The National Communication Authority (NCA) has earned itself headline news for shutting down two opposition radio stations. And it did so with physical reinforcement from the anti-terrorist forces of Maame Tiwa’s Police Service. While a section of the public okays the authority’s action, some others say there is a growing aggressive behaviour by the government to intimidate the media. True?
First, I am at sea as to why Radio Gold, one of the foremost private radio establishments which have made a substantial impact in the media space, was not able to renew its license since the year 2000. As much as I do not know the intricacies of the responsibilities of media associations, I am wondering why bodies like the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association could not charge its members to do the basic things expected of them.
That said, a diverse media rooted in the independence of media practice cannot be compromised, particularly at this time when political arrogance threatens to undermine the sustenance of the fourth republic. To wit, this is the time we need a diverse and critical media most. A decade or so ago, Radio Gold was ranked the third most listened to radio in the country. This means it has a wide reach and being a pro-opposition station, it reaches out to the base of the largest opposition, NDC.
Democracy needs a diverse universe of media content to be credible. A controlled media, for whatever reason, can be counted as the death of independent media practice. Since instead of enjoying the luxury of multiple perspectives, the lone option would be government information, which is a mix of facts, wishes and crude propaganda refined by grammar.
Already, the stakes in the 2020 election are so high and tension is gathering as the battle between the ‘redenominated candidate’ and the ‘depreciated candidate’ inches closer. As high as the stakes are, it is unnecessary for the government to take decisions that would suggest it is employing crude means to hang on to power.
Indeed, a lot exists to point to: threats on the lives of members of civil society, social commentators, journalists, and the death of Ahmed Suale of Tiger Eye; all of which have crystallized into a poor rating in the World Press Freedom Index 2019 by the Reporters Sans Frontiers.
This is why the decision to close the two pro-NDC media houses is a misconceived one seeing the challenges the media is facing, and the lowered ranking Ghana has earned.
Already, the opposition NDC has been expressing concerns that major media outlets in the country are owned and dominated by people affiliated to the ruling government hence are bias.
But whether this perception is true or not, the NCA’s decision constitutes to a shot in the foot.
Even for someone like me who is not a lawyer, I do not find much conflict between Regulation 65(1) of the Electronic Communications Regulations, 2011, L.I. 1991, and what article 162 (2) of the 1992 Constitution provides. While the constitution confers media freedom and individual rights of practitioners, the Electronic Communications Regulation makes up for regulatory and economic gaps that are left in article 162 and 163, as these gaps were not addressed in article 164 which talks about the limitations on rights and freedoms of the media.
So it is surprising that the NCA would act like a head teacher of a school who cannot teach. Was it necessary to go to the radio stations with armed men? The use of force and physical intimidation by this government is becoming too rampant that the earlier this backward practice is reviewed the better. Curiously, we are told there was live coverage of a press conference by the council of elders of the NDC when the stations were closed down. Ridiculous!
Whoever orchestrated this whole drama hasn’t achieved anything. A reading of the NCA’s press statement on the matter leaves much to be desired. In its penultimate paragraph, the statement seems to suggest that the Radio stations may not get back their frequencies even if they re-apply or settle all outstanding issues. Well, our use of discretion has never appealed to good conscience.
But this is where the authority lends credence to accusations of highhandedness, because, losing the frequency gives a big blow to the media houses as radio stations have become synonymous to their dials.
That is why the NCA needs to be considerate in handling this matter in order to ward off concerns of media freedom being raised. This issue could have been resolved without attracting bad headlines for the government and for Ghana.