Ghana: New Patriotic Party v. Ghana Broadcasting Corporation

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ARTICLE 19

06 Feb 2008

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The national broadcaster refused a political candidate airtime to provide their views on the national budget.


New Patriotic Party v. Ghana Broadcasting Corporation
[1992-93] GBR 522 (Supreme Court of Ghana)

Theme: Media regulation: general issues; Broadcast regulation
Sub-Issues: Right of reply; Media and elections; Public service broadcasting
Test:  
Penalty:  
Decision: plaintiff was entitled under the Constitution to public broadcasting air time to explain its opposing views relating to the budget; unanimous
Jurisdiction: Ghana (Supreme Court)

Facts:

The defendant, the national broadcaster, broadcast a lengthy justification of the 1993 state budget, presented by the presidential candidate for a prominent political party. The plaintiff, another registered political party, requested airtime to respond. While the defendant initially granted the request it later refused.

Held:

The Court held that Section 163 of the Constitution, read in conjunction with the Constitution's protection of the right of all persons to information, guarantees the right to present opposing views, and therefore the plaintiff was entitled to have its views aired by the defendant state broadcaster. The Court stressed the importance of neutrality of the national broadcaster, and that it should show no bias or favour to the government or any particular political party.

In their individual speeches each of the judges expounded at some length on the underlying values of freedom of expression and the dangers of state control over the media. Justice Francois stressed that an important starting point was that,

Debate cannot be stifled in a democratic society ... A denial of opportunity for the expression of opposing views, inherent in a democracy, would amount to moves which may culminate in the creation of a monolithic government which is only one step embodied from a one-party government. (at 530, 533)

He continued saying that the free exchange of views is what keeps democracy going:

[T]he free exchange of views is necessary to give the electorate an opportunity to assess the performance of the government in power as against the potential of the opposition in the wilderness. It keeps a government on its toes and gives the neutral, apolitic citizen an opportunity to make up his mind either to consign the disenchanted noises he hears around, to mere rabid ranting that proceed from electoral defeat or give it the evocative distinction of demonstrating the quality that unfortunately missed the boat through bad electoral judgment, and therefore deserving a second chance at the next ballot. In a truly democratic environment this testing ground is a sine qua non to the survival of a free, pluralist society. (at 531)

Justice Francois indicated that democracy and freedom of expression were to be jealously guarded; any hint of authoritarianism was to be suppressed:

[A]ny act of the state media that smacks of party bias or fits the description of unexamined adulation, would be the incipient pimple which this court must view with the gravest suspicion. (at 534)

It was of the highest importance that state institutions be fully independent from government. Justice Francois referred to the constitutionally-established National Media Commission, whose purpose was,

...to breathe the air of independence into the state media to ensure that they are insulated from governmental control. (at 534)

Justice Aikins made the same point:

Indiscriminate control of the mass media by the government of the day may contribute a serious obstacle in the full realisation of the objective of the media in achieving its freedom and independence ... The media is the pivot of public information, and through them the people must be appraised of economic and social issues of the day by the political parties without any control of one party over the other in the context of enjoying more privileged under the constitution. A party in government must not be held to enjoy absolutist power over the state media. (at 542, 543)

Justice Amua Sekyi added:

[T]he state media are national assets; they belong to the entire community, not to the abstraction known as the state nor to the government in office nor to its party. If such national assets were to become the mouthpiece of any one or the combination of parties vying for power, democracy would be no more than a sham. (536)

All of this contributed to support the notion that opposing political parties need equal access to the state media. Justice Amua Sekyi explained what this meant:

'Equal access' means the same or near-identical terms and conditions for gaining entry into the state-owned media for the purpose of presenting their political, economic and social programmes to the electorate, and persuading them to vote for them in both parliamentary and Presidential elections. This means that the same time or space must be given to each political party, large or small, and if fees are payable, that they should be the same for all. The officers of the state-owned media have no discretion in the matter. (at 536)