According to him, the manner in which the Commission has handled the matter involving Onua TV/FM leaves much to be desired.
“I’m really not sure what the intentions and the purposes of the NMC are. Because, if we are saying that NMC must promote media freedom, this is not the way you do it,” he said on TV3’s Key Points programme on December 2, 2023.
Prof. Kobby Mensah was commenting on the matter involving the Commission and Onua TV.
It would be recalled that the NMC refused to grant a hearing to the Board of Onua TV/FM after accusing a presenter on the two stations of inciteful comments. Instead, the Commission wrote to the Advertisers Association of Ghana (AAG) to advise them against advertising on Onua TV/FM and the National Communications Authority to suspend the frequency authorisdation of the two stations.
The Marketing professor noted, “Having taught political communication/PR for almost ten years, I haven’t seen processes like these before, it’s almost like an individual as opposed to an organization, taking decisions. When you look at the statement coming from the quarters, i.e, the NMC, it baffles me that we have institutions behaving like this.”
He reminded the Commission of its mandate to uphold press freedom.
“ …One of the things that democracy really stands up with is media freedom. The idea that we should promote at all times … freedom of speech etc. Of course, not to the detriment of what we call the public good. But in a manner that promotes every body’s right within the framework of the democracy that we cherish,” the lecturer at the University of Ghana Business School stressed.
Prof. Mensah observed that through the approach adopted, the NMC has flouted its laws.
“This particular process completely flouts those particular responsibilities. If there have been infractions, there are structures set out to do this. You don’t go about writing letters to institutions that you think will make the media house stronger, trying to wean them off critical revenue. And you say that you have not began sanctioning procedure. If you haven’t began sanctioning procedure why then do you go about writing to the Advertising Association,” he queried.
On Tuesday 14 November 2023, Media General received a letter from the NMC which was wrongly directed. The letter complained of a broadcast simultaneously carried by Onua FM and Onua TV. In the same letter the NMC imposed sanctions on the two stations without asking for their side of the story.
In response to the letter, the Company drew the attention of the Executive Secretary Mr George Sarpong, to the error and also stated that the stations should be given an opportunity to be heard as is required by the procedures of the National Media Commission’s own Complaints Settlement Committee. But Mr George Sarpong has refused to give the stations the opportunity to be heard and has also not named any complainant.
Meanwhile he has threatened to have the frequency authorisations of the two stations suspended among other illegal actions.
Media General finds the actions and posture of the Executive Secretary arbitrary, unconstitutional and against the principles of natural justice and, therefore, filed a case in court to stop the Commission from further harassing the two stations. The Company states in the suit that the Media Commission by its actions has constituted itself into a complainant, a prosecutor and a judge in complaint and from its actions cannot now be trusted to be a fair and impartial arbiter in any case against OnuaTV/OnuaFM.
The NMC Executive Secretary without any complaints or invitation to OnuaTV/OnuaFM decided to be the complainant and the prosecutor and the Judge and passed a judgement. The Media General Group’s Board vehemently rejected the NMC’s actions in letters to NMC dated 21st November 2023 and 27th November 2023(attached).
In reaction, the Executive Secretary said he was going to have the frequencies of the two stations suspended and also secretly wrote to the Advertisers Association of Ghana on this veiled threat.
It must be made clear that the NMC does not have the power to influence editors nor to suspend frequencies of media houses. If this is allowed to happen it will be a serious threat to media operations in the country as the Commission can take steps to arbitrarily withdraw any broadcaster’s authorization without giving them a hearing if the Executive Secretary in his personal view does not like one presenter or the other to be on air.
If this behavior is allowed, it could destroy the business of media houses by getting advertisers to stop advertising on their media just because the Executive Secretary with Political views does not like a media house or a presenter especially in election seasons.
As a leading Media company, Media General and its subsidiaries Onua TV and Onua FM are ready to cooperate with the National Media Commission to achieve the highest standards in media practice. But it will not allow itself to be intimidated and shall take all steps to protect its business and editorial independence, including actions from the National Media Commission, which appear to be politically motivated.
We have accordingly initiated the legal action against NMC to prevent them from these illegal and frankly unconstitutional activities. We urge media houses and members of the public to rise up against this blatant abuse of office else we lose the democracy and the right to free speech for good.
Head, Corporate Communications Department, OnuaTV/OnuaFM