The Supreme Court on Wednesday in a unanimous decision struck down the National Media Commission (NMC) Content Standards Regulation 2015 as unconstitutional.
The judgment of the court, which was read on behalf of the seven-member panel, by Justice Ampah Benin, said there was no need for the NMC restriction since it amounted to censorship.
The court said that there was no legally acceptable justification for the regulation and, therefore, upheld the plaintiff’s case, describing some regulations including Regulations 3,4,5,6,7,8 and 22 of LI 2224, as null and void.
The court added that the case touched on the heart of democratic process and freedom of expression.
The court said the NMC was to insulate the State-owned media from government control and bring about sanity in the media, and it was not lost on the framers of the 1992 constitution to put in place measures to check abuse of power.
The Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) sued the Attorney- General and the NMC for going beyond its borders and duty by introducing the Content Standards regulation, which was inimical to the constitution.
It was their contention that the said regulation was unconstitutional and amounted to censorship.
The new Legislative Instrument (LI 2224) introduced in January 2016 stated that failure to obtain permission to broadcast particular content attracts “a fine not less than five thousand units or a term of imprisonment of not less than two years and not more than five years or both the fine and term of imprisonment.”
The new LI empowers the NMC to grant authorisation to an electronic operator’s content or revoke same if the content goes contrary to the LI.
The LI also entreated all radio and television (TV) stations to seek content authorisation from the NMC before airing or screening a particular programme, explaining that it has a legal responsibility to ensure proper journalistic standards.
“If somebody came and said that ‘I want to set up a radio station to propagate the ideals of Boko Haram…or I have discovered that more and more people are interested in nude and pornographic content so I hope to make a lot of profit from that so I am setting up a TV station’ that person would not be allowed by this law,” NMC explained.
Meanwhile, the NMC has accepted the decision of the court regarding the constitutionality of portions of its Content Standards Regulation, 2015 (LI2224). It stated that it “would study the judgment critically and decide on the next steps forward.”
A statement signed by its chairman, Mr. Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, said the commission was of the conviction that “the right to free expression ought to be balanced against responsible practice.”
This philosophy, it added, provided the foundation for the law, which enjoined public electronic communications networks and broadcasters to abide by minimum standards in the delivery of the content.
According to the statement, it was important that all stakeholders in the media environment recognised that “the decision of the court places greater responsibility on individual judgement and professional responsibility far more than any specific directives the court could have placed on the media or the law would have expected of them.”
The NMC was hopeful media practitioners will exercise greater professional judgment in their work and support the nation’s quest for peace and stability.