Let’s safeguard the independence and freedom of the media

But for the intervention of the National Media Commission (NMC) and subsequently the President, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) would have lost three of its six channels on the National Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform in the coming weeks.

Similarly, Crystal Television would have also parted ways with some of its channels in compliance to a botched 60-day ultimatum from the Ministry of Communications.

The directive was for the two media houses to reduce their channels on the DTT platform to free up space on the platform which it said was operating at full capacity with 40 channels.

In a letter addressed to the Director-General of the GBC, dated June 26, 2020, the Minister of Communications, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, said GTV’s channels would be returned when work on the planned expansion of Ghana’s DTT network was completed.

“Kindly note that upon the planned future expansion of capacity on the network, which has been delayed due to the current pandemic and the uncertainties generated in global supply chains, you will be allocated additional channels,” the letter said.

The DTT platform is the new technology anchoring all free-to-air broadcasting in the country in the ongoing switch over from analogue broadcasting in accordance with current global standards. 

Currently, the state broadcaster operates six of those 40 digital channels, namely; GTV Sports+ (a channel for sports), GBC 24 (a 24-hour news TV channel) and GTV Life (a religion and culture channel).

It also has GTV Govern (a governance channel), Obonu TV (for broadcast in Ga) and Ghana Learning Television (a channel established for tutoring JHS and SHS students during the COVID-19 pandemic).

Only two companies; GBC and Mega-Choice Digital Network, the parent company of Ghana’s first private television network (Crystal TV) operate multiple channels on the digital television platform.

Crystal TV operates three free-to-air terrestrial TV channels namely; Crystal TV Prime, Crystal TV Plus and Crystal TV Xtra.

Therefore, on the face of the matter, the two media houses were the ones to reduce their channels if there was the need to but that should have been the decision of the NMC and the Ministry of Communication.

We acknowledge the fact that the ministry has to make provisions for other purposes while it awaits the expansion works to be completed because it would definitely improve free-to-air transmission in the country.

However, as argued by GBC local union, the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) and the Media Foundation for West Africa (WFWA),the directive contravened constitutional provisions and would have amounted to interference by government in the work of the state owned media.

The constitution set out the remits for the powers of each state owned institutions to prevent some of these misunderstandings and also prevent meddling or overstepping of boundaries.

The Ghanaian Times commends the NMC for defending its constitutional mandate and preventing the Communications Ministry from usurping its constitutional mandate and authority.

We would hold the commission to its words that it would not allow the ministry to limit or deprive the media of the use of public resources legitimately allocated to them.

The President also deserves commendation for asking the ministry to suspend its directive to pave the way for consultations with the relevant stakeholders.

The media must be allowed to enjoy its independence and carry out its watchdog role while due process must be followed in efforts to modernise the sector.

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