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Why FG must consult stakeholders on NTA’s $500m loan

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There was a time that the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) had the advantage of being a strong broadcasting platform. Then, television licences given to states and private organisations were restricted to certain areas and locality. NTA was the only TV network seen all over the country. It had all the equipment and was everywhere.

For instance, Lagos had about three NTA channels. However, NTA failed to take advantage of the economics of scale arising from being the most-watched TV channel, as it suddenly became government’s propaganda tool, especially, during the military era, when it was airing programmes only sanctioned by the government only.

There and then, the gradual decline began, as television viewers no longer saw it as reliable, even though NTA had the best broadcasters in Nigeria, couple with the fact that it had a training school in Jos, the Plateau State capital.

A lot of stakeholders and watchers of events in the broadcast industry have argued that what happened along the line is no fault of the staff but with the management of the platform and asking, how much of broadcasting/journalism do the top managers know to sustain the quality of the content and style?

They said the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed’ s decision to seek a loan of $500 million dollars (about N181 billion) to revamp NTA and scale it to the same standard as CNN was another way of bringing more hardship to the country.

A quick look at how CNN was established almost 40 years ago shows that the Network, an American basic cable and satellite television channel owned by the Turner Broadcasting System division of WarnerMedia and founded by Ted Turner and 25 other original members, had an initial capitalisation of $20 million (about N7.2 billion).

Obviously, CNN has been growing in the right direction. In 2014, Benjamin Swinburne estimated that CNN was worth $10 billion, about N3.6 trillion.

Though many have argued that NTA could not be compared to CNN in terms of form, content and style of broadcasting, as their ownerships differ, many have equally argued that NTA should have grown even faster and better considering the resources at its disposal at some point. They noted that the ‘Nigerian factor’ was responsible for the slow pace of its growth.

According to Mohammed, NTA can only achieve this feat when it is digitised as there is already manpower in place. He said, “If this project is approved, there will be more visibility for our people in the music, fashion and film industries.

“The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2006 gave June 17, 2015, as the deadline for all members of the organisation to migrate from analogue to digital. Regrettably, we were unable to meet the deadline along-side most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the deadline was moved to 2017, which was not reliable and today the target is June 17, 2020.”

Recall that on July 29, 2010, the NTA-STAR TV Network was launched through a partnership between the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Star-Times of the Republic of China.

This partnership was to provide excellent and technology-driven digital pay-TV services in the Nigerian territory as well as an excellent and socially responsible television broadcast services in Nigeria. The project, in the long run, expanded to include the provision of advertisement and signal transfer services, mobile phone television as well as wireless internet services.

It was a strategic partnership meant to help Nigeria in actualising its 2015 digital transition deadline, as it was believed that Star Times would leverage on the existing platform of NTA to provide quality digital service to every home in Nigeria and in doing that, the whole country won’t find it difficult to get digitalised even before the 2015 transition.

Today, many are asking what came out of that partnership, as it appeared government’s attention has shifted to a different thing instead of completing the digital switchover process that many have said are still being hampered by the fund.

The minister is also interested in the creative industry. He said, “Apart from agriculture, which is the largest employer of labour in Nigeria, especially the youths, the next largest employer of labour is the creative industry.”

It is believed that part of the $500 million loans the minister is asking for would also go into the creative industry.

Playwright, culture activist and communicator, Ben Tomoloju, said he would not draw the conclusion that government has obtained loans with an ulterior motive and would also not accept the peremptory approach towards initiating programmes for any sector without consulting the stakeholders.

He said, “I will not endorse the idea of taking a loan without knowing the modalities and modus operandi of the industry towards which the loan is being taken. The government’s gesture is patronising but it is just a display of relevance to the public.”

The media communicator said the $500 million loans was ridiculous, as it won’t do much in getting NTA on the same level as CNN.

Speaking on the creative industry, Tomoloju said, “I know what the industry needs, they need enabling structures that could make the creative individual perform, produce and make things happen. The whole idea of throwing money at the creative industry is even insulting because all they need are studios that have production value chain, theatres at the level of drama presentation and cinemas. Then they can augment the financial needs of the professionals to be able to stand on their own.”

He pointed out that though some people may have benefited from some financial gestures in the past, “I want to say sincerely that I don’t know how much value they have added to the industry. I wish they could go back to consultation with the stakeholders before they would raise any loan in the name of the industry.

“For instance, I was in the creative task force of Comite d’Organization des jeux Africaine (COJA) otherwise known as Committee for the Organisation of the African Games in 2003 and I can say that we didn’t have so much of a problem except that we were not paid out terminal benefits but there was a budget in billions of naira for television broadcast that was raised in the name of NTA. I have not seen anything come out of it beyond the fact they did broadcast COJA.

“So much go into this facility and they are not accountable to Nigerians. They are not even competitive in terms of local content, NTA cannot stand the private stations or even DSTV that has been empowering financial the Nigerian creative industry even though the exploitation of these same people is more than the empowerment.”

Vice Chairman (BON)/CEO, Multimesh Broadcasting Company, Mr. Godfrey Ohuabunwa, told The Guardian that, “I don’t think the minister is talking about making NTA look like CNN, I think that is a misquotation. We are in the digital era and NTA needs to upgrade its facility especially the studios to be able to provide quality signals. Also, with the new digital platform, we no longer have transmitters but studios. NTA has more than 36 studios and to digitise them will cost a lot of money; it’s like changing from left-hand drive to right-hand drive, and this includes training of staff. This will enable NTA to produce international quality standard content.”

Ohuabunwa noted that part of the digital migration process and recommendation to the presidency was to make NTA a public broadcast station. It would not be an advert-based station; “hence they need a lot of money to provide content for all viewers,” he said.

He, however, remarked, “I agree the public sector has wasted a lot of money in the past and people have the right not to trust some of these projects because once beaten twice shy. But I don’t think this minister’s proposal is the same.”


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