Suspend TV Licence Fee; it is a BAD Law | Dr. Charles Wereko-Brobby Writes #SuspendTVLicence

On Monday 6 July 2015, the Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC, Ambassador Kabral Blay Amihere, announced that with effect from August, “The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) would from August resume the collection of Television License Fees to ensure that it is better placed financially to fulfil its mandate as a public broadcaster”.

Although the NMC Chairman announced that “Parliament has reviewed the TV license fees upwards…” all my attempts to sight a copy of the so-called amended law, has proved futile so far.  I am equally bamboozled by the fact that is my brother Kabral. Not my wofaase, medical doctor turned “Aban Kyeame” who made the announcement.

As far as far as I understand, the NMC’s oversight of the state media does not extend to acting, as their funders, or public relations akyeame   As it turned out, somebody had decided to abuse Ambassador Kabral’s impeccable credentials to get a truly effective moderation of Ghana’s media by literally making him “sing for his supper” because part of the revived licence fee was to fund the much starved NMC.

The NMC Boss further announced that “stakeholders in the industry have agreed that 72 per cent of the revenue would go to GBC, 15 per cent to GIBA, Four per cent to NMC, four per cent to the Media Development Fund, two per cent to the Film Fund and three per cent to the management of the TV license fees.”

Before the law comes into effect, it is supposedly to be preceded by comprehensive sensitisation and publicity campaign has been drawn up and is being rolled out, beginning with the launch of the resumption of TV license Fee regime”.  How a campaign programme of just three weeks can be called comprehensive or sufficient beats my limited comprehension of ‘comprehensive’ or adequacy.

Well let me kick off my own input into this public campaign by suggesting that the whole exercise be put on ice for now because it is probably illegal in many respects that I will seek to explain and educate Ghanaians on.  How I wish this public discussion had taken place during Parliament’s supposed review of the law so that we had gotten it right and avoided this looming illegality and promised confrontation by sections of our people.Broken-tv_opt

Here is “Tarzan’s Take”. Firstly GBC has long seized to be a “Public Broadcaster “and therefore is not deserving of a publicly funded and compulsory Licence fee. Secondly, the Ghana Independent Broadcasting Association (GIBA) does not qualify to be funded by public funds of any description, especially from a compulsory licence fee. Thirdly, the NMC is very deserving of adequate funding to make it more effective but this must not come from a licence fee. Last but not least, all the other proposed beneficiaries should look elsewhere than the licence fee for their funding. Nearly 21 years ago, The National Security apparatus deployed 27 assorted vehicles to bust the studios of Radio EYE in 1994. When I enquired from ‘Red”, the sadly late but very affable head of the Striking Force, his simple answer was that they assumed our Studio would be of GBC proportions and occupied the whole of the 8-block Obed Andoh Flat complex in East Cantonments, Accra. Not surprisingly, he was shocked that the much-vaunted EYE only occupied a small corner of one room in one of the flats.

Nearly 21 years on, Ghana’s media landscape has been completely transformed. GBC has long ceased be the main informer of the people’s discretion;, That mantle has been assumed by a multitude of private operators led by the new moguls, Kwasi Twum and Dr Kwame Despite. Sadly, the GBC has abandoned its role as a Public Broadcaster In its attempt to retain its relevance and retain the audiences who are deserting it in droves to the independent alternatives.

According to the internationally accepted definition of Public Broadcasting – “any independent, noncommercial broadcasting done with public and government funding”. For the most well-known of this genre, the BBC, the licence fee is , “money that people pay each year to be able to use BBC television and radio, that is used to pay for the BBC rather than using advertising.

The GBC today does not qualify as a public Broadcaster in any shape or form. Firstly, it operates as a commercial broadcaster, charging advertising fees in competition with the private broadcasters who do not get licence fees.  Secondly, and in spite of the NMC’s best endeavours, the GBC has increasingly become a propaganda mouthpiece of whichever political party happens to be in Government, having long abandoned its public broadcasting obligation to be the platform to “ afford fair opportunities and facilities for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions” (article 163) and the NMC’s obligation “to insulate the state-owned media from governmental control”

For now, I suggest that the GBC deploys the efficiencies and cost competitiveness shown by its “Johnnies come lately” rivals in the private sector, to cut its cloth to suit the considerable commercial revenues it is amassing illegally as a supposedly public broadcaster. The GBC must stop behaving like an employment agency and start behaving like a 21st-century broadcaster and stop deploying 21 people for a production when two would do.

