The National Communications Authority (NCA) as part of its mandate of regulating the electronic media space has completed a nationwide FM Spectrum Audit. As a result, 131 radio stations have been sanctioned with fines while others have their licenses revoked.
According the NCA, the radio stations have defaulted in the payment of renewal (authorisation) fees – an act which is in breach of some sections of the Electronics Communications Act (2009), Act 775.
While Kapital Radio, Montie FM and others have their licences revoked, Radio XYZ, Atinka FM, Radio Gold and Atlantis Radio were fined GHS 4,090,000, GHS 14, 800, 00, GHS 61,330,000 and GHS 60,350,000 respectively.
BusinessWeek is of the considered view that even though they might be in breach of the law, the penalties are more punitive than a deterrent.
Most of these radio stations are struggling to stay in business and asking Radio Gold for example to pay GHS60 million to the state as punishment for not paying their renewal (authorisation) fees on time is simply put, rather too punitive. This is enough to cripple them.
Inasmuch as BusinessWeek is not enthused by these entities’ refusal to fulfil their statutory financial obligations to the state through the NCA, the latter must also be blamed for sleeping on the job. It is surprising that the NCA looked on for well over eight years for these radio stations to fail to honour their obligations to the state.
For the NCA to have all of a sudden woken up to their duties and expect these radio stations to pay their accumulated debt coupled with penalties is a move too late and a strict implementation of the law will raise more than a few political eyebrows.
It is not only the radio stations as their compatriots operating television stations including internet service providers, ISPs have been forewarned.
The media, which is the fourth estate of the realm, is very crucial to press freedom and the sustenance of democracy. Any action from the state or other external bodies that affects the smooth running of the media is a threat to press freedom and free speech and the citizenry will not be happy.
NCA, the regulator, says it has to justify to the Public Accounts Committee why it allowed the stations so much leg room in clear defiance of the law though they claim their clampdown is not targeted at any particular media house.
BusinessWeek concedes that both the NCA and the affected media houses have been negligent in the discharge of their duties but this is no time for playing the blame game. The NCA and the affected parties must come together to reach some compromises on the way forward to addressing the issue.
Even as the NCA and other state regulatory agencies take steps to clamp down on infractions committed by individuals and organisations, deterrent measures should not be so extreme so as to cripple local businesses. Democracy, and laws especially, must be seen to be progressive.
It is not enough to shout to the high heavens and boast about press freedom in Ghana, government must build and create the conducive environment to make it thrive.