Former President John Mahama has said that Radio Gold and Radio XYZ was shut down by the National Communication Authority (NCA) over regulatory infractions because President Nana Akufo-Addo’s allergy to criticism “thinks that they are saying things that he does not like”.
“I think it’s a pity that these two stations have been taken off [the air]”, Mr Mahama said in a Facebook Live interaction on Thursday, 22 August 2019, adding: “The authorities are hiding behind regulation and the law, but at the end, it is about free speech and it is about press freedom”.
The NCA took the action in May 2019 with the explanation that: “Radio stations operating without valid authorisations as determined by the 2017 FM Broadcasting Audit, are being shut down with immediate effect as enforcement action in view of the decision of the Electronic Communications Tribunal”.
It said: “Following the FM Spectrum Audit in 2017, some stations were found to be in default and were fined by the Authority. However, some of the stations in default were not satisfied and proceeded to the various courts; Electronic Communications Tribunal (ECT) and the High Court to appeal against the NCA’s decision.
“This resulted in a decision by the ECT in 2018 which reviewed the status of expired FM Radio Broadcasting Authorisations and which ruled among others that Companies whose authorisations had expired reverted to the same position as a fresh applicant. While some stations shut down following this decision, others did not.
“To this end, and in line with Regulations 65 (1) of the Electronic Communications Regulations, 2011, L. I. 1991, which states that “A person shall not use a radio frequency without authorisation from the Authority” the National Communications Authority (NCA) is enforcing the shutdown of FM radio stations who are operating without authorisation”, the NCA added.
The regulator continued: “It should be noted that as ruled by the ECT, submission of renewal application after the expiry of authorisation is not a valid application and therefore shall not be considered by the Authority”.
It said: “While companies affected by this shut down may submit fresh applications to the Authority if they so wish, these applications shall go through the required procedure for new FM Broadcasting Authorisation and the outcome will be communicated to the applicants”.
Mr Mahama, however, said: “I believe that Nana Akufo-Addo, who touts himself as a human rights advocate and an advocate of free expression and free speech must feel very embarrassed about the closure of these two stations”.
“The bottom line”, the NDC flag bearer said, “Is that these stations are deemed to be anti-government, and pro-opposition and that’s the main reason behind their closure”. “The authorities are hiding behind the law and everything”, he added.
In Mr Mahama’s view, “The duty of regulation, when it has to do with the rights and freedoms of people, is not to vitiate those rights, it is to create a situation where you are able to correct any infractions of the law that have taken place. And, so, if Radio Gold and XYZ have infracted the law, the duty of the NCA is to assist them to come within the ambit of the law. And, so, give them a period and tell them that we want you to come back on the side of regulation. But to just shut them off…”
Mr Mahama said President Akufo-Addo’s allergy to criticism bodes ill for Ghana’s democracy.
“They go to the Electronic Tribunal, the head of the tribunal has resigned, I can tell you the government will not appoint a new judge for that tribunal because they don’t want the cases to be heard. And, so, XYZ and Radio Gold have been shut [down] because the President thinks that they are saying things that he does not like, and I believe that it does not help our democracy”.
Unlike Mr Akufo-Addo, Mr Mahama said he had a big heart for criticism while in office.
“I was criticised by many journalists and many media houses but the point is: if you want to consolidate our democracy, you must have a big heart to accept criticism. Unfortunately, this President cannot accept criticism.
“Our press freedom credentials are on the downslide. Journalists don’t feel safe. If you attack the government, people will come after you. I think it’s a very very bad narrative that this government is taking us through.
“Recently Prof Karikari, my former professor at the university, of Media Foundation for West Africa fame said that this government’s credentials in terms of press freedom are bad, and, so, I think that the President should wake up and listen and do something about it”, Mr Mahama noted.