The National Media Commission (NMC) has launched guidelines for the state-owned media to ensure fair and equitable coverage of political parties.
The 26-page booklet highlights key principles in the fair and equitable coverage of political parties and salient points in other guidelines of the NMC, such as print media and broadcasting standards.
The guidelines are a summation of key principles on how to report on political parties in a fair and balanced manner, taken from the Constitution of Ghana, other rules and regulations in existence, best principles from other countries and the 1994 decision of the Supreme Court in the case “New Patriotic Party (NPP) v the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC)”.
The guidelines also have provisions on conflict of interest from provisions by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) that defines what conflict of interest is and how media practitioners can wade through this area.
At the launch of the guidelines titled “Guidelines for the Fair and Equitable Coverage of Political Parties by the state-owned media,” the Chairman of the NMC, Mr Paul Adu-Gyamfi, said one of the cardinal elements of the guidelines was the clear procedures for the settling of disputes arising from complaints of unfairness.
For instance, under the provision titled “Procedures for Complaints and Settlement,” the guidelines provide that allegations of any breach “shall first be directed to the entity against whom the complaint is made”,
It also provides that copies of the complaint be made to the NMC containing the specific breach being complained about and the date and time of the breach, where applicable.
Mr Adu-Gyamfi also mentioned the practical steps for the state-owned media on technical questions relating to opinion polls as another key feature.
Among other things, the guidelines provide that the name of the person or organisation that conducted the poll, the name of the person or organisation which sponsored or commissioned the poll and the exact questions, have to be incorporated in any publication of a poll “to avoid wilful bias or unwitting manipulation”.
Mr Adu-Gyamfi said soon after the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, the expectation of the people of Ghana for a democratic environment in which the state-owned media offered opportunities for all shades of opinion on the nation’s quest for progress was not fully met.
That led to the decision of the Supreme Court in the NPP v the GBC, in which the court examined articles 55 and 163 of the Constitution, relating to the fair and equitable coverage of political parties as well as candidates, and the coverage of divergent and dissenting opinions, respectively.
“The thoughtful opinions expressed by the noble court underlie the principles contained in these guidelines. The hope of the Commission is that they would set the framework for the state-owned media to honour their constitutional obligations to be fair to all opinions,” he added.
He commended the Executive Secretary of the NMC, Mr George Sarpong, for conceptualising the project and leading its implementation and Dr Doris Dartey, who led a team of experts in drafting the guidelines, for their commitment.
He also expressed his appreciation to the Ambassador of the United States of America, Mr Donald Teitelbaum, as well as Mr Ben East and Zainab Mahama of the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy for supporting the project.
In his remarks, Mr Teitelbaum was of the view that the role of the media in advocating, promoting and protecting democracy could not be underestimated.
However, in exercising that role, the media sometimes offended certain sections of the public.
Using Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the USA, as an example, he said his views of the media before and after he became president were totally different.
Before he became President, Thomas Jefferson, according to him, thought the media to be more important than government in securing democracy but was totally averse to reading newspapers after he became president, he became the target of the media’s criticism.
Mr Teitelbaum emphasised that an independent and free media was important for democracy but although they sometimes offended some in the discharge of their duties, the cardinal principle was for them to abide by the laid down principles and best practices.
The Managing Director of the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), Mr Mohammed Awal, the Managing Director of the Ghana News Agency, Nana Appau Duah, the Deputy Director-General of the GBC, Mr Kwabena Sarpong Anane, and the Managing Director of the New Times Corporation, Mr Kofi Assuman, all expressed their support for the guidelines and promised to ensure its implementation.