A Senior lecturer of the School of Communication Studies of the University of Ghana, Legon, Dr Audrey Gadzekpo, has warned that proposals by the Ministry of Information for the chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC) to be appointed by the President is dangerous and misguided. She said the proposals to the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) sought to put the election of the chairperson of the NMC under executive control. That, she said, was contrary to the intentions of the 1992 Constitution, that sought to make the media, a public resource, independent of control from any quarter and broadly representative. With that character, the election of a chairperson from among the representative members complemented the NMC's membership, and that had to be maintained. Delivering a lecture on: "The 1992 Constitution and the Media: Challenges and Opportunities for Reform", Dr Gadzekpo maintained that other proposals by the Information Ministry for people who had held positions in the executive or in a political party to be disqualified from membership on the board of the NMC was unnecessary. That was because the 1992 Constitution inherently had provisions to ensure that members of independent constitutional bodies could not be partisan. The lecture was organised by the National Constitutional Review Coalition (NCRC), an alliance of civil society groups working in governance, rights and democracy, under the auspices of the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD). Dr Gadzekpo said the NMC had also made proposals to the CRC asking to be made responsible for the allocation of broadcasting frequencies. The rationale for that was to enable the NMC to have oversight responsibility for good standards in media content. As the situation was currently, the NMC as the regulator of the media had no power to deal with the challenge of some disturbing broadcast content because it was not responsible for the allocation of media frequencies, while the National Communications Authority (NCA), which allocated broadcast frequencies, did not have the know-how to ensure good content. She mentioned the 2008 election as a case in point when some unsettling broadcasts from some media left the NCA at its wits end in dealing with the challenge. Dr Gadzekpo's paper argued that despite the challenges on the media landscape, provisions on the media in the 1992 Constitution were the best so far, endorsing the American adage that, "If it ain't broke don't fix it." She proposed public advocacy in getting constitutional bodies like the NMC well funded to better its monitoring and the setting of good standards for the media, while asking politicians to whip up enough commitment to resource the NMG. She also challenged media personnel to engage in some self-censorship and be sensitive to the democratic ethos of the country in all aspects of their work. She was of the view that this would forestall the public clamour for stringent laws to clamp down on the media. The Editor-in-Chief of the Ghanaian Observer, Mr Egbert Faibille, in his critique of the presentation said most often, the government used tax agencies to intimidate media organisations, apart from the use of the national security apparatus, the police, and the Attorney General's Department. He proposed an application to the courts for permission before any media house could be shut down for any purpose. Mr FaibiIle, who is also a legal practitioner, agreed that provisions relating to the media in the Constitution were generally the best but advocated better clarity of certain provisions and the expansion of others. He said a reliance on the spirit of the Constitution, that is, the good intentions for the rule of law and justice, was leaving too much discretion in the hands of the umpires of the law, that is, judges, some of who sometimes took no cognisance of the fact that they held judicial-power in trust. For instance, he asked for clarity on provisions in the Constitution, like Article 164, that limited media freedoms in the name of national security, which also had to be clearly defined. The Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Prof. Kwame Karikari, who chaired the function, cautioned journalists not to disregard their regulatory bodies like the NMC and the ethics committee of the GJA. Disregarding them when brought to book was to give some sections of the public the reason to c1amour for tighter controls of the media. He expressed the hope that with the passage of time, free expression and press freedoms would expand within a responsible media environment. The co-chairperson of the NCRC, Prof. Samuel Gyandoh, for his part reminded all not to expect that all aspirations would be in the Constitution if reviewed, adding that there were no - absolute freedoms in the normal scheme of things. He said that was why a democratic environment also relied on democratically elected duty bearers to engage in responsible governance.
Source: Daily Graphic/Ghana