Not too long ago the state-owned broadcaster, GBC, was accused of “acting like a propaganda wing of the ruling (NDC) party” (GBC acts like ruling party’s propaganda wing -Akufo-Addo, Citifmonline.com, 2016). Coming from the leader of the largest opposition party in the country, the NPP, this criticism was as serious as it was damning. So entrenched was (then candidate) Akufo-Addo’s perception that in spite of GBC’s efforts to get him to participate in the 2016 GBC presidential debate, he still declined.
Fast forward to 2019. The Chairman of the NMC is asking the government to bailout GBC with a GHC 25 million electricity legacy debt (NMC asks govt to bail out GBC-owes GHC 25m, electricity bill, Graphic.com.gh, Nov. 2019). The President, amenable to the request has asked the Minister of Information to examine ways of paying the debt.
The President cites GBC’s “function” as justification (Akufo-Addo directs payment of GBC’s electricity debt, Ghanaweb, 2019), hoping that eventually, it will transition to a full fledged public service broadcaster. I agree with the President’s public service vision for GBC.
However, unless the President wants to argue that GBC’s editorial footprints have changed, his position is not merely curious it’s also a remarkable turn around. How does a “propaganda wing”, with all the subtext of shameless bias, become one whose “functions” require an urgent bailout with the same editorial and operational policy? The answer to the question rests in identifying whose interest GBC’s performance serves.
Having said that, I find it curious that the government prefers a bailout with taxpayers’ money to empowering GBC to improve its revenue collection. The two approaches are tellingly different. Whiles the former further ties GBC’s editorial performance to the apron strings of government with the unavoidable concomitant of becoming its propaganda wing, the latter enables GBC to settle its indebtedness by itself without endangering its editorial independence.
More importantly, a bailout is a short term solution to a perennial problem. After clearing the debt then what? Without a reliable revenue stream of its own GBC will be back to the same stable in 5 years. It’s even more disconcerting that the NMC which is to insulate the state-owned broadcaster from government interference is the one leading this dangerous and fleeting recommendation of a bailout when it should instead be leading the charge to enable GBC effectively collect TV licence fees to make it financially solvent. The Akans have a proverb that if you say your mother is sleeping when she’s dead, the pangs of hunger will never escape your bowels.
That’s where the GBC Board and NMC find themselves after they coordinated a shameful public stunt that effectively poured cold water on the TV licence collection effort, surreptitiously dismissed its DG and defanged the institution as a result. Instead of asking the President for a bailout, the NMC should be asking him to lend his support to the TV licence collection effort which at the moment is in a state of comatose. We can’t build strong institutions if we continue to see everything from the vantage point of personal interests. No we can’t!