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General News Wed, 6 Nov 2002

Independence & Freedom of Media Threatened

...But NMC says it is in line with Constitution
THE Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) has described the three proposed regulations by the National Media Commission (NMC) in their present form, as a threat to the independence and freedom of the media and the development of democracy generally.

It has, accordingly, asked the NMC to withdraw the three legislative instruments and subject them to discussions with stakeholders and experts Constitution.

Mrs Gifty Affenyi-Dadzie, President of the GJA, who was reacting to the proposed regulations in an interview, said whatever emerges after the discussions should then be regarded as either standards, guidelines or regulations which should seek to promote and ensure the independence of the media in conformity with provisions of the Constitution.

She said the GJA takes exception to sections of the regulations which criminalises the non-compliance of the regulations and, therefore, described it as an attempt to control and direct the media. ?Any law which attempts to criminalise non-compliance is unconstitutional and could also be used as a vehicle to control and direct the media,? she stated.

She conceded that although the Constitution defines the regulatory powers of the NMC in terms of registration, the power is limited and does not include the manner that will direct or control the production of a newspaper.

Mrs Affenyi-Dadzie described the process involved for registration and renewal as burdensome, inconvenient and onerous.

She said some of the information required such as circulation and analysis of information being submitted to the NMC is unwarranted and that if the NMC needs it, it should conduct research to gather its information.

On rejoinders, she said, the NMC does not have the power to make the regulation let alone in its present form. Mrs Affenyi-Dadzie said there are avenues for redress in the Constitution and this should be encouraged and asked that no one should criminalise non-compliance.

?If you look at the substance of the regulations, they amount to control, direction and interference and they also seek to criminalise certain actions or inactions,? she stated.

The GJA president said the GJA sees the regulation on broadcasting standards as amounting to prior censorship because the regulation seek to tell practitioners what to do, how to do it and what not to do.

...But NMC says it is in line with Constitution

THE National Media Commission (NMC) has stated that its moves to enact three Legislative Instruments (LIs) are meant to improve journalistic practice and not an attempt to gag the press. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh ? Executive Sec., NMC Mr Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, the Executive Secretary of the NMC, said the step is only to give meaning to provisions in the 1992 Constitution.
In an interview in Accra yesterday, he made it clear that the government has no hand in the proposed legislations and gave the assurance that the NMC will never mortgage its authority to any other body or individual in the discharge of its duties.
Reacting to concerns by a section of journalists about the LIs being a form of censorship in disguise, Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh said the NMC would be the last organisation that will seek to control or gag the media.
The NMC in September, this year, submitted three legislative instruments on rejoinders, newspaper and publication registration and broadcasting standards to the Attorney General?s Office for the necessary action. On the LI for Rejoinders, the NMC proposes time limits for the publication of rejoinder and how such rejoinders should be carried.
The LI on Newspaper and Publication Registration requires among others, any newspaper or publication printed in the country or imported be registered with the commission by its proprietor. It also requires applications for registrations to be accompanied by detailed curriculum vitae of the editor, publisher and owner of the newspaper and also prescribes punishment for non-compliance to the LI.
The LI on Broadcasting Standards calls for local programmes and promotion of the development of a national identity. It advises against indecency, incitement to ethnic, religious or sectional disaffection and hatred and that an operator of a broadcast station shall ensure that every presenter and participant in a programme has a good command of the language in which the programme is broadcast.
Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh said it will also never pander to the whims and caprices of any authority or individual ?but will continue to assert its authority to safeguard the interest of the public as a whole?.
Throwing more light on the various LIs, Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh said Article 162 (6) of the 1992 provides for a mandatory rejoinder and explained that the LI is to provide the basis for it.
He noted that whereas many journalists have used their media to react to unpleasant issues about themselves ?people without such medium often find it difficult to have their rejoinders even published?. On registration of newspapers and publications, Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh said Article 167 (d) of the Constitution is clear on registration of media publications but said asking for the CVs of the editors, publishers and owners has nothing to do with censorship of the media.
He said there is a vast difference between licensing and registration and, therefore, urged media practitioners not confuse the two. ?One can be refused licence and that will mean one cannot operate but no one can be refused a registration,? he explained.
He said the public has the right to also know the backgrounds of editors, publishers and owners of newspapers and that the NMC serves as a place which such information could be accessed.
He said if the NMC were to asked for specific qualifications or qualities of the editors, publishers and owners, ?one can say we are trying to gag the press?. Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh said there is nothing also wrong with the demand that media organisations should submit their circulation figures to the NMC and made it clear that it is the credibility of newspapers that influence advertisement.
?If journalists want the public to know the cost of printing money, what is wrong with the public wanting to know about the circulation figures of the various media organisations,? he queried.
The Executive Secretary said it is also important that the various media organisations inform the NMC of changes that take place so that the commission will be abreast with such changes.
On the punishment prescribed for non-compliance, he said, any law that is essential should have a penalty. He said the LIs are not about freedom of expression but about business, adding that, ?the work of the journalist does not factor into the regulations and, therefore described as a wrong comparison of the LIs and the Criminal Libel Law?.
He said censorship predates the publication and therefore, submitting anything that comes out to the commission cannot be said to be censored, stressing that, ?as at now, those who recognise our job send us copies?.
On the broadcasting standards, Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh said, the document was developed by broadcasters themselves after a two-year country-wide discussion.
Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh reiterated the commitment of the NMC to assert its independence and uphold freedom of expression in the country, adding that, ?the NMC will be the last to control the media?.

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Source: Graphic
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