The Minister for Communications Ursula Owusu Ekuful has disclosed that the National Communications Authority (NCA) is processing the applications of radio stations which were shut down due to the failure to renew their authorizations.
Pioneer private broadcaster Radio Gold, Radio XYZ and several other radio stations have remained closed for over 5 months after the NCA took its actions in May, 2019.
Radio Gold and Radio XYZ were the first to go off air on May 9, 2019 under bizarre circumstances with officials of the communications regulator storming the premises of the two stations in the company of armed police officers to order the stations to go off air.
The actions were carried out without prior notification to the two radio stations. The NCA officials were however carrying a letter dated 8th May, 2019 to create the false impression of a day’s notification.
Government has been accused of targeting the radio stations because they are opposition affiliated but the Communications Minister insists the actions were in line with the ruling of the Communications Tribunal.
Ursula Owusu Ekuful said the radio stations have already put in fresh applications as demanded by the authority with the NCA processing 15.
Radiogoldlive.com reproduces the full statement of the Communications minister at the meet the press today.
Update on FM Audit and Radio Station Closures
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we may recall in 2017 the National Communications Authority (NCA) embarked on an Audit of all Authorized FM Radio Broadcasting stations in Ghana. As a result of the Audit findings the NCA imposed pecuniary sanctions on FM Radio Stations found to have been operating with expired authorizations.
Dissatisfied with the Authority’s decision, some of the defaulting FM Radio stations, in accordance with the due process, filed individual appeals at the Electronic Communications tribunal (ECT) in November, 2017 whilst other defaulting FM stations filed as a group under the auspices of Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) on.
On 18th June, 2018 the ECT Panel chaired by Prof. Date-Bah JSC. (Retired) delivered its unanimous decision in the case of Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) vrs National Communications Authority (NCA) (Appeal No.: ECT/APP/02/2017).
The Tribunal quashed the Pecuniary Penalties imposed, but it also stated that a person with an expired FM Radio Authorization reverts to the same position as a fresh applicant and as such did not have a valid authorization with which to operate. In effect, the NCA was directed to close down all such stations as they had no right to operate. The NCA had preferred the easier option of a pecuniary fine and regularization of the defective FM authorization but was compelled to obey the ECT decision to shut down defaulting stations.
Subsequent to this decision, the Authority in December 2018 took steps to ensure that all such stations operating with expired authorizations were closed down, since they did not have a valid authorization with which to operate. They were however given the opportunity to submit fresh applications for consideration on a case by case basis.
Dissatisfied with this decision, one of the defaulting FM Radio Stations, Medeamaa FM Limited again appealed to the ECT, arguing amongst others that since they had already submitted their application for renewal of their authorization, the Authority had no right to close them down.
In its ruling on an application for stay of execution pending appeal in the case of Medeamaa FM Limited vs. National Communications Authority (Appeal No.: ECT/APP/012/2018) delivered on 1st April, 2019, the Justice Date-Bah led Panel dismissed Medeamea FM’s application and agreed with the NCA that any renewal application submitted after the expiration of an Authorization was an invalid application and as such could not be processed.
The Tribunal stated clearly that the only remedy available to any such station is to submit a fresh application to the Authority for consideration. The Authority was therefore well within its rights to close down stations operating without authorization.
Subsequent to this decision, the Authority again closed down some stations in May and June 2019 for operating without valid authorizations. Once again some stations including filed fresh appeals at the ECT in June 2019.
FM Audit Statistics
A total of 144 FM stations were identified for various infractions with their Authorizations from the 2017 FM Audit. Fifty-Seven (57) out of the 144 were closed down in 2018 and 2019 following the decisions of the Electronic Communications Tribunal (ECT).
In accordance with the decisions of the ECT, thirty (30) out of the 57 stations have submitted fresh applications for FM Authorizations, of which fifteen (15) have been processed. The applications for the remaining fifteen (15) FM stations are still being processed and the outcomes will be communicated to them after they have gone through all the requisite processes which include technical review, management review and Board approval.
Twenty-Seven (27) out of the 57 stations that were closed down have not submitted fresh applications for new FM Authorizations.
It is factually incorrect and a blatant untruth to say, as some, including former President John Mahama and the Media Foundation for West Africa, who really ought to have known better, have sought to portray, that only opposition radio stations have been targeted for closure using the law. No such intention actuated this exercise and I am not sure we can claim that all the 144 stations in breach of the Electronic Communications Act were NDC or opposition radio stations. I know of two, XYZ and Radio Gold, and the latter had operated without renewing their authorization for 16 years. They are certainly not untouchable or above the law as some would have us believe.
Resignation of Chairperson of the ECT and Composition of New Members
Whilst those cases were pending before the Tribunal, the Chairman of the Tribunal submitted his resignation letter to the Public Services Commission (PSC) in June 2019. In his resignation letter he stated that his resignation was to take effect on 1st July, 2019. He did not cite pressure from any quarter as the reason for his resignation and I certainly have never spoken to any member of the tribunal on their work.
The PSC accepted his resignation and decided to recompose the Tribunal’s Panel and announced the appointment of new members in August 2019. The new Panel, however, could, not start sitting until after the legal vacation. The new Panel Chaired by Dr. Kissi Agyabeng resumed sitting on 8th October, 2019. It is therefore untrue to say the PSC has refused to reconstitute the ECT, as the former president also intimated. To put it mildly, JM goofed again.
Discontinuance of Legal Actions by some Defaulting FM Stations
During the intervening period some stations that had instituted actions before the Tribunal against the NCA filed Notices of Discontinuance. At its sitting on 8th October, 2019, the Tribunal considered the Notices of Discontinuance and accordingly struck out the appeal as withdrawn and without liberty to reapply.
Subsequent to that one station on 10th October, 2019 also appeared before the ECT and withdrew its appeal, and same was struck out by the Tribunal as withdrawn. It is instructive to note that even though during the pendency of these appeals, some stations had submitted fresh applications for consideration in accordance with the previous ruling of the ECT, these applications could however not be considered as the appeals were still pending.
These are the bare facts and I hope all commentators henceforth will desist from ascribing non existent political motives to this exercise which is just meant to ensure compliance with existing laws and regulations. The media should hold itself to the same high standards that it holds everyone else to. You are not above the law.