Ghana: Lawyer calls for ban on “phone-ins” unless they buy proper delay equipment and abide by rules

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Ace Ankomah, a legal practitioner, has staunchly called for an end to phone-in programmes on radio stations until the stations have been able to acquire delay broadcast equipment to regulate the comments made by callers. "If you can't buy it, stop the phone-in programmes," he stressed.

At the last count, since the liberalization of the airwaves in the country in the early 1990s, some 124 radio stations are operational nationwide. Most of these stations, which broadcast in vernacular, have gained notoriety for often setting partisan agenda and allowing incensed members of the public to call in to these programmes to rain hate-filled invectives on their political opponents.

The consequences, Ace Ankomah noted, could be dire for a nation being touted for its democratic credentials. He thus called for "a legislative intervention," saying that the State of Ghana owns the frequency and must be able to revoke it from those that would not stick to the rules. The bluntly-spoken lawyer said that the National Media Commission (NMC) is "toothless" and that it "must be given teeth to bite."

He vehemently disagreed with Adakabre Frimpong Manso of Hot FM who had argued earlier that radio stations have their profit to make and so could not lose their listeners by axing phone-ins. Adakabre would rather be comfortable if Ghanaians became more tolerant and did not take offence at what others say on radio.

The occasion was a forum organized by the Ghana Journalists' Association (GJA) and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) to discuss whether phone-in programmes are a blessing or a curse to the freedom of expression.

The forum formed part of a two-year pilot project called the Ghana Media Standards Improvement Project, which is aimed at strengthening the capacity of the Ghanaian media to be more effective in their work to sustain democracy and advance freedom of speech.

Ben Ephson, Editor of the Daily Dispatch newspaper, spoke against the phone-in programmes "in their current state," saying that if care is not taken, "Rwanda would be child's play." The renowned pollster gave statistics to show that in most cases, the now infamous "serial callers" hijacked the phone-in segments to either sing the praises of their political paymasters or haul their opponents over the coals. In one instance, "over 80% of people who phoned-in to 10 radio stations where the same people."

But even Ayanava Zananidu, former editor, Metro TV, who spoke in favour of the motion, said phone-ins are a blessing "if properly coordinated and managed."

Acting Director of the School of Communication Studies, University of Ghana, Dr. Audrey Gadzekpo also agreed there is a "vacuum" in Ghana's broadcast legislative framework which needs to be filled to help bring "sanity" in the way phone-in programmes are done on radio.