Digital Television Platform: NMC to defend media independence

The National Media Commission (NMC) said it will defend the constitutional provision of the freedom and independence of the media in the bid to switchover from the analogue mode of television transmission to a digital platform.
It stated that a stakeholders’ consultation the Commission organised in six regions on the governance and management of the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform concluded that the NMC must rigorously defend the constitutional provision of the freedom and independence of the media.
It, therefore, kicked against the draft policy document by the Communications Ministry that proposed that the President should be given the authority to appoint a board and chief executive officer of the Digital Terrestrial Television Platform.
It warned that it would head to the law court to insist on its right if the Government went contrary to the constitutional provisions.The Commission said the 1992 Constitution mandated it to appoint a
board and chief executive officer of the proposed Central Digital Transmission Company Limited (CDTCL) to manage the DTT Platform.
It said the Constitution had vested the appointment of the boards and chief executive officers of the state-owned media in the NMC in consultation with the President, which had been confirmed by a 2000 Supreme Court ruling in the case of the NMC versus Attorney General.
Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, the Chairman of the NMC, addressing a news conference in Accra on Tuesday said the Commission had expressed its views and position in the strongest terms to the Minister of Communications, the President, the Speaker of Parliament and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Communications.
The news conference was on governance and regulation of the DTT Platform for the transmission of television content after the switchover from analogue to digital transmission is completed.
Nana Gyan-Apenteng said the current draft document proposed the formation of the CDTCL to manage the single digital television platform, under the direction of a board and CEO appointed by the President.
He said the proposals made in the draft document for managing the DTT violated Article 168 of the Constitution and explained that the Broadcast Signal Distributor (BDS) of the DTT was an inseparable part of the whole television production process.
This, therefore, made it part of the state-owned media asset whose governance had been prescribed by the 1992 Constitution of Ghana. He said in as much as television programmes of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation would be transmitted via the digital platform, the Communications Ministry’s proposal on appointment to the CDTCL would violate Article 167 (C) that mandates the NMC to insulate the state-owned media from governmental control.
“Apart from violating these specific constitutional provisions, the proposal goes against the spirit of the Constitution and our nation’s drive to achieve even greater freedom and independence of the media,” Nana Gyan-Apenteng said.
“By way of illustration, now that we’re all going to transmit through a single channel, if a bad government seeks to shut down any media or if any entity wants to attack the television domain, all it needs is to deny access to the single transmitter.”
He, therefore, urged the media to treat the issue with the prominence it deserved in order to safeguard the rule of law, independence of the media and freedom of expression in the country. The Draft Policy on Digital Broadcasting Migration states that a single national Free-to-Air digital signal multiplex platform will be created for the use of all broadcasters utilising some frequencies for transmitting digital TV signals to homes across the country.
In effect, the country would now have television content producers and a broadcast signal distributor (DBS) to transmit the signals produced by the content producers.Nana Gyan-Apenteng said
throughout the discussions and negotiations on the DDT, the understanding had been that a special entity would be set up to manage it and key stakeholders would be represented on the board of the new entity.
The NMC, is therefore, concerned about the creation, management and mode of appointment of the board and chief executive officer of the single entity that would manage the digital platform.
He said the new arrangement now was that the multiplex would transmit the signals produced by the content producers. Nana Gyan-Apenteng also called for the right policy framework to address the new transmission mode while emphasising the key values that should define the role of the media in a democratic society, which is characterised by freedom, independence, pluralism and diversity.
He said there had been discussions in the lead up to the switch in transmission mode that focused on technical issues including network technology, compression standards, consumer equipment and funding of infrastructure.
If the issue was not addressed it could threaten the constitutional foundation of the independence and freedom of expression of the media, he said. In 2006, member countries of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) agreed to migrate television transmission from analogue to digital mode by the end of the decade.
The ITU said the move represented a major landmark towards establishing a more equitable, just and people-centred information society since digital television had the capacity to offer more channels and possibility of offering more programmes to the viewers than the analogue mode.
This, the ITU said, would promote diversity and pluralism in television broadcasting, reduce operational cost and offer opportunity for expansion of media organisations’ operations and grant citizens universal access to media in deprived communities.
Additionally, it implies that more spectrums could be freed for other uses and ensure greater efficiency in spectrum use and management and offer quality vision and sound to viewers.