Tuesday, 20 May 2014

To regulate or not to regulate the media

The media are the oxygen on which democracy thrives. In the words of GJA President Affail Monney, the media are literally the life wire of our democracy. Without a vibrant and pluralistic the media in Ghana cannot boast of a successful transition to democratic rule.

The media wields great power which can make or unmake a society, government or its people. This is a concern that brings to the fore the debate of whether or not to regulate the media.

One of the happiest days in the lives of Journalists in Ghana was the day the  criminal libel law was repealed.

Today, some would have wished that the law was not repealed, so that it would serve as a sanction and a
check to the rather bizarre excesses of some in the inky fraternity.

Sometimes one is tempted to question whether all the presenters, hosts and producers of shows in the local languages on private radio station are qualified journalists.

Information disseminated by some of the presenters are sometimes overly serious and in some cases reduced to mere jokes, even on very important issues like energy crises and its associated socio-economic toll on the livelihood of the people.

Media pluralism have contributed to a vibrant media landscape and a peaceful democratic environment. Recent developments in the media landscape, however, call for the need to regulate media excesses.

This is a challenge because the 1992 constitution makes room for freedom of expression, and a free speech is one difficult thing to legislate.

Even though free speech cannot be legislated, free speech can be regulated for sanity and civility to prevail. That is why regulatory bodies such as the media commission are established with the mandate among others to ensure that the state media is insulated from governmental control, and also take appropriate measures to ensure the establishment and maintenance of highest journalistic standards in the mass media, including the investigation, mediation and settlement of complaints made against or by the press or other mass media.

Whether the NMC is leaving up to expectation is the question to be asked. Chairperson, Krabral Blay Amihere has said time and time again that the commission is not fully equipped to do its work. The NMC cannot monitor the media, because it does not have the capacity to do so. As powerful as the media are, should we look unconcerned , while venom is poured on airwaves on a daily basis for public consumption?

There should be a way to monitor the activities of recalcitrants presenters, hosts and so on. The Media Foundation for West Africa received some commendation in this regard, for its work monitoring indecency on the airwaves.

However, most of its work were pre and post election based, as well as donor funded . It is very important that government ensures that the National Media Commission is well-equipped to do its work effectively. The National Communications Authority, NCA also has a stake in bringing some sanity in the media landscape.

Through the allocation of frequencies, the NCA should do its homework well by investigating who the real owners are and their agenda. This is necessary to ensure that the media are insulated from governmental control or setting an agenda that will derail the work done to maintain Ghana's democratic dispensation. Perhaps the debate should begin whether or not it is prudent for every radio station to cover politics.

Broadcast stations , especially radio should have specific areas to,concentrate on, either in entertainment, sports, religion, environment, geography, education etc. Media specialization will encourage competition and ensure quality and sanity. We can take a cue from developed media in the US under its Federal communications Authority and in the UK, the Press Complaints Commission for example, to deal with complaints from members of the public about the editorial content of newspapers ,magazines, broadcast media including their websites and the complaints are assessed against the Editor's Code of Practice.

In Ghana, many have have asked how relevant is the G J A code of ethics in the wake of the power of
social media , where any and everything hits the public domain.

The Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association also has a code of ethics with sanctions, but has any member been sanctioned for the use of indecent language on the airwaves?

Journalism thrives on credibility and integrity, but where monitoring and regulatory mechanisms are limited or completely absent , and with the onslaught of new media, opinions could pass as facts; a danger which in the long term could collapse the moral fibre of our democracy.


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