Metrics, public service broadcasting and National Media Commission

National Media Commissionlogo File photo

Fri, 31 Jan 2020 Source: Isaac Ato Mensah

Public service broadcasting (PSB) shall always be relevant in the midst of media pluralism, more especially in our present continuously deteriorating national circumstances.

Hence, the recent formation of a committee of National Media Commission (NMC), headed by Elizabeth Ohene, to among other things determine whether Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) can continue with PSB is ill-advised and a waste of our taxes.

There are numerous other reasons.

First, the 15-member NMC itself should be capable of advising GBC.

Second, GBC has a board of directors appointed by NMC.

Third, GBC has a management team.

Fourth, can the Ohene Committee recommend that GBC should stop PSB?

No, they cannot: that will run counter to the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in Chapter Six of the Constitution.

Fifth, the committee’s review of the PSB function of GBC is already in violation of article 173 which states: “Subject to article 167 of this Constitution, the National Media Commission shall not exercise any control or direction over the professional functions of a person engaged in the production of newspapers or other means of communication”.

Sixth, even if GBC’s electricity bill of 25 million cedis (approx USD4.4mn) has occasioned an urgent action, which is a key task of the committee, sitting for six months over the matter is not efficient.

In fact, by the time they are done, GBC would have added to their electricity bill, while engineering solutions abound, including solar power.

And here also I am writing as someone who worked round the clock with engineers and slashed a community radio station’s national grid electricity bill in 2017 sustainably down to a fifth of monthly consumption at a time when the Kumasi offices of GBC were being shut down for over one million cedis arrears.

Seventh; advertisers/media houses use metrics to track the popular content their money should follow, but it does not necessarily mean their choices are moral or appropriate.

Why not use those same metrics to determine which good GBC programmes with poor sponsorship rather need repositioning?

Managerial performance is measured by the twin yardsticks of efficiency and effectiveness; complying with the constitutional objective makes us effective.

Eighth, given our illiteracy rate hovering above 80%, is it not clear that GBC needs to focus on PSB more than ever?

Ninth; let us be clear- whatever monies Ghanaian media houses are making for which reason GBC should copy their example will send us further down the abyss.

Those award-winning private media houses offer very little public education; just watch the viral videos and media coverage of the 307 ambulances commissioned at the Independence Square this week and the national ignorance becomes clear.

Furthermore, every herbal concoction advertisement they broadcast “has been vetted and approved by the FDA [Food and Drugs Authority]”; we shall not mention programmes that ought not to be broadcast while children are awake.

In short, relying on viewership or advertising metrics, just like the GDP, does not offer a nuanced analysis.

Let us refer to our Constitution’s exhortation to morality.

“The provisions of articles 162 and 163 of this Constitution are subject to laws that are reasonably required in the interest of national security, public order, public morality and for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons.”

And Article 163 states: “All state-owned media shall afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions”.

Hence, point number 10 is that GBC is far better resourced, to ensure divergent views, including promoting indigenous languages, even in its present sorry state than the private media houses.

Now you have the facts, evidence and reasons.

The government simply needs to stop interfering with GBC’s editorial policy.

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Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah