In most advanced democratic countries, the media ownership has long remained an area of political controversy due to the fear of control over hearts, minds, pocketbooks, and voting booths. Therefore, efforts are always made by the media regulators to prevent or minimise the potential of one person or a group of people monopolising the media, so as to ensure fair political competition, equal opportunities for the media players and diverse choices for the end users.
With today's concentration of private power over the electronic media becoming smarter, powerful, and persuasive, allowing one person or a small group to build media empire in a nation poses a national security threat, especially in the newborn democratic countries like ours.
The growing trend of multiple media licenses issued to some few individuals in Ghana to build media empires and their increasing diversification into multiple branches of the media is a dangerous phenomenon which defeats the very mandate of the National Communication Authority (NCA), which has the responsibility to ensure fair competition among licensees and end users.
The question is, how does issuing more than six media licenses to one person to build a multi-media empire in Ghana promote fair and sustainable competition among the licensees?
In my search, I found that, the Mission Statement of NCA on its website clearly states that: the NCA is to "regulate the communications industry in a forward-looking and transparent manner, that promotes fair and sustainable competition, stimulates innovation, encourages investment, protects stakeholders’ interests and facilitates universal access to quality communications services for national development".
It further states that, "the core responsibility of NCA is to promote and ensure fair competition in the telecommunications industry. These include implementing policy on competition within the remit of the Authority. NCA promotes fair competition and protects communications services providers from misuse of market power or anti-competitive and unfair practices by other service providers.
The Authority is also vested with concurrent powers to deal with anti-competitive behavior in broadcasting, the use of spectrum and telecommunications.
Now, without equivocation in my mind, the NCA rather has already set the grounds, promoting an unfair competition and anti-competitive system by virtue of issuing multiple media licenses to few rich and powerful individuals to build multi-media empires against the single media license holders.
This peculiarity of multiple licenses issued to individuals in Ghana is worse than any unprecedented media mergers and takeovers ever recorded in the media history.
I would be citing below a little bit of the concept of UK Rupert Murdoch media empire which the UK govt and regulators are currently struggling to deal with.
Wikipedia, has recorded that, the Multimedia Group Company in Ghana, currently owns and runs Six (6) radio stations, six (6) news websites and a satellite television networks. Some of the stations owned and run by Multimedia Group Limited are Asempa FM, Joy FM, Adom FM, Hitz FM, Luv FM, Nhyira FM, Joy News TV, Adom TV, etc. The Multimedia group today is the largest independent commercial media and entertainment company in Ghana, established in 1995, and owned by one Ghanaian entrepreneur, Mr. Kwasi Twum.
Looking at this, how could any single owned media licence be able to compete with this well-established multi-media empire?
The system has already created the media monopoly for the Multimedia and others, and today, it's becoming extremely difficult to touch the multimedia group even when they are wrong. We can see the level of pomposity their employees display on their shows.
The Wikipedia has also recorded that, the Despite Group of Companies (DGC) as being the umbrella for a number of media houses, such as Peace FM, Neat FM, Hello FM, Okay FM, U2 Company Limited (UTV), and Despite Digital (Peacefmonline.com), etc.
The question again is, in this modern age, which democratic nation would make it so easy for one person to own these number of media licenses in order to create media empire, and where lies the fair playing grounds for others who hold single licence to compete with these well-built media empires in Ghana?
Learning from the UK's painful experience today; About 30 years ago, the government of the then UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, allowed one Rupert Murdoch's media company to take over "The Times and Sunday Times" without referring it to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC), even though Murdoch already owned the Sun and the "News of the World". Ever since, the Murdoch media group in the UK has owned at least four national newspapers, 39% of BSkyB as well as other media houses around the world including Fox News.
Today, it is widely seen by the UK government and the media regulators as a regrettable dangerous "controlling" stake in UK media. This situation the UK finds itself in led the media regulator, Ofcom, to set up a separate inquiry into whether News Corp was a "fit and proper" owner of the 39% stake in BSkyB media.
The recent BBC Analysis under the rubric: "Murdoch and media ownership in UK", established that, "Media ownership has long been an area of political controversy - particularly when it involves Rupert Murdoch. The BBC Analysis concluded that, "The idea of one man or company controlling a large proportion of the nation's newspaper and broadcasting interests is an issue of public concern - particularly when that person takes a close interest in the political agenda of his newspapers and one of them claims to influence general elections."
Juxtaposing this to the purported voice of the NDC Minority Leader in parliament, Haruna Iddrisu, who was clearly heard saying that two big media houses in Ghana are in the act of accepting cash offers from politicians before placing importance on some national issues which they ideally should be interested in.
The leaked audio believed to have emerged from a meeting held at the National Democratic Congress headquarters in Accra following the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency by-election shooting incident, shockingly revealed that Citi FM and Joy FM (Multimedia) were ‘contracted’ by the NDC to broadcast live, the proceedings in Parliament relating to the controversial Chancery the Ghana government was alleged to have acquired so as to bring disgraceful embarrassment to the NPP govt.
Again, many analysts have attributed the recent highly publicised Joy News’ Manasseh Azure Awuni's documentary video titled "Militia in the Heart of the nation", to a kind of documentary maliciously prepared, disingenuously narrated and sensationally aired to deceive Ghanaians, perhaps under a possible exchanged of money with the opposition NDC in order to thwart any praises that would follow the decision by President Nana Akufo-Addo to hold the splendid 62nd Ghana Independence Celebration in Tamale.
In my view, the concentration of multiple media licenses to a few rich individuals to establish media empires in Ghana is a recipe for political tragedy and poses a national security threat.
If care is not taken, very soon, these few individuals owning the media empires would be dictating who should be the president of Ghana by the highest bidder, which political party should win general elections, who should be jailed, who should be sacked from position of responsibility, just like the tactics of Rupert Murdoch media empire, which is causing massive problems for the UK govts and in UK politics.
As perilous as the Murdoch method of owning the media houses is by means of investing hugely in the existing media houses, it is still not as dangerous as Ghana issuing multiple licenses to Individuals knowingly to create the media empires.
This is not a healthy phenomenon to allow in Ghana and the earliest the govt of Ghana takes steps to reduce these licenses issued to these few individuals, the better to safeguard the country.
As the adage literally goes: "a key to one issue sometimes opens the door to another issue".
Probably, the recent revelations about these multimedia houses should send a clear message to the National Security, and the NCA that assigns, allocates and regulates the use of frequencies in conformity and development strategies for the communications industry and has the responsible for managing civilian access to radio spectrum, to team up with the National Media Commission (NMC) which is also the Government of Ghana agency mandated with the responsibility of registering, regulating and monitoring the activities of media houses in Ghana to look into the issues outlined.
Unfortunately on a lighter note, in my search, I found also that the National Media Commission official Facebook page was last updated on October 21, 2017 at 7.33 am. Lol. No update since.
I end here by saying that, it is generally accepted that freedom of speech is enhanced by having a diversity or plurality of editorial voices, not by this concentrated media empires. They are becoming an "atrocious media cabal", which is not good for nation building.
There must be stringent legal restrictions on media ownership in Ghana just like the Nigeria and many other countries have (at a local level, as well as national), and major takeovers must be strictly controlled
Diversification of the media licenses, not the creation of media empires can even create more jobs for the media professionals, whiles ensuring healthy competition and helping the citizenry to decipher better on issues and be well informed.
Peter Antwi Boasiako
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."