The Ministry of Communications and the National Communications Authority (NCA), have slashed the fines for the sanctioned commercial FM Broadcasting stations by 50 percent. The stations have thus been given additional 30 days to pay the slashed excessive fines slapped on them.
The NCA in September, sanctioned 131 radio stations for several infractions, and at the time gave 34 radio stations the option to pay or be taken off air; a decision which was criticized by groups, particularly the NDC minority in Parliament.
It led to mass unemployment and also portrayed the government as attacking press freedom and the rule of law, because most of the radio stations were seen as very critical of government. It is not clear, if the stations can pay the new slashed fines.
The media hardly gets adverts to run its operations in Ghana, due to too many media houses chasing very few adverts from a small number of companies mostly into telecom, banking and alcoholic beverage.
Whiles, the first 30-day ultimatum given to the stations has elapsed, and some stations have been taken off-air, the NCA in what some described as an act of leniency, has lessened the fines and also relaxed other penalties.
The stations have now been given additional 30 days to pay up or risk being shut down after the 50percent slash.
This was after the Minister of Communications, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, defended the sanctions, following her appearance in Parliament, where Sam George, had vehemently objected her views.
“Defaulting Commercial FM Broadcasting Stations that were fined by the NCA have also had their fines reduced by 50%. They have 30 days from 20th October, 2017, to pay the 50% reduced penalties or have their authorizations revoked,” a statement from the NCA said.
“It is the expectation of the Ministry and the Authority that all defaulting FM stations will take advantage of this opportunity and ensure compliance within the shortest possible time,” the NCA added.
For the 34 sanctioned stations that had their licenses revoked because their authorizations had expired, they have been given 10 days to petition the Minister of Communications, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful.
“The stations in this category have the option to petition the Honourable Minister for Communications for a review of the revocation of their Authorisation within 10 days from Friday, 20th October 2017. After receipt of their petitions, they will be reviewed on a case by case basis, following which the Minister will determine the applicable sanctions.”
The Minister of Communication, has already revealed that the NCA, has received a number of petitions from both commercial and community radio stations over the sanctions.
But according to her, the fact that the NCA has received the petitions does not mean the affected stations would be reinstated, but their request would be reviewed on case by case basis.
Another category of stations, the Community and Institutional FM Broadcasting Stations, have had the pecuniary penalties which were imposed on them waived.
“In addition to this, these stations are to regularise their operations; pay their outstanding indebtedness (Annual Regulatory and Spectrum fees) and submit renewal applications and all outstanding documentation as applicable within thirty (30) days from the date of this release, Friday, 20th October, 2017. Failure to do so will result in the revocation of their authorisations,” the statement added.
According to the NCA, eleven (11) radio stations, have been requested to pay application fees for renewal of Authorisation, and also pay a fine in accordance with the NCA’s gazetted Schedule of Penalties for failure to apply 3 months before the expiry of Authorization within 30 days.
Two (2) radio stations, have been asked to submit renewal application within 30 days.
Sixteen (16) radio stations have been asked to submit renewal application, pay application fees, and pay a fine in accordance with the Authority’s gazetted Schedule of Penalties within 30 days.
Twenty?four (24) radio stations have been asked to submit omitted documents and pay a fine in accordance with the Authority’s gazetted Schedule of Penalties within 30 days.
Fifteen (15) radio stations will have their Authorisation processed after payment of fines in accordance with the Authority’s gazetted Schedule of Penalties.
One (1) radio station has been asked to settle its outstanding indebtedness before renewal of Authorization is considered.
Twenty (20) radio stations have been asked to settle their Provisional Authorization (renewal) fees which have been invalidated due to non?payment within sixty days – to pay interest on the due amount.
Eight (8) radio stations have been asked to pay a fine in accordance with the NCA’s gazette Schedule of Penalties before the authority conducts inspection as requested by the stations.
Meanwhile, the Member of Parliament for the Ningo-Prampram Constituency, has welcomed a decision by the NCA, to slash by 50 percent fines it imposed on some radio stations.
He described the new move by the NCA as “refreshing.”
TheNDC legislator, had earlier accused the NCA of contravening certain constitutional provisions with the sanctions.
According to him, the NCA, did not follow certain provisions of Parliament before imposing the fines.
Sam George in a statement said the review of the fines is a good step aimed at protecting free speech.
“It is refreshing to read the release from the Ministry of Communications on the fines by the NCA. I must commend the Ministry for its initial actions aimed at mitigating the enormity of the sanctions. They are the first good steps aimed at protecting free speech,” he said.
Below is the full statement from Sam George
It is refreshing to read the release from the Ministry of Communications on the fines by the NCA. I must commend the Ministry for its initial actions aimed at mitigating the enormity of the sanctions. They are the first good steps aimed at protecting free speech.
However, I still believe that as the Ministry’s statement suggests, there is room for more dialogue and negotiations. One key issue would be the apparent retrospective nature of the fines. It is important as a cardinal rule of natural justice that penalties are not applied retrospectively. I believe that with the good faith shown by the Ministry, this issue too would be resolved amicably during discussions with the Ministry.
Let us continue to build a conducive environment for Ghanaian businesses to thrive even as the businesses respect their obligations to the State. It is my hope that the affected radio stations would take advantage of the current dispensation to engage the Ministry further to settle whatever outstanding issues may exist.
GOD bless our Homeland Ghana and make our Nation great and strong.
Samuel Nartey George (MP)