Why Nige­ria needs a new broad­cast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

The Punch - - EDITORIAL - Ko­la­wole John­son

Iwe Iroyin Fun Awon Ara egba was the be­gin­ning of jour­nal­ism in Nige­ria. First pub­lished by Henry townsend on Novem­ber 23, 1859. Robert Camp­bell fol­lowed with the An­glo-african News­pa­per in 1863, then Iwe Iro­hin eko by An­drew thomas in 1888, weekly Times, by John Jack­son Payne in 1890 and La­gos Stan­dard by John Studdy Leigh in 1894. the last of that for­eign rheo­stat was La­gos Re­porter founded by Vic­tor Ma­son in 1898. Nige­ria started telling her own story from then on. the stage was largely con­trolled by the gov­ern­ment at in­cep­tion but has since given way to pri­vate driv­ers.

the cat­a­clysmic change has since taken place in the print jour­nal­ism in­dus­try, it has wit­nessed its own revo­lu­tion; the mode of pro­duc­tion has meta­mor­phosed and prospects abound to­day. Gone are the days when read­ing news was ac­tu­ally some form of lux­ury, the dig­i­tal age has be­come the grand lev­eller; the poor and the rich have same ac­cess, data is it. A sweeter ex­pe­ri­ence awaits the na­tion in the broad­cast in­dus­try if the gov­ern­ment can do the right thing in good time.

the broad­cast in­dus­try is un­justly at a cross­roads, stake­hold­ers can­not af­ford the bour­geon­ing de­spon­dency, we have quib­bled over time, enough of pre­var­i­ca­tion, it is time for ac­tion; time to rise for a bet­ter broad­cast ex­pe­ri­ence in Nige­ria. I have there­fore made a sim­ple re­solve for the new year: I will de­ploy my en­ergy to ad­vo­cate ac­tion in this re­gard for the ben­e­fit of the in­dus­try with so much po­ten­tial. We com­plain end­lessly about the rate of un­em­ploy­ment yet we are mak­ing a mess of a process that will de­liver over 700,000 jobs! We must look at the be­dev­illing ‘Nige­rian fac­tor’ mon­ster in the face and say: enough is enough. Other African coun­tries are leav­ing us be­hind and tak­ing all the ad­van­tages in the dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion process.

For in­dus­try watch­ers, there is no chal­lenge ex­cept the ones we have de­lib­er­ately placed on the path of progress. We all know it. First, it was greed and in­dis­ci­pline, now, in ad­di­tion, you see ego, unimag­in­able con­spir­acy etc. What are the is­sues?

the dig­i­tal switch over from ana­logue to dig­i­tal broad­cast­ing is meant to open so much op­por­tu­ni­ties in the in­dus­try, give or­di­nary Nige­ri­ans, al­most at no cost, the broad­cast­ing ex­pe­ri­ences the rich are presently en­joy­ing, cre­ate so many jobs and yield in­come to the gov­ern­ment over­time. the gov­ern­ment care­fully put in place a White Pa­per, which is the law with spe­cific pro­vi­sions, to guide the process.

the law pro­vides that an in­de­pen­dent com­pany be formed from the Nige­rian Tele­vi­sion Author­ity to be known as In­te­grated tele­vi­sion Ser­vices, and an­other pri­vate com­pany be li­censed, in ad­di­tion, to un­der­take the tran­si­tion process to avoid the dan­ger of a sin­gle broad­cast­ing sig­nal dis­trib­u­tor.

In 2014, top play­ers in the in­dus­try bided for the Dig­i­tal Sig­nal Op­er­a­tor li­cence and one Pin­na­cle Com­mu­ni­ca­tion won the bid and paid the manda­tory li­cence fee of N618m to the gov­ern­ment.

trou­ble started there­after when some pro­vi­sions ear­lier agreed upon were taken away from the pow­ers of the Dig­i­tal Sig­nal Op­er­a­tor. A clear case of greed and di­rec­to­rial in­dis­ci­pline. the com­pany pro­ceeded to court for repa­ra­tion and the en­tire tran­si­tion process came to a halt.

then the Buhari regime came into of­fice and brought a re­newed vigour to see the process through. the threat­en­ing case was set­tled out of court and the dig­i­tal tran­si­tion got un­der­way again with cred­itable ra­pid­ity. Of course, pro­fes­sion­als started pre­par­ing for the nu­mer­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties to be un­bolted at com­ple­tion. then, we got stuck again! Yes, till date. the In­de­pen­dent Cor­rupt Prac­tices and Other Re­lated Of­fenses Com­mis­sion dragged the Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Com­mis­sion and Pin­na­cle Com­mu­ni­ca­tions to court for what it termed il­le­gal pay­ment. Like I said in my piece in 2019, the ICPC should cover its eyes in shame for not read­ing the law guid­ing the process be­fore jump­ing on that cor­rupt voy­age which is de­stroy­ing the gains made thus far.

