Media regulation - Experts oppose more powers for NMC
Four veteran media experts have kicked against calls to review the 1992 Constitution to give more powers to the National Media Commission (NMC) to regulate and sanitise the media space.
The experts are the Chairman of the NMC, Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh; a former Chairman of the NMC, Kabral Blay-Amihere; a communication consultant, Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, and the Editor of the Daily Insight, Kwesi Pratt Jnr.
They said allocating such powers to the NMC could be counterproductive, would stifle free speech, curtail the independence of the media and its role in the country’s democratic dispensation, and take the country back to the days of censorship and governmental control of the media.
Speaking at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) Constitutional Review Seminar in Accra last Tuesday, the four were of the view that one of the best ways to sanitise the media and improve standards was continuous self-regulation by media organisations and journalist bodies such as the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA).
They said the current mandate of the NMC to set and promote the highest journalistic standards through mediation and dialogue was the best option, as a “barking” NMC was better than a “biting” NMC in a democracy.
NMC content regulations
The comments by the four media personalities followed continuous calls by many individuals, including some journalists, for the NMC to be given the teeth to bite and bring to book errant journalists and media houses that work unprofessionally and use their platforms to promote divisions, encourage moral decadence and cause social upheavals .
After many criticisms about the poor standards, in 2016, the NMC through Parliament enacted a law which required media owners to seek content approval from the NMC before publication.
However, the new law was declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court following a suit filed by the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA).
The event, themed: “Reviewing Ghana’s 1992 Constitution: Viewpoints from the Media”, formed part of a series of lectures organised by the IEA for notable individuals and interest groups to share their views on the constitutional review.
It was attended by the Minister of Information, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah; the Chairman of the National Peace Council, Rev. Dr Ernest Edu Gyamfi; a former Speaker of Parliament, Prof. Aaron Mike Oquaye, who was the Chairperson, and award-winning journalist and lawyer, Samson Lardi Anyenini.
Sharing their thoughts, Messrs Sakyi-Addo and Pratt Jnr said those calling for extensive powers for the NMC to regulate the media seemed to have forgotten or did not know that not long ago people lost their lives by using the media to criticise those in authority.
“There was a time when expression of your view alone could get one into a coffin.
I get surprised that media practitioners are calling for teeth to bite them,” Mr Pratt Jnr said.
Mr Sakyi-Addo said some journalists had to run away and go into exile because they had asked questions that those in power did not like.
“There were times when television programmes had to stop midway because an opposition political party member was part of the programme. My TV programme was stopped without any explanation,” he recalled.
He, therefore, called on the media to cherish the current freedoms afforded to them by acting responsibly and respecting the rights of people.
Philosophy of NMC
For Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh, the philosophy behind the creation of the NMC was not to control the media but to help promote press freedom, and by extension, freedom of speech, which was a basic fundamental human right.
The work of the NMC, he said, was to ensure that the media acted more responsibly while the public also appreciated the need for the media to carry out their mandate of informing, educating and holding power accountable.
“The NMC wants to sanitise the media environment but the approach should be dialogue, discussions and engagements rather than control,” he explained.
Mr Blay-Amihere said the framers of the 1992 Constitution deliberately insulated the media from censorship and any form of control due to certain periods in the country’s history when the media was muzzled and prevented from performing their mandate.
“The framers of the constitution did not want a situation where we return to the bad old days and that is why the frontiers were opened up wide,” he stated.
He explained that the constitution did not give a carte blanche freedom to the media, with Article 164 putting some limitation on the freedom in the interest of national security, public order and the rights and freedoms of others.
The former NMC Chairman recommended that the NMC must exercise its powers under Article 167(d) of the constitution and come up with certain regulations which would not necessarily affect the independence of the media, adding, “I will never be an advocate of making the NMC a tool of oppression.”