Last week, the National Communications Authority (NCA) made a dramatic move by forcibly closing down two Accra based radio stations. The two stations, Radio XYZ, and Radio Gold were said to be operating without valid authorisations as determined by the 2017 FM Broadcasting Audit.
This means the radio stations have defaulted in renewing their licenses. According to the NCA, the exercise, which was an enforcement action, in view of the Electronic Communications Tribunal’s compliance effort, was also in fulfilment of its mandate. The NCA also insisted that as per the ruling by the ECT, “submission of renewal application after expiry of authorisation is not a valid application and therefore shall not be considered by the Authority.” Hence the histrionic action.
It would be recalled that the NCA last year issued its report on a broadcasting audit it conducted on radio stations across the country after which 131 radio stations across the country were sanctioned for different forms of breaches as per Sections 13 of the Electronic Communications Act 2009.
The NCA, which is mandated by the laws of the land, seeks to issue various licences for lawful broadcasting purposes in the country and also to promote the effective and efficient use of radio spectrum. The spectrum is first and foremost, a property of the country and definitely and not for the holder as it is with all other licenses just like the drivers license.
The action by the NCA has not gone down well with free press advocates and institutions such as the Ghana Journalists Association and the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association of which the affected radio stations are members.
As usual but unfortunately, it has also been heavily politicised. This is not wonderful, as the two radio stations are known to be closely affiliated to the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC). This stands to reason why some well meaning and high-ranking members of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) have frowned on the action of the action by the NCA.
For instance, the Member of Parliament for Ledzokuku, Dr. Bernard Okoe Boye is reported to have expressed displeasure about the action to close down the two radio stations the “decision has the potential to cause disaffection for the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and by extension, President Akufo-Addo.” This is very true and legitimate concern expressed by the Member of Parliament.
Whatever be the concerns and speculation, the matter should be looked from the national point of view and not political which has always been parochial. It is the law that has been applied and this must be respected. The action was in line with Regulations 65 (1) of the Electronic Communications Regulations, (ECT) 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)”
Elsewhere in the world, operating radio station without authorisation constitutes a criminal offence. It is described as pirating and its punishable by heavy fines and in some cases, prison sentence. In England for instance, “Anyone involved in illegal broadcasting is committing a criminal offence and could face up to two years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both,” as per the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 2006 sections 36 to 38.
Although the NCA has said that the exercise will be conducted throughout the country without restriction to ensure that all FM stations in the country meet the laid down licensing rules, it has been accused of acting in bad faith, because, the action raises high level of suspicion of political motivation as the two stations are very well known to be pro NDC radio stations. Ironically they were all said to have shut down at the same time and also at a time when they were carrying live event of press conference from the NDC headquarters.
Notwithstanding, all these, the timing of the exercise begs for some pertinent questions such as; were these the only two radio stations that were operating in the country without authorisation? Why the closure of the two radio stations happened almost at the same time? One would want to understand if that forceful manner in shutting down the stations was the only available means of executing the exercise? Was dialogue ruled out? We can also ask why this particular time after the two radio stations are said to have blatantly flouted the broadcasting laws of the land for all these years as per the explanation from the NCA.
Much as it is very much appreciated that there is the urgent need for strict adherence of the laws of the land, this must be done in high circumspection to wipe out any political connotation. The NCA is an autonomous institution and its operations must be far and clear from political colouring. Their activities must not in anyway draw the government into it if it is not so.
Is the closing down of unauthorised radio stations the only mandate of the NCA? Have they over the years ensured that radio stations in the country adhere to the frequency and other technical observances?
Do they go round for inspection of broadcasting facilities and other technical as well as transmission equipment and processes? Is the NCA working to check the numerous radio stations, which transmit beyond their limits?
Other begging questions could be what are the powers of the ECT, as one would be tempted to believe that the stations noncompliance action of the directives by the tribunal constitutes contempt, which in itself is another legal matter.
This is because, it is on record that a number of radio stations took the NCA to court, primarily, the High Courts and the ECT, expressing their dissatisfaction over their punishment by the NCA following Spectrum Audit in 2017 after they were found flouting the laws by defaulting and were therefore fined by the NCA.
The NCA, though is not obliged to publish, defaulters and unauthorised operators in the radio business, it would be prudent and for the sake of its integrity, may work towards letting the entire nation and the stations involved, in particular to know the status of all other Ghanaian radio station by way of authorisation.
This is against the backdrop of an allegation by the Managing Editor for Radio XYZ, Mr Eric Ahianyo that it outfit has made several requests to the NCA to let the radio XYZ to have its operational license regularised, but the NCA have turned deaf ears to their application.
Such a publication from the NCA would not only whip up the confidence of the general public in the NCA but also clear the doubt surrounding the closures especially within the political circles.
It is not only illegal to operate radio station in this country but also very unfair to the entire nation and also to other radio station operators. This is because such unauthorised operators ride unduly on the national spectrums for free at the expenses of the tax payer while at the same time they compete unfairly and unfavourably with legitimate radio stations that have perhaps struggled to pay huge sums of money to enable them operate legally and with authorisation in the country.
All these unwarranted societal tensions and misunderstands could be easily avoided if the NCA will be proactive enough to put in place an effective and regular auditing system to weed out all defaulting radio stations as and when they are found culpable. Sanity in the radio business is key in the nation’s democratic dispensation and must be taken seriously.
Nana Sifa Twum