The Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC), Mr Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, has called for the intervention of the government to enable the state broadcaster, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), to pay GH¢25 million electricity bill it owes.
As a country, he said, “we still need a public service broadcaster and the GBC is best suited to play that role if it is enabled and given the needed capacity to do so.”
However, he said, in spite of all the consultations, funding continued to be a problem.
Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh made the appeal when he led a delegation from the NMC to pay a courtesy call on President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo at the Jubilee House in Accra last Wednesday.
The visit afforded members of the commission the opportunity to hold frank discussions with the President on some of the issues affecting the media landscape.
“It is a necessity for all of us to look at GBC and see how we can really make it a public service broadcaster. We have been working with the government through other means, including the Ministry of Information.
“We have also set up a committee that we think can be entrusted with the responsibility of looking at how to restructure GBC and make it the public service that we’re looking for and tentatively Ms Elizabeth Ohene has been penned down to chair that committee,” he explained.
The role of NMC
Touching on the role of the commission, Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh said ensuring high journalistic standards meant that “we need to develop guidelines and policies, and after that, monitor and enforce them.”
However, he expressed concern about the lack of support for the constitutionally established body, saying, “The question is that we have been given this obligation of ensuring the highest journalistic standards but we have not been given the corresponding means of achieving it.”
The NMC Chairman, therefore, called for support for his outfit, stressing that “together we can support it to discharge this responsibility because the wording of the Constitution states that it must take all appropriate measures to ensure the highest journalistic standards in the country.”
Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh added that one of the things the commission required as a regulatory body was the mechanism for the sustainable and effective monitoring of media output.
“With the proliferation of radio, particularly (from NMC’s account we have about 300 radio stations), that is a very enormous responsibility and therefore an effective monitoring system is very critical” in achieving that mandate.
In order to that effectively, the NMC chairman said, the commission needed between $3 million and $5 million to set up an effective monitoring system.
“Ancillary to this is the provision of a suitable office accommodation as we are parasitising a property of the NCA who are always on our neck for rent,” he added.
As a member of the African Association of Regulatory Bodies, Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh expressed worry about the financial commitment of the commission to the international association, pointing out that, “We have been owing for three years and I had to ask members to contribute part of their allowance to be able to pay for two-and-a-half years.”
The NMC still had a half-year outstanding debt to be honoured, he added.
Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh also expressed concern about the deployment of the Digital Terrestial Television (DTT) by the Ministry of Communications.
According to him, the understanding of the commission was that the DTT was a media space to be owned by the state and it was the belief of the commission that as a state-owned media or technology on which media houses would run, the NMC must be involved in the roll-out and chart the way forward.
“We have made efforts but it has not been easy getting the Ministry of Communications to appreciate our point of view,” he lamented.
He called for support and cooperation because to him, at the heart of the DTT was the question of the freedom and independence of the media.
Similarly, Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh called for dialogue and collaboration to work out modalities to streamline the State Interest and Governance Authority (SIGA) Law to capture a role of the NMC, since it already had a supervisory role over the state-owned media which had been captured under the law, thus the need for an amendment to the law.
Responding to the concerns, President Akufo-Addo directed the Minister of Information, Mr Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, to see how best to deal with the payment of the huge electricity bill hanging on the neck of GBC, as well as the accommodation and funding concerns of the NMC.
He, however, charged the NMC to as much as possible find a means to guide the media to strike a balance between their freedom and responsibilities.
While admitting that the task was a very big challenge for the commission, President Akufo-Addo also noted that there were occasions when the media were used for irresponsible purposes and, therefore, it was important that the NMC did what it could to operationalise that balance between responsibility and freedom of the media.
He acknowledged that the freedom of the media was absolutely essential for governance as it promoted diversity of opinions to be expressed about matters and that no one should wish for a monotony or one-sided replication of views.
“I know that you will be concerned about the means to have this balance addressed but then we know from empirical evidence and historical examples how the media itself can be an instrument of destabilisation of societies.
“That cannot be something that any of us will willingly wish for Ghana because a great deal of Ghana’s present capital and heritage are derived from the image the country has projected as a free, open and stable democracy, especially in the area of the world where there is a lot of turbulence and upheavals, but we continue to toe the line of democratic engagement,” the President stated.
Recounting some experiences in the past where there was only one voice which was Radio Ghana and where the newspapers only admitted one point of view, President Akufo-Addo said that system did not serve the interest of the state.
He expressed happiness about the present diverse and vigorous media landscape which expressed all the various perspectives about the country and indicated that the existing system was good for the health of the country.
A responsible media, the President added, must be “one that checks its facts and attempts as much as possible to portray situations as they are, and not to be a media that is inventing things to serve very short-term parochial interests.”
Public service broadcaster
Touching on efforts to ensure that GBC becomes a public service broadcaster, the President said: “I find it an anomaly that in a democracy and a multiparty state, you have the concept of state media because the possibility of that media being an instrument for party propaganda in a multiparty state is very strong and we have seen it happen here to the extent that you are concerned about having a proper definition of that role.”
He said the process to review the role of GBC was well placed and every effort should be made to assist the NMC to proceed with the review.
To that end, he said, there would be a public service broadcaster and not a state-owned media to serve the aspirations, desires and wishes of those who control the state at any one time, adding that there would also exist a body, independent of the government of the day, providing balanced, impartial, professional information to the public.