Ghana will not have a Broadcasting Law this elections year to regulate the electronic media, some of whose irresponsible content is causing a lot of concern among the citizens. This is so in spite of spirited and concerted efforts by civil society organisations (CSOs) and individuals to get the National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration to finalise a Broadcasting Bill that will be passed by Parliament.
Though a free expression lawyer and member of the Coalition on Right To Information (RTI), Mr Akoto Ampaw, has called on the Ministry of Information to, as a matter of urgency, organise a stakeholders' meeting to brainstorm the revised Broadcasting Bill 2012 before it goes for the consideration of Cabinet, Public Agenda can confirm that Parliament will be unable to deliberate and pass the Bill because the House will be very busy debating several bills.
Apart from being heavily occupied with debating bills such as the RTI Bill, the Intestate Succession (Amendment) Bill, the Spouses Property Bill and others, Majority Leader Cletus Avoka explained that Parliament would go on recess in July and reconvene in October to discuss the 2013 budget statement. He said the House would sit for some weeks before adjourning to embark on campaigns for the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.
This came up at a debate on the topic "The Right to Know and the Power to Regulate the Airwaves - the Way Forward" held in Accra. The debate, organised by Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG) in collaboration with the European Union, African Capacity Building Foundation, Civic Forum Initiative and Joy FM, was attended by academics, communication experts, Members of Parliament (MPs), representatives of CSOs such as Coalition on RTI and Coalition for Transparency of the Airwaves (COTA), teachers and media personnel.
Panellists at the debate were Mr Avoka, Mr Ampaw, Mr Emmanuel Kwasi Bandua, Chairperson of Parliament's Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, and Professor Kwame Karikari, Executive Director of Media Foundation for West Africa, with Ms Adjoa Afari-Yeboah, a former editor of The Ghanaian Times, as the moderator. The debate offered the opportunity for the panellists and participants to express their opinions on the RTI Bill and the Broadcasting Bill.
Stating that pressure needed to be brought on Parliament to pass the Broadcasting Bill before the House goes on recess, Mr Ampaw said the existence of a Broadcasting Act was long over due since the drafting of a bill started in 2001. After waiting for some years, he said, CSOs prepared a proposed bill in 2007 and the Attorney-General's Department drafted a bill in 2008 which had gone through reviews.
"Since then no real progress has been made to move the Bill forward. The Ministry of Information should complete the report on the Bill and table it before Parliament before the elections. The Joint Committee [on Communications and Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs] needs to devote time to ensure the bills [RTI Bill and Broadcasting Bill] are passed by the House. The political class will only do that if the public pressurised it," he emphasised.
He said the passage of the Bill would bring sanity to the broadcasting industry and tackle the problem of abuse of the airwaves with impunity in order to promote peaceful elections. He said a broadcasting law would bring about equity in the allocation of frequencies to public, commercial and community radio stations. He was certain that a law would provide the important mechanism for the elimination of political patronage in the allocation of frequencies. "The NCA [National Communication Authority] cannot regulate content because it is unconstitutional. Content regulation is the domain of the NMC [National Media Commission]."
Mr Ampaw, a member of the NMC and Human Rights advocate, also added that with the prevalence of a law, the issue of ethics and "the vexed question of hate speech" would be adequately addressed as a regime of sanctions such as withdrawal of licences would be applied to deter potential violators and recalcitrant practitioners.
Throwing his weight behind Mr Ampaw, Prof. Karikari's take was that "these two bills ought to be passed," and stressed that "we have wasted 20 years and I think it is time for us to have these fundamental laws in our democracy." He further emphatically submitted: "We need a broadcasting law now." But he regretted that "We have a culture of passing laws and the State system does not" implement and enforce the laws.
He decried the politicisation of the media which breeds a negative culture inimical to democracy and development as political leaders set up radio stations and newspapers "with the sole purpose of attacking their political opponents." The retired Communication Studies lecturer took on politicians from the NDC and New Patriotic Party (NPP) for not using their radio stations and newspapers to educate members of their parties about their social democratic and liberal ideologies, thereby becoming "leaders of enlightenment and not leaders of the gutter."
He berated radio hosts and panellists for unprofessional and unethical practices which are "not edifying for civilised society." He was displeased with ethical infractions in electronic advertising of unlicensed goods and services, health and religious messages which lead to a whole process of deepening and institutionalising ignorance and superstition in society.
He noted that the question of transparency of the airwaves was critical for the development of the broadcasting industry, adding that "community radio stations are important for democracy because a lot of our languages are not used on radio."
Interestingly, while Mr Ampaw and Prof. Karikari pressed for the urgent passage of both the RTI Bill and the Broadcasting Bill, Mr Avoka did not say anything about the latter bill but only assured that the former would be passed before Parliament rises in November while Mr Bandua only commented on the RTI Bill.