The first Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee that drafted the ini­tial doc­u­ment made three sug­ges­tions that are rel­e­vant here. First, seed grant of N25bn be pro­vided, con­sid­er­ing the heavy cost of the tran­si­tion in or­der to save or­di­nary Nige­ri­ans from un­bear­able ser­vice charges. Sec­ondly, Sin­gle Broad­cast­ing Sig­nal Dis­trib­u­tor model was sug­gested for the tran­si­tion process while oth­ers may be li­censed much later af­ter the tran­si­tion, which means that the tran­si­tion would be driven by the ITS alone. And thirdly, Mul­ti­ple Broad­cast­ing Sig­nal Dis­trib­u­tor be adopted to drive the process.

the ul­ti­mate pres­i­den­tial com­mit­tee that came up with the fi­nal White Pa­per agreed to the seed grant for the tran­si­tion process, re­jected a sin­gle op­er­a­tor model which is the sec­ond sug­ges­tion above, ac­cepted the third op­tion and man­dated that one other sig­nal dis­trib­u­tor be li­censed im­me­di­ately to drive the tran­si­tion along­side the NTA owned ITS. See Sec­tion 11.2.(e), “Ac­cepts the rec­om­men­da­tion to es­tab­lish a min­i­mum of 2 and max­i­mum of 3 Broad­cast­ing Sig­nal Dis­trib­u­tors for the tran­si­tional pe­riod to take ef­fect from 1st Jan­uary, 2012 to 1st Jan­uary, 2015”. Pin­na­cle was li­censed in ac­cor­dance with the pro­vi­sion as the sec­ond Broad­cast­ing Sig­nal Dis­trib­u­tor.

the law goes fur­ther to iden­tify the com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage the gov­ern­ment-owned ITS al­ready has and man­dated that the other li­censed sig­nal dis­trib­u­tor for the tran­si­tion pe­riod be brought up to same level play­ing field with the ITS. See Sec­tion 11.2.(b and c). “Noted that NTA with 157 trans­mis­sion sites

spread across the coun­try, as po­ten­tial sig­nal dis­trib­u­tor, has a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage over new en­trants and …” “Directed that the Na­tional Broad­cast­ing Com­mis­sion (NBC) should put in place nec­es­sary con­di­tions and en­sure that close to a level play­ing field is achieved”. By this pro­vi­sion, the new li­censed com­pany should, as a mat­ter of fact, en­joy more pro­vi­sions than the ex­ist­ing one, yet the ICPC could not read through the law be­fore ac­cept­ing the hatchet job of pros­e­cut­ing an equal pro­vi­sion!

Be­sides, two com­pa­nies were in­volved in the said trans­mis­sion ex­er­cise and they have both de­liv­ered to the ex­tent tol­er­a­ble. Pay­ments were made to the two com­pa­nies in ac­cor­dance to the guid­ing laws but the ICPC is say­ing one should not be paid, for­get­ting that the seed grant was meant for the trans­mis­sion process and not for any par­tic­u­lar com­pany. It is laugh­able that they also failed to know that if only one com­pany en­joys the seed grant, that one com­pany will charge con­sumers a sub­sidised ser­vice rate while the other will charge the full com­mer­cial rate, the same pain the gov­ern­ment de­cided to take away from or­di­nary Nige­ri­ans. Aside from the pain, the law (White Pa­per) en­vis­aged and frowned on such im­bal­ance thus en­sur­ing the above pro­vi­sion for a level-play­ing field. Shame on those eco­nomic sabo­teurs who are hold­ing the na­tion to ran­som just for their greed in spite of ob­vi­ous pro­vi­sions for a smooth process.

Sad enough, the ICPC shot it­self in the foot and truly ex­posed it­self as a PERSECUTOR, not a pros­e­cu­tor. I will per­son­ally write a de­tailed let­ter to the Pres­i­dent on this. We can no longer keep quiet.

For now, tell dirty play­ers to al­low Nige­ri­ans move for­ward. tell them to pleat in their cor­rupt and greedy ex­pe­di­tion, the progress of the na­tion comes first. Tell them to bury their ego, it has be­come ir­ri­ta­bly can­tan­ker­ous.

John­son, mnipr, is a for­mer broad­cast jour­nal­ist and pub­lic af­fairs an­a­lyst based in Abuja

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