In recent times, there have been public concerns over the content of political advertising and the intense political advertising that characterize elections in Ghana. In view of this, the National Media Commission (NMC), has launched guidelines to regulate the practice.
The guidelines are meant to ensure the maintenance of professional standards, decency and also promote equity, access and equal opportunities for all parties and candidates in political advertising.
Speaking at the launch in Accra on Thursday, the Chairman of the NMC, Ambassador Kabral Blay-Amihere said that the guidelines which the NMC was presenting to the media and all stakeholders would help show more responsibility in the countdown to election 2012 and ensure peaceful elections.
According to him, there are many compelling provisions in the guidelines, but one which derives from existing electoral rules that the NMC expect all the media to adhere to the latter is section 16 which deals with political advertising on election day.
The section states that "all media houses shall comply with Electoral Commission's administrative policy on the cessation of campaign in the last 24 hours before elections. During the period, no media house shall carry political advertisements or any message from any political party, candidate or partisan interest group."
He said the NMC would formally inform all media owners about the guidelines through the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), Ghana Community Radio Network (GCRN), The Private Newspaper Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINGPAG) and the Ghana journalists Association (GJA), and political parties.
"The NMC expects all the media to abide by this. If there are any media houses that wish to flout this guidelines, let them be advised that the NMC in its constitutional obligation under Article 167 (b) to take all appropriate measures to ensure the highest journalistic standards ... to protect Ghana from falling into election violence and carnage", he warned.
He pointed out that there have been many occasions where opinion leaders, religious leaders, and the NMC have raised serious concerns about emerging trends of hostility and hate speech in especially sections of the media.
However, "there has also been a display of good journalism above the insults and verbal hate. As we approach the elections, we should be grateful and appreciative of the fact that Ghana amidst all the tensions remains stable and peaceful", he observed.
To further maintain the peace, he indicated that the remaining fourteen days ahead of the December elections are so crucial and require the media to display a greater commitment to core journalistic values such as fairness, accuracy, truthfulness and objectivity.
He stressed that "These are times we need to be very careful", adding that the challenge is for all to be guided by whether their words and actions are truthful, meets the fairness test, promotes goodwill, builds friendship or beneficial to all and sundry.
This, he noted, as the role of the media in the next fourteen days. Particularly, "We want the state-owned media to be faithful to their constitutional obligation in affording all parties fair opportunity to present their policies and programmes to the good people of Ghana", he said.
Furthermore, Ambassador Blay-Amihere said he was aware that many private media have their own crusade to wage but even in their partisanship, "they should be guided by the same ethics of the profession that guide all media, new and traditional."
This, he indicated, would enhance the beauty of journalism through effective gate-keeping to flush out things that have the potential to generate tension, rancor, bitterness and conflict.
To the various political actors who use media platforms, "this is your final hour to prove your sincere peace and love for the country. As you seek political power, keep the Ghana you wish to rule, peaceful, stable and united", he admonished.
As to the timing of the project which is considered very late, he explained that all the NMC's programmes are often affected by the lack of funds and resources, a perennial problem faced by the commission over the years.
According to him, "it is better late than never. The good news is that we are finally able to present the media, political parties, and the general public a benchmark in constructing and using political adverts.
"On his part, the Chairman of the NMC Legal Committee and the committee that drafted the guidelines, Mr. Anthony Akoto Ampaw said the guidelines were derived from the article 167 (7) (a) and (b) given to the Commission.
He said given the contentious nature of elections and the acrimonious character of political parties in the country, and the fact that political advertisements are not directly controlled by the media, it was necessary for NMC to provide guidelines for the broadcast of political advertisements. According to him, this would ensure that politicking is informed by the principles of fairness, equity, accuracy, peace and national cohesion.
He noted that the guidelines would ensure that the issue of incumbency to the extent it could be exploited through political advertisements would be addressed. He expressed worry that abuse of incumbency takes different forms such that during election periods, all manner of programmes paid for from the tax payers coffers are repeatedly presented as success of agencies and not directly associated to advertisement.
This is further captured in section 12 of the guidelines as "state agencies shall not seek to exploit incumbency by advertising the success of state agency initiatives within two months of general parliamentary and presidential elections and media organizations shall desist from carrying such advertisement during that period."
Thus, the guidelines are aimed at upholding ethics and professionalism in political advertising, ensure equity in the provision of platform for political advertisement, and provide a fair ground for people to make informed choices.
He made reference to section 14 of the guidelines which deals with incitement, saying, "Political advertisements which incite people to unlawful behavior or public disorder shall not be carried by any media."
In his view, the society ought to be concerned about the quality of political advertisements produced so that they are without distortions or incite people to violence but consistent with values of constitution and fairness.