Broadcasting Law in the pipeline
The Broadcasting Law’s passage would see the two main regulatory authorities – NMC and NCA – collaborate more effectively and be equipped with greater powers to regulate and monitor media ownership. It aims at providing ownership transparency and preventing concentration and monopolies. The Law was revised several times. Despite continuous discussions on and advocacy towards its implementation, all promises by former governments to finally pass the law remained lip services.
Provisions in the current draft version (2014) entail:
- Concentration control – Restrictions are imposed on the holding of authorisation: a person or entity can be entitled to only a total of three media outlets across the country. Each needs to be in a different region. In order to ensure full compliance and avoid concentration, the proposed law makes an authorisation non-transferable except with the prior written approval of the Commission.
- Limiting controlling interests – In order to respond to and correct the current situation, not only the actual number of licenses per person are restricted but also the number of TV/radio services a person has ‘controlling interest over’. Controlling interests can come with shares in the company, voting rights or when holding a position such as operating as director of a broadcasting company.
- Minimizing political influence - The Bill prohibits granting broadcasting licences to political parties and applicants found to be under the control of politically or religiously affiliated persons or entities – such as political parties, district assemblies, or religious bodies.
- More transparency through accessible ownership data – It foresees that the NMC keeps a register that records authorisations, lists persons with controlling interest in broadcasting entities, directors of broadcasting entities as well as persons with significant interest in broadcasting entities. That information then is made available to the public during normal office hours at the Commission, after the payment of a fee.
- Foreign Ownership – The Broadcasting Bill of 2014 is categorical in excluding foreigners or non-citizens from the [sound] broadcasting industry. This demonstrates the intention to avoid some individual or corporate entity’s ability to use their financial muscle to advance concentration in media ownership.
A crusade to pass this Bill, for a decade and counting
Some campaigners for its passage believe the inaction is attributable to sections 54 and 56 of the Bill, which emphatically prohibit the granting of broadcast licences to political parties or applicants found to be under political or religious control. While therefore politicians may have been hesitant in passing this Bill into law, it is obviously also not in the interest of those media owners, who currently operate several media outlets in one or even more regions.
The way forward
According to a recent statement by the current Minister of Communication, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, during a stakeholder forum on the digital switch-over, the Broadcasting Bill should finally be passed in 2018. There is still a long way to go as the media environment drastically changed in the last years and is about to change further within the next year – and the Broadcasting Bill has yet to be adapted to match those changing conditions. Especially the current plans on Digital Broadcasting Migration – to transfer television services operating on analogue to digital based transmission networks and to switch off analogue transmitters in 2018 – will change ownership and media regulation regimes all over. While in an analogue world, the granting of authorizations and registration of companies was necessary due to the limited number of frequencies, content providers could soon, technically, broadcast through registered transmission networks without being authorized themselves. Establishing a regulatory regime that anticipates and matches this technological development is utmost crucial to secure pluralism and avoid market concentration, now more than ever.