I have heard the Minister of Communication say that the Closure of Radio Gold and Radio XYZ has nothing to do with press freedom. I think the Minister has a new definition of Press freedom. The two radio stations had demonstrated that, following the Electronic Communication Tribunal ruling, they made countless efforts to renew their licenses or authorization and the NCA simply refused. Is that not in itself a violation or at the very least an interference with PRESS FREEDOM?
Press freedom is a fundamental pillar in every democracy. It hinges on the principle that communication and expression through various media, including print and electronic media, especially published materials, should be considered a right to be exercised freely without any interferences. It implies the absence of interference from an overbearing state or its agents.
Article 162 of the 1992 Constitution provides that “Freedom and independence of the media are hereby guaranteed”. It is provided further that “there shall be no impediments to the establishment of private press or media; and in particular, there shall be no law requiring any person to obtain a license as a prerequisite to the establishment or operation of a newspaper, journal or other media for mass communication or information.” The conduct of NCA of closing media houses down because of alleged expired license or authorization is sins against the letter and spirit of the 1992 Constitution particularly giving the circumstances of this case.
Reasons for Media Freedom and Independence:
The media is very critical to the development and protection of our democratic status. That is why the media is considered to be the 4th estate of the realm. The core mandate of a free and independent media includes upholding of the constitution and holding government accountable on behalf of the people. This is why the Constitution did not put any fetter on operation of mass media.
The Constitution is clear. One does not need a license to operate a mass media. The key reason for the freedom and independence of the press as provided in Article 162(5) is “All agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this Constitution, and shall uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of Ghana”. The language of the constitution is “shall”. It is mandatory that government is held accountable by the media as their core function.
The NCA is supposed to be independent and it is supposed to work with media houses to ensure their independence whilst regulating their professional standards. The NCA cannot take away the press freedom it has to promote and uphold. NCA’s action clearly violates the purpose of Article 162 and the spirit of the 1992 Constitution.
The closure of Radio Gold and Radio XYZ came at a time that they had made several efforts to engage the NCA for renewal of their authorization to no avail. This smack of serious prejudice, discrimination and the continuous and deliberate attempt not to renew their license breaches Article 23 and 296 that regulates administrative actions and discretionary powers of public officials.
The Electronic Communication Regulations, 2011 (LI 991) provides as follows: Regulation 107 (3) – The authority shall communicate to the applicant its decision on the application for renewal within sixty days from the date of receipt of the application to renew and if it fails to do so, the license shall be deemed to be automatically renewed for the period requested in the application for renewal.
The intent and purpose of the automatic renewal of license or authorization in LI991, are to synchronize the law with the right to freedom and independence of the media guaranteed by Article 162 and to prevent any unreasonable withholding of authorization. This is why I believe the conduct of the NCA violates the 1992 Constitution.