From a single state broadcasting system in the early1990s, Ghana’s electronic media now includes 166 FM radio stations. The change can be attributed to the 1992 constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression for the media.
George Sarpong is the executive secretary of the Ghana Media Commission, an independent organization designed to ensure press freedom. He said to a large extent Ghanaians are handling the airwaves responsibly, “Radio has provided enormous information about governance in Ghana, helped us to understand [political]candidates and what they stand for, helped us to pursue an anti-corruption agendaand provided civic education.”
Sarpong said people are also free to air their views through phone-in programs, although most are restricted by limited access to phones and the ability to pay for the service. Perhaps the medium’s most significant role in Ghana comes into play during national elections. He said, “In a country of 20 million people with bad roads, radio covered almost every known polling station in the country. [It] made sure that what was happening at the stations was made available to the people, which [in turn] made it impossible for those who had wanted to cheat.”
In terms of standards, he said more could be done to improve the level of professionalism in the country. “We still have problems with presenters [having a lack of] understanding of issues. We are increasingly seeing attacks on personalities andlack of understanding of gender issues, for example.”
A civil society group, the Advocacy Committee for Broadcasting Legislation, is now calling for a law to help bring more regulation to the industry. Sarpong said that initiative is not meant to stifle press freedom. It rather promotes fair allocation of frequencies for public, commercial and community broadcasts.
He said the liberalization of Ghana’s airwaves came as a result of massive political pressure, so there were no appropriate regulations defining the number of frequencies for various types of radio, their reach, and content. He says those with money, such as FM stations that attract advertisers, are dominating the airwaves to the detriment of community stations, which do not make a profit. He says the current arrangement benefits those who can afford to telephone commercial stations to air their views.
Sarpong said the issue is important because “it holds great potential for [Ghana’s] democracy. It [also] has real dangers for conflict and peace building”