By PRINCE OSUAGWU & LAIDE AKINBOADE
THE journey to Nigeria’s plans to switch to digital broadcasting took early steps in October 2008 with the constitution of a Presidential Advisory Committee, PAC, by the Nigerian Broadcast Commission, NBC.
The committee which consisted of experts selected from a wide range of business and economic sectors was to create the roadmap for the take-off of digital broadcasting in Nigeria.
The Committee quickly got down to business and by December 2009, it had submitted its report to the then Minister of Information and Communications detailing the best approach the government can take in realizing the migration.
It also recommended, among other things: The adoption of a new broadcast model based on two classes of digital broadcast licenses. They were Content license that legally empowers broadcasters to produce content, and Signal distribution licence that provides broadcast companies with the authority to create the transmission platform for other broadcasters.
It also recommended the establishment of public broadcasting; and the implementation of certain digital standards, like DVB-T and MPEG-4 (terrestrial digital television), DVB-S (satellite), DVB-H (mobile TV) and IBOC system for FM Digital.
With this, coupled with the support of the federal government, the NBC quickly imposed on itself a target of June 17, 2012 as the change date.
However, despite the wide acceptance of the digital transfer proposal, there were doubts that government would realise the change at the date it targeted.
Broadcasters and experts in relevant field held the view that government was under-estimating the huge complexities to be faced in implementing the migration and suggested that there was need to first make the regulator more efficient.
Eventually, about three months after the target, Nigeria is yet to fully migrate, giving the predictions some substance and a dint of realism.
The hope is that the country meets the ITU’s deadline of June 17 2015 when every country is expected to have fully migrated, otherwise broadcasters in Nigeria may be isolated as their equipment may no longer shake hands with spare parts in the world market that would have been flooded with digital materials and spares.
Dokpesi raises alarm
However, there are also fears that the 2015 deadline may also pass Nigeria by. For instance, at a recent launch of a new broadcast code by the NBC in Abuja recently, the Chairman of Daar Communica-tions, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, listed the challenges private broadcasters are facing in switching from analogue to digital broadcasting in Nigeria.
According to him, despite the development in broadcasting in Nigeria, private or independent broadcasters face a lot of challenges like financial strangulation that may make the transfer a mirage.
According to him, “today, a critical examination of the present state of broadcasting in Nigeria will reveal that the broadcasters, particularly independent broadcasters, face very challenging and trying times. Even in the face of improved modern technology, transiting to digital transmission, may not be easy because most broadcasters face financial strangulation as access to fund is scarce and limited.
I think that broadcasting in Nigeria needs more favourable operating climate before transition becomes easy. It is common knowledge that broadcasting is a very capital-intensive venture. All equipment, from digital tape to television and radio transmitters, are imported. Yet we face incredulous high import duties, as well as an astronomically high tax” he lamented
He also decried the influx and apparent control of broadcast content, especially the direct to home television initiatives, by foreign interests, saying they were inimical to growth.
“For me however, certain developments have become very worrisome; as a parent, a broadcast media proprietor and a patriotic Nigerian, I know that radio and television moulds the child and helps build individual. Television in particular, may be the single most influential tool, not only in shaping public opinion, but also in sculpting mindsets. It is potentially dangerous to leave such potent tools such as radio and television at the whim and behest of foreigners.
“The increasing influx and control of broadcast content, particularly direct-to-home services by foreign interest, may portend very unhealthy long-term consequences for our nation. Our peculiar socio-cultural and socio-economic landscape, ethno-cultural diversity and inter-ethnic relations demand that we jealously guard and protect our collective heritage as a nation” he added.
Earlier in his welcome address the Director General of NBC, Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa, said that the commission was committed to promoting Nigerian indigenous culture linking the commitment with reasons of launching the Broadcast code.
For him, “the Nigeria Broadcasting commission is committed to meeting the aspirations of the people for quality broadcasts. That is why we periodically review the code in conjunction with other stakeholders so that our own broadcast industry can respond to emerging trends in the world.”
Among eminent dignitaries that graced the event included the former Minster of Information and Communications, Mrs Dora Akunyili who in her goodwill message commended the commission for a job well done, saying that she had firm belief in the capacity of the commission to take the country’s broadcast sector to greatest heights.
“I know that the commission is capable. I am not surprised at the new code because but for the principles of the commission, broadcasting in the country would have taken a negative dimension. There is no way you would have a good regulation without a good system and vice versa” she stated.
Also in his own goodwill message, Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, expressed the commitment of the Federal government to developing broadcasting in the country, adding that the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan will continue to support the commission.
Capital outlay as panacea
But trailing Dokpesi’s fears, it may be unconnected with the common perception that the country’s macro-economy particularly driven by the banks may be unable to support the relative long period it takes digital broadcasting investments to break even.
To meet up the 2015 target, there are also expert suggestions that government may as a measure of antidote to failure, plan a better capital outlay that can see financial assistance or cheaper funding sources to be extended to private broadcasters to convert existing equipment and to operate digital terrestrial broadcast systems. Government-owned stations may also require same external funding assistance, even for those that have been fully commercialised.
Local producers may also have to be supported to be able to generate programmes if broadcasters are to fill regulatory quotas for local content on the new platforms.