September 29, 2017 / By Nathan Gadugah
The Minority in Parliament has described as “draconian” fines slapped on defaulting radio stations by the National Communications Authority.
In a statement, the group insists the action by the regulator is “troubling” and may have “grave implications for press freedom and media pluralism.”
The statement comes a day after the NCA issued its report on a broadcasting audit it conducted on radio stations across the country.
The Regulator sanctioned a total of 131 radio station for various infractions contained in Sections 13 of the Electronic Communications Act 2009.
At least 13 others were issued with reprieves pertaining to the law.
Section 13 of the Electronics Communications Act (2009), Act 775 states among others that “the Authority may suspend or revoke a license or a frequency authorisation where
(a) The license or the authorisation holder has failed to comply materially with any of the provisions of this Act, Regulations or the terms and conditions of its license or frequency authorization
(b) The licensee or the authorisation holder has failed to comply materially with a lawful direction of the Authority,
(c) The licensee or the authorisation holder is in default of payment of a fee or other money, charged or imposed in furtherance of this Act, the National Communications Authority Act, 2008 (Act 769) or Regulations.
In line with the law, 21 of the FM Broadcasting stations have had their licenses completely revoked after they were deemed to be operating illegally, years after failing to renew their licenses and also failing to respond to the calls of the NCA.
A total of 13 others also had their stations completely revoked for failing to renew their licenses despite responding to the calls of the NCA.
The rest were slapped with fines ranging from ¢50,000.00 to ¢61,000,000.00 depending on the infraction and the duration the infraction persisted.
The sanctions have come as a surprise to many.
The NDC insists whilst the NCA is by law empowered to take the decision it has, the regulator has been high-handed in the sweeping sanctions.
The following is the full statement;
STATEMENT BY MINORITY ON HIGH-HANDED REGULATORY SANCTIONS AGAINST SELECTED MEDIA HOUSES BY THE NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS AUTHORITY
The Minority in Parliament has learnt with grave concern, of an on-going exercise by the National Communications Authority (NCA) under which selected media houses have been subjected to very steep regulatory sanctions.
It is our understanding that, about 131 radio stations have either had their authorization revoked, which means they have been taken off air, or have been slapped with very draconian fines running into tens of millions of Ghana cedis in some instances. Other kinds of sanctions have been applied in a variety of cases.
We are deeply troubled by this development which has grave implications for press freedom and media pluralism.These actions by the NCA threaten to roll back the gains made so far in entrenching a vibrant media culture.
While we acknowledge the NCA’s right to regulate the communications sector in a manner that ensures compliance with appropriate regulations, we are alarmed by the sweeping and heavy-handed approach to the current exercise.
The situation where alleged breaches of regulations dating back several years are suddenly cited as a basis for the near-summary closure of radio stations and humongous fines poses a mortal danger to the expansion of the frontiers of free expression.
Radio has become a foremost means of expression by large sections of our citizenry since the liberalization of the airwaves at the beginning of the current democratic dispensation. Entities operating within that space, therefore, ought to be acknowledged for their invaluable contributions to the growth of our democracy.
Regulatory enforcement ought to be undertaken in a reasonable manner that factors in the fragilities inherent in the operations of many radio stations.
The current revocation and sanctions regime appears to be monetizing the right to free expression and could be construed as an effort to exact retribution particularly against stations that have traditionally been ideologically opposed to the current NPP administration.
We are at a loss as to how millions of Ghana cedis can be imposed as fines on radio stations, failing which their authorization will be revoked only to have them sold to other entities for ¢30,000.
The NCA does not also appear to have considered the deleterious impact this will have on jobs in the sector. We estimate that close to 5,000 people working in the affected stations will be rendered jobless should the current action persist.
This will only serve to worsen the precarious unemployment situation and add to the hardships Ghanaians are going through.
In light of the foregoing, we urge the NCA to as a matter of urgency suspend the on-going exercise and use dialogue and more flexible means to ensure compliance with relevant regulations.
This, we believe, will avert a situation where monetary value is placed on the right to free expression with its attendant difficulties.
Alhaji A.B.A. Fuseini (MP)
Ranking Member, Communications Committee.