Mr Justice Julius Ansah, a Supreme Court Judge, has urged the National Media Commission (NMC) to defend the right to free expression.
He said Ghana’s media was among the most visible advertisement for the health of her democracy.
“The hard won freedom we have now, which presaged and might even have precipitated our constitutional era, remains a guarantee that that freedom will not be taken away without a rigorous fight. One of the safeguards of that freedom is the NMC,” Mr Ansah said on Friday at the induction of the Ninth NMC in Accra.
The 18-member NMC include Mr Nii Addokwei Moffat, Ghana Association of Writers; Reverend Dr Comfort Asare, National Commission on Women and Development; Mr Kwame Anyimadu-Antwi, Mr Yaw Buabeng Asamoah and Mr Richard Mawuli Quashigah, Parliamentary representatives, Mr William Orleans Oduro, Vice President of the Ghana Bar Association, and Mr Prince Hari Crystal, Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association.
Others are Nana Addo Gyau Akabisa II, Ghana National Association of Teachers; Mr Affail Monney, President of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Mr Bright Blewu of the GJA; Dr Andy Ofori-Brikorang, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Education, Winneba, representing the media training institutions and Mr Joseph Debrah-Gyamfi, Trades Union Congress.
The rest are Hajj Muhammad Amir Kpakpo Addo, the Moslem Group representative; Sir Benedict Batabe Assorow, Christian Group rep; Mr Elorm Edward Desewu, Private Newspapers Publishers Association of Ghana; Mr Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh and Mr Yaw Sarpong Boateng, the President’s rep; and Juliet Sam, President of the Institute of Public Relations.
The members, later at their meeting, elected Mr Boadu-Ayeboafoh as the new Chairman of the NMC.
Justice Ansah said the framers of Ghana’s Constitution knew that even with the best intentions, direct control over the media by Government could lead to some illiberal conclusions.
“Your elevation is at once a recognition of the skills and experience you have as well as a charge to bring all those attributes to bear in the discharge of a grave national duty,” he said.
“So your duty first and foremost, is to defend the right to free expression that gives the media its very essence. It is no mean task and I wish you the strength and fortitude to carry out this task without compromise and in faithfulness to the Constitution and the timeless principle of freedom.”
Justice Ansah said no one, including those who undertook the duty of crafting the Constitution over two decades ago, could have foreseen the sweeping changes that the internet would make to media practice and indeed life itself.
He noted that the plurality of news websites, blogs, and podcast pose new and unforeseen challenges to the work of even the nimblest media regulatory body including the menace of fake news that had bedevilled countries all over the globe, including Ghana.
Justice Ansah urged the Commission to devote time and attention to these new media forms and the forms of regulation that would promote freedom without compromising standards, decency and security of the State.
He said beyond regulation, the NMC also needed to address the issues of standards and quality.
“We need journalists that have the training and skill to operate in this lightning speed media environment without compromising quality. We need media houses that promote and produce content that is ethical, useful and relevant,” he said.
Justice Ansah said with the 2020 general election approaching, the political temperature was set to go up adding that media houses would be the primary vehicle for the transmission of news, views and political communication.
“This will be a critical test of the Commission and it is my expectation that you can provide the requisite guidance, education and where necessary sanctions to ensure that the campaign does not descend into toxic mudslinging that will endanger our State,” he said.
Justice Ansah urged the members of the Commission to ensure that media practitioners understood the power they wielded and the responsibility they had to use it only for the good of the nation.
“The media must help bring us together rather than inflame passions and divide as according to tribe, political or religious affiliation.”
Nana Kwesi Gyan-Appenteng, the immediate past Chair of the NMC, in his farewell speech, suggested the reduction of the Commission’s membership from 18 to 10 to enable some resources to be directed to activities at the regional level.
He urged the Government to resource the NMC by providing it with a well-resourced permanent office accommodation.