As for me I have never believed in the concept of a public broadcaster in an African continent where politicians of all shades only believe that the exercise of governance is to alleviate the poverty of those we elect to govern instead of governance being the instrument for the improvement of the voters.

The process of downsizing the GBC, doing away with its illegal foray into commercial activities, and making it a true clone of the BBC as a public broadcaster, would necessary take some time. Nevertheless, unless and until such changes are achieved, there is no way GBC can claim or pretend to be a public broadcaster and therefore deserving of a compulsory licence fee.

The suggestion that the activities of GIBA should be funded from the Licence is absurd, ludicrous and above all unlawful. It is akin to suggesting that the AGI and GUTA, who produce and sell all kinds of goods and services that are bought by Ghanaians, should have the same poor Ghanaian pay for the administration of these bodies.

GIBA is nothing more than an association of private businesses who have decided to invest in broadcasting, not for charity, but as a freely-chosen avenue to make some money for them. There is nothing altruistic about their motives, nor indeed any requirement of them to operate as public broadcasters. We the people pay to enjoy their services according to our assessment of the value to us, period.

The last time I checked, there were almost 400 independent Radio stations and about 30 TV stations. A major criterion for granting them operating licences is the soundness of their financial operations.  It is the choice of members to establish GIBA to promote their collective interests. It is up to the members to fund their association to the level that they consider appropriate to the achievement of their aims and objectives.

GIBA should not be seeking to benefit from a proposed fee which will actually work against the interest of its members. A fee-funded GBC, which also is allowed to continue to compete for advertising with the independents, will almost certainly use itslicence fees to undercut advertising rates which will drive many independents out of business. GIBA should be opposing the licence fee in its present structure, and not allowing itself to be ‘bought off’.

Anyway the proposition is unlawful and unethical and I am surprised that the representatives of the people did not see through this, and rather endorsed it. If GIBA sees a justification for its collective interest to be served, it should simply levy fees on its members as it’s done by all associations which are formed by free will to protect the peculiar interest of members.

I have always believed that the NMC is very badly under-resourced, which drastically reduces its effectiveness. The dependence on Consolidated Fund is absurd, given that that Fund has turned out be just a Public Payroll Fund, with very little available for operations and investments.

However, the remedy is not to ask the long suffering Ghanaian to keep digging into their ever shrinking pockets. As with most other regulatory bodies around the world, the NMC must seek its funding from those whose activities it regulates, i.e. the newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and all other media of mass communication in Ghana.

At the moment all of these pay fees to renew their annual operating licences and related activities. Unfortunately, all of the broadcasting component of this money goes to the NCA which keeps it all to itself, even though the NMC is required to moderate the content produced by the payees to ensure professionalism and decency.

The real problem for the NMC is that the NCA has literally used its oversight of frequency allocation and management, to assume almost total control of Ghana’s media, and as the collecting agency for broadcasting establishment and operational registration fees, kept all the money to itself, completely ignored the NMC which is supposed to moderate content, the most important component of media for mass communication.

The solution for adequately funding the NMC is to give it a proportion of the fees pocketed entirely by the NMC.  If it is then found that these funds are not adequate for the tasks carried out by the NMC & NCA, the answer will be to review these fees to keep up with growing costs and needs.

Mercifully the new Broadcasting law is seeking to address the territorial issues between the NMC and the NCA in the management of the media for mass communication. If necessary, the new Broadcasting law whose passage my President, has promised for this year, can be tweaked to deal with the issue of equitable sharing of fees and related delineation of powers and operations between the NCA and NMC.

As for the other proposed recipients of the fees, the least said the better. As we have seen already with the so-called Media Fund, there must be no attempt to create a slush fund to be abused by Governments in power to disburse to its favourite sons etc. All I will say for now is that we have long passed the days when the state “ nannied” us by creating and flowering institutions whose activities are now better performed by private citizens who continue to unleash their creative talents and energies in the areas of media training and human capacity development.

So there we are; it is my contention that the revamped TV license law is greatly flawed, and indeed unlawful.  Its major defects need to be corrected and a revamped law presented to the people’s representatives for consideration.

There is therefore no justification for carrying out an expensive publicity campaign to launch an illegality. If indeed a revised law has been through Parliament and assented to,I will urge my Presidentto delay the start date of its implementation. Mr. President, SUSPEND THE TV LICENCE NOW, IT IS A BAD LAW.



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By  Dr. Charles Wereko-Brobby



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