RIGHTSView: 80% of TV sets in Nigeria to be of no use by June 2015? Options before NTA on digitization

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 1 January 2014 | 4,888 times

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Have you ever paused for a while and imagined what social life would look like especially in rural Nigeria if you wake up one morning and find out that although the new private owners of the erstwhile public-owned electricity power company have being magnanimous to give you electricity power supply, your television set has suddenly stopped transmitting any programme?

The above scenario will not only constitute social inconvenience but the large population of the poor citizens making up almost 90 per cent of the total estimate of our national population would have been denied their only viable avenue of socialization and media convivialism.

Besides, the blackout of programming contents and general transmissions through the television sets will cut off significant percentage of the nation’s populace, thereby denying them their inalienable fundamental constitutional rights to political participation; freedom of expression and other basic freedoms through which effective social cum media communications are enhanced.

In the event also that this total blackout of transmission of programmes via television sets owned by mostly poor citizens occur, then the political objectives enshrined in Section 15(1) (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would have been abridged and/or out rightly violated.

Specifically, Section 15(1) and (2) of the Nigerian Constitution provides thus; “the motto of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be Unity and Faith; Peace and Progress” and “accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, STATUS, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.”

The above graphically represents the scenario that may play out itself by June next year if Nigeria fails to effectively transit from the mostly analog television transmission to the 21st century-compliant digitization of television transmission.

My allusion to denial of these basic constitutional rights specifically of poor Nigerians finds basis in the fact that out of the estimated ten million television sets in use across Nigerian households, over 80 per cent do not currently enjoy the satellite services that meet the standard digitization of television transmission which only Multichoice and NTA-StarTimes have capacity and/or licence to deliver these services to only those few clients who can afford the exorbitant fees charged for these services.

Now to the important question of what we mean by digitization. Innocent Pascal Ihechu and Uwaoma Uche of the Mass Communication Department of the Abia State University, Uturu, Abia State, in 2012 authored a scholarly piece to clarify issues relating to the digitization of television transmission with effect from mid next year.

In a brilliant academic publication titled ‘The challenges of digitization of broadcasting in Nigeria’, the duo had stated thus; “Digitization is the current trend in broadcasting, both in Nigeria and the world over. The International Telecommunication Union, ITU, set 2015 for the entire broadcasting stations in the world to go digital. Nigeria set 2012 for broadcast stations in the country to be digitized.”

But as I write, Nigeria is yet to put the essential infrastructure to achieve this goal and we have less than one year to the deadline. It is however necessary to observe that the NTA now headed by Mallam Musa Mayaki, the Acting Director General, has adopted a revolutionary step of inviting the StarTimes of China for partnership to commence a pilot Digital Television Transmission (DTT).  

It could be recalled that as far back as 2008 during Africast, NTA had discussions with Star Communications Network Technology of Beijing on the possibility of working together to build a pilot DTT platform.

To ensure that the objective of the partnership was not misplaced, a three-man team was sent to Rwanda to inspect a similar DTT project newly completed by Star and the team came back with a favourable report based on which NTA management (then under Alhaji Usman Magawata and now under Mallam Musa Mayaki) rightly decided to go into the joint venture. The Nigerian Government through the Federal Ministry of Information approved this revolutionary business partnership.

Test transmission commenced in Lagos and Abuja in January 2010. The project was commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan on the July 29, 2010.

The NTA/StarTimes currently run transmission of about 32 channels in Lagos and Abuja even as Kano and Port Harcourt commenced transmission in November 2010. Yenagoa in Bayelsa and Lafia in Nasarawa have also joined. By late 2010 Onitsha, the commercial heartland of South East, and the former northern regional political capital of Kaduna went live on the NTA/Star transmissions.

Such is the incredible audacity of the forward-looking management team at NTA. But as the 2015 deadline approaches for transition from analog to digital television, the current partnership structure between NTA and StarTimes may undermine national pride because Nigeria has yet to significantly invest in this joint venture so that these partners could operate as effective national carrier from June next year.

A top official of NTA/ StarTimes, Mr. Maxwell Loko, had in an interview with the print media indicated that a fundamental review of equity structure in StarTimes between NTA and StarTimes (the Chinese firm) is in the offing. ThisDay newspaper of August 20, 2013 had reported that NTA and Star Communications Technology of China were considering a review of the equity structure of NTA-Star TV Network Limited, operators of StarTimes pay television.

The review is expected to allow the NTA greater equity in the organisation, which is presently configured at a ratio of 70:30 in favour of the Chinese company.

Loko, a director of NTA-Star TV Network Limited, who gave the indication in an interview in Abuja, said the current equity structure was as a result of what was brought to the table by both partners at the beginning of the partnership.

“If, in a business, your equity contribution is less than 30 per cent and your partner’s equity contribution is almost 90 per cent and he has just 70 per cent, I think it is a good bargain for a start. Although we are not saying it is a static figure that will remain forever, we only needed to start something and we have started,” he had said.

“These figures should not be something to scare Nigerians; we are in the process of reviewing it upward, so that we all can be very equal partners. In fact, what we are even looking at eventually is Nigeria even having the lion’s share,” Loko added.

Some commentators with considerable knowledge of the economy said NTA can approach government to give sovereign guarantee so it can obtain favourable foreign loan from a friendly country to enable it become the largest equity holder in the emerging structure of NTA/StarTimes so that the over 80 per cent households that may be shut out should Nigeria not meet the June 2015 digitization deadline may be covered at affordable rate. NTA now has 32 stations, most of which are in the state capitals. What happens to the remaining 77 stations or community stations serving rural areas if this financial lifeline for effective digitization of NTA transmitters is not achieved before next year June?

Jenkins Alumona, a communication expert who supports the option of securing government’s participation in digital broadcast which would be enhanced should the nation’s equity increase in the NTA/StarTimes be boosted, also hinted that the country stands to benefit immensely.

“I believe government needs to take the digital migration process more seriously and take a lead from what companies like Multichoice are doing. One of the most vital aspects of the process is communication. Our more than 150 million people and our more than 20 million TV households need information and education on what digital migration is and how it will work and the time to start is now,” Alumona said.

As stated above, the Ministry of Information had in 2011 announced the constitution of NTA and Nigerian Broadcasting Commission into a committee to work out the cost of digitizing the 109 NTA stations (a station per Senatorial Zone) network. N15 billion or $100 million USD was the conservative estimate that was arrived at after series of painstaking research.

This does not include the cost of platform provision which NTA/Star network is doing estimated to be around $7 million USD per location for 109 stations or for the remaining 77 locations.

The ministerial committee also reportedly recommended that the cost should be spread over five years’ period of 2011/2015 at N3 billion per annum as Federal Government counterpart funding schedule.

Regrettably, as I write, based on information obtained from the National Assembly and the Budget Office of the Federation under the Federal Ministry of Finance, the National Assembly never budgeted anything towards this major development. The failure to so would mean that 80% of TV sets in Nigeria will be of no use by June 2015 – the deadline for digitization.

Government needs to support NTA to take the best possible option so that Nigeria meets the deadline.

RIGHTSVIEW appears thrice a week on Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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