorial policies that dictate what and how they produce and broadcast. Of course, this does not mean the media are allowed to broadcast just anything without regard to law and order, national security or public interest.
We firmly believe on the basis of regulatory prudence as affirmed by law, that even if there should be a caution or advice to the media at this crucial electioneering period on matters of content, such cautionary note should be coming from the constitutionally mandated, non-partisan, independent, apolitical National Media Commission (NMC) and not the NCA.
Indeed, unlike the NMC, the NCA cannot be said or considered to be an independent body. The NCA is under the direct and full control of the executive arm of government. As provided for under Sections 6, 16 and 17 of the National Communications Authority Act, 2008, (769), the President of the Ghana appoints the governing Board, the Director General and the Deputy Directors-General of the NCA. Also, as provided for under Section 14(1) of the Act 769: “The Minister may give written directives to the Board on matters of policy and the Board shall comply.” And indeed, one of the functions of the NCA as captured under Section 3(o) of Act 769 is to: ensure the systematic implementation of the policy directives of the Minister.
Given the subservience of the NCA to the Executive, any attempts on its part to appropriate the powers and functions of the independent NMC in the regulation of media is certainly deeply worrying.
We do not underestimate how the media could be used unscrupulously by some people in ways that could undermine national security and the public interest. We are, however, also mindful of how some governments in Africa and around the world have on many occasions arbitrarily shut down critical media organisations under the pretext of national security and public interest concerns.
In choosing to rely on the Electronic Communications Act, 2008, (Act 775), to issue the Directives to TV and radio stations, NCA should also take note of Section 2(9) of the same Act 775, which cautions that: “In pursuit of its mandate, the Authority shall pay particular attention to the provisions of Chapter 12 of the Constitution.”
For the avoidance of doubt, Chapter 12 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution sets up the independent National Media Commission (NMC) under Article 166. The constitution mandates the NMC to take all appropriate steps to ensure the highest journalistic standards in the mass media “including investigation, mediation, and settlement of complaints made against or by the press or other mass media.” The Constitution did not say the NCA will perform this function during elections.
The same Constitution stipulates that there shall be no censorship in Ghana and further states that editors and publishers shall not be subject to control and interference by government and shall not be harassed or penalized for their editorial opinions and views.
In order to continue to protect and defend the constitutional guarantees of media freedom, and to also ensure the regulation of the media in a manner consistent with the constitution and the democratic order, the MFWA urges the NMC to fully assert its authority at these critical times and actively perform its functions as the independent media regulator in the country.
We urge the media to continue to play their critical watchdog role professionally. The media must keep an eye on the electoral process, report wrongs that have the potential to breach national security and public order, and let the public have access to true and accurate information. The media must not seek to please anyone or any group. They must just serve the interest of the public by adhering to the fundamental principles and ethics of the profession.
Issued by the Media Foundation for West Africa
32 Otele Avenue
December 6, 2020.