Conditional Access: Ministry of Communications, NCA want airwaves locked down

Yesterday, January 7th, Ghana marked its Constitution Day. While the youthful demographic of Ghana’s population does not know much about the nation’s broadcast credentials prior to the 1992 Constitution, here’s what we can tell you about it; the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation had exclusive control of the airwaves — under the tele-guidance of whatever government there was at the time.

Oppressive and backward by modern standards, you’d say. That is why it should interest you to know that the Ministry of Communications with the collaboration of the National Communications Authority (NCA), are attempting to lock down the liberalised airwaves through implementing the Conditional Access System.

Related: Communications Ministry Cyber Security Authority

Why Worry About The Conditional Access System?

It is important that we as citizens and stake holders in our democracy do well to safeguard the institutions that guarantee us our freedoms.

Ghana’s broadcast media has been relatively free — since 1994 — with the establishment of private transmission stations which currently are in the majority; affording both the affluent and less privileged the platform to participate in national discourse and hence contribute towards nation building.

With the dawning of the modern age came the need to digitize the broadcast media. For that reason, Ghana just like all other concerned nations commenced the migration process from analogue broadcast services to digital services. Unfortunately, this became the genesis of attempts by individuals in powerful positions to exploit technology in order to maintain a stranglehold on the media — actions which would eventually lead to the destruction  of the democratic gains that we as a nation have achieved, by taking away the diverse media that guarantees our right to information and limiting us only to what politicians would want us to know. In a nutshell, that is what the Conditional Access System would very much usher our nation into.

The new document makes the acquisition of a special decoder with proprietary software a requirement before anyone gets to watch any Free-to-Air television programme in Ghana.

Background

The Ministry of Communications, as far back as the year 2017, has been making attempts through the introduction of the Conditional Access System, to implement dramatic changes in the television broadcast sector. This proposed system change faced opposition from the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) mainly due to its potential to revert the nation back to the days of government monopoly and controlled media by locking down the airwaves.

On the 30th of December 2019, the National Communications Authority published a technical standard on its official website. The standard, which required the broadcast industry in Ghana and by extension all Ghanaian households to mandatorily abide by it, was a doctored version of a previous standard in which Conditional Access System was non mandatory for free-to-air TV receivers.

Parties Of Interest

A solely sourced company named, Verimatrix, would provide the Conditional Access software as well as the Middleware applications on which the decoder will function. Aside that, Verimatrix — acting as a partner to the Communications Ministry, has also been awarded the business of running value added services related to broadcasting; and without the required authorization from the NCA, have been granted the mandate to trade in broadcasting services.

Matters Arising

Aside the obvious return to Soviet-like state control of the airwaves and media landscape, what this new regulations would do is to put made-for-TV content in the hands of the FTA network service provider.

In times past, government’s control over the state broadcast service gave it the platform to heavily influence the citizens with lopsided government propaganda. This time around, they’d have to exploit the distribution and controlled management of free-to-air DTT (digital terrestrial television) platforms to target consumers.

In effect, this lays the foundation for total media capture, as with the control of TV reception devices nationwide, it would be impossible to reverse the effect — even if subsequent governments go for a different approach — as once there are enough of these decoders in Ghanaian homes, the Conditional Access and software providers can still communicate with the decoders from any part of the world; as they hold the keys to the software within those decoders. And oh, all those decoders are being funded by the Ghanaian tax-payer.

Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA)

The Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association has being the only corporate union resisting the clandestine attempts to put the country’s broadcasting airwaves under government’s controlling thumb.

The association yesterday, 7th January 2019, released a press statement signed by its president, Andrew Danso-Aninkora — to express its opposition to the development while bringing awareness to the situation.

In the press statement, the GIBA urged all well-meaning citizens as well as leaders from the political divide to demand answers for the unfolding development — stressing that it is  our constitutional right to free-to-air media platforms and calling on all to help safeguard our media space from sinister ownership backed by the negative machinations of the Communications ministry.

In conclusion

This is still a developing story and we’ll keep our ears on the ground to see how it plays out. Our fledgling democracy is at stake as this, when allowed to slip through, is how we begin losing the basic freedoms we are guaranteed first as humans and then as citizens. This concerns us all, so it is in our own interest to add our voices to the debate.

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