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Time to re-invest in Public Service Broadcasting is now

Time to re-invest in Public Service Broadcasting is now

Does the conundrum of funding the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, (GBC), bring the State Broadcaster to some level of crossroads? Right from the genesis of Public Service Broadcasting, one of the sacred principles has been to offer citizens universal, equal, and unimpeded access to broadcast content. To understand the beginning of Public Service Broadcasting, it is useful to look at the history and founding of the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC for example.

At least the GBC was modeled after the BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation was the first Public Service Broadcaster and is still probably, the most prominent and respected across the globe. The people who advocated establishing the BBC as a Public Service Corporation believed, that broadcasting needed to serve the public interest. The case of Ghana is no different.

GBC was founded and structured to be the mouthpiece of all the people of the country, irrespective of political, religious, ethnic, or cultural affiliations. For more than 50 years, GBC as a Public Service Broadcaster commanded the attention of large audiences and had significant power, respect, and influence. To fulfill its mandate, GBC has benefited from TV licence fees and direct financial support from the State. State support has always been a thorny issue and for some time now, this subject has been in cold storage.

By the year 2000, the broadcasting space in Ghana had been transformed. Rather than the Public Service Broadcaster, the GBC, taking a commanding chunk of the media space, the case is different, because broadcasting is now a global marketplace, made up of new channels, mainly owned by private citizens or companies, with commercial-driven focus and benefits. With the arrival of this new competition, GBC is facing plummeting audiences.

Not to mince words, GBC over the years has been edged to the periphery, with a steep plunge in audience shares. Regardless of where one stands, an objective mind could see a fractured and fragile information-receiving society and this is the time to mend the rift.

There is no better time for GBC to lead this new charge than now. An appropriate time for us all to understand why there is a need to reinvest in public service broadcasting is now. The challenge for most Public Service Broadcasters is to ponder over how to convincingly, cleverly, and strategically insert themselves into a competitive private sector-dominated global media landscape.

The defining task is how to take the Public Service Broadcasters’ values, such as truth, accessibility, independence, and professionalism, and fuse them into the new market context. Success in a competitive global marketplace suggests that if you put the public interest at the heart of what you do, and if you are providing real value for people, they will trust you and want to use your service. Unlike the private media, GBC has a legislated obligation to be geographically accessible; have national appeal; pay attention to the needs of minority groups, such as people living with disabilities; contribute to the creation of national identity and compete on the basis of good programming, content, bring divergent views and cultures for national cohesion and development, rather than in numbers or ratings.

GBC reaches millions of Ghanaians, in their own local languages, and with over 18 Regional Radio Stations and Seven (7) Television Channels, GBC is in a pole position to protect and defend the interests of the public more than any other media organisation. As a Public Service Broadcaster that relies on the trust and financial support of the public, GBC has in recent years strategically positioned itself, by providing programmes on religion, culture and tradition, arts, politics, documentaries, news, and current affairs that would never get a run on commercial free-to-air television.

The Ghana Learning Channel which is dedicated to educational activities has become every student’s favorite channel – from preschool to High School. The GTV Sports+ Channel continues to be the reference point for sports.

The Lifestyle Channel, formerly GTV Life has brought new life and style to entertainment programming. Since GBC was not established to deliver an immediate commercial return, over the years, it has been able to develop and nurture talents.

In fact, many of the renowned broadcasters in Ghana cut their teeth and had their immediate and humble beginnings at the GBC. This means, that the impact of GBC as a center for human resource development and total national growth and harmony cannot be downplayed. Comparison has been made with the BBC, that if GBC is to move in the same direction as the British Broadcasting Corporation, then TV licenses must be strictly enforced.

The problem with this view is that our culture is totally different from that of the British, thus TV license as a major source of funding for the operations of GBC cannot be achieved for now.

Whiles, there are effective enforcement and checks and balances to that effect in the UK, the same cannot be said with Ghana. People who pay for TV license do so because they expect the state broadcaster to give them value for their money. For instance, an educative health-sponsored programme being aired cannot be stopped mid-way, because the President has a new Cabinet to announce.

This is just one of many scenarios, that make it difficult for a State Broadcaster to compete favorably with private commercially driven stations. Many are the programmes that the GBC will air free of charge, due to its nature, which the private or commercial stations will not.

Public Service Broadcasting must not act as an arm of the government. It must be impartial and independent and more broadly, support local culture, democracy, and development. But how can this be achieved when the state funds almost all your operations? This is the puzzle that all stakeholders must in this new year come on board to resolve once and for all.

By Pearlvis Atsu Kuadey, this article was first published on

inghananewstoday is a 24-hour new media company with a wide array of products including general news, politics, business, technology, and a specialized segment on water and sanitation (WASH) issues.

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