The worst is over on Digital Switch Over — NBC

The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) first pegged the deadline of migrating from the analogue to digital broadcasting at 2012 but couldn’t keep its promise. Thereafter, the migration date was put at 2015 yet the commission still could not deliver on the date. Afterwards, the date was shifted to 2017 and for the third time, NBC couldn’t meet its own deadline. Right now, the commission has rolled out in six states. In this interview with ELEOJO IDACHABA, NBC’s head of the Directorate of Broadcast Monitoring, Dr Armstrong Idachaba, said that the worst days are over regarding Digital Switch Over(DSO) in Nigeria.

There seems to be a lot of perceived ignorance about Digital Switch Over. What is the commission doing to sensitize the viewing public?

Thank you for the use of ‘perceived’. In actual fact, there is ignorance but over the years, people are becoming more aware even though as a commission we know that a lot still needs to be done in the form of sensitisation and the enhancement of our communication processes. One thing we need to know is that Digital Switch Over is a global thing and something that needs to be well appreciated. For us in Nigeria, it’s a huge project that affects all the spectrum of the society irrespective of class.

I agree with you that it is something that deserves massive enlightenment. We have done a lot, so it’s not as if we have been quiet. For example, in the last three years, we have done series of workshops and seminars that are not less than 30 across the country. We also commissioned some campaigns on radio and television stations in the spirit of enlightenment drive. Honestly, we have done a lot and people are picking up gradually because of the new level of awareness but we still need to do more.

What is the new NBC code and what constitutes an offence in the broadcast industry?

Well, the broadcasting code is the law setting up NBC. By this I mean the principal Act. Actually, as part of the mandate of the commission, it is stipulated that it shall produce a broadcasting code and as well as set out standards for the practice of the industry in Nigeria. It is in the fulfilment of that statutory obligation that the commission fashioned out the code which we review from time to time in two years. Basically, the code is a detailed enunciation of the ethical conduct of broadcast stations at all times, especially now that political activities are in top gear.

We have provision in the code that concerns advertising, technical parameters, programming guidelines and what constitutes what should be on air or otherwise. There is a whole chapter concerning political broadcasting, and considering the fact that radio and television are cultural media, the code attempts to reflect ethical considerations as well. It is largely diversified but comprehensively tailored towards what is expected from broadcast operators.

Some broadcast stations allege that NBC has rolled out stringent measures regarding phone-in programmes, especially the number of callers that a station can accommodate. How true is this?

This is a good question because it is one issue that was fairly controversial, especially in the Lagos area. The background is that we discovered that in Lagos, as early as 5:00 am, long before people even wake up, some radio stations are already reviewing the day’s newspapers and people are already sending in their comments through the phone-in programmes. Remember that this is the time that some details about the events of the day are yet to be made public. The contributions are so sensitive such that they tend to violate public space like unguarded and inciting comments and half truths.

So, we felt that all those were doing disservice to the country. What the commission did was to call a meeting of broadcasters in the Lagos area and they agreed that in fact, the way those programmes were going, they would damage the integrity of broadcasting in the country soon. They agreed that there was a need to place a standard on phone-in programmes. That was how we came up with some of those decisions to specify that at certain hours, they will not open their lines. That decision was collectively taken between the regulator and broadcasters themselves.It should also be noted that NBC is aware that broadcasters have what we call editorial liberty which also extends to programmes scheduling, so it is within the domain of broadcasters to arrange their programming and also the people they chose to speak with on those programmes; it’s just that we remind them that they should domain in conformity with the broadcasting code.

Is the commission worried about the kind of lurid commercials that are being churned out in some broadcast stations which offend the sensibilities of a section of the public?

It’s not only the commission but even women groups have been talking about it. The broadcasting code is very explicit on this to the extent that it states that womanhood shall be promoted and upheld. That is to say that there are even attempts by the commission to protect the sanctity of womanhood but what has happened generally is that there is this assumption that sex sells but we know from available records that there are other areas that sell more than sex.

For example, the amount of money people make from football is far ahead of what anyone can make from producing sexually pervasive materials like pornography. It is this false assumption that makes them to use female models in very ridiculous ways. We actually condemn the practice of denigrating the dignity of womanhood in commercials. In fact, let me tell you that there are sanctions in the code for broadcasters that air such commercials.

There are many occasions where we advised some advertising agencies to drop some commercials because of their pervasive content. We have also drawn the attention of APCON to some adverts which we found offensive and they too complied.Advocacy/women groups also draw our attention to some of these things from time to time. Unfortunately, women are the ones that allow themselves to be used as sex models in music and films.

Do you know that in some musical videos where the men appear modestly dressed, some of the females in that same video are almost half naked? So, the women advocacy groups can also come in to speak up more on this matter.

NBC had boasted that the Digital Switch Over(DSO) is fully designed and implemented by Nigerians. Has the Commission put in place any checks to prevent foreign players from dominating the market?

It is true, unlike in other countries where the technology is left in the hands of foreign companies and individuals,in Nigeria, the project is wholly indigenous. We have two signal distribution companies like ITS which came out of NTA and Pinnacle which is also local. They are the two carrying the signals. If you look at the entire contents, all the existing programmes are completely locally produced. Young Nigerians are the ones involved in all the processes of producing those programmes. Therefore from conceptualisation to implementation, it’s all about Nigerians.

Having failed thrice in meeting the deadline for full digitisation, when will Nigeria attain 100 percent DSO ?

This is one question that has often been repeated severally out of sarcasm as if to say it is not achievable.So far, we have rolled out in six states. The most important thing I will like to say is that we have crossed the most difficult line. Setting up the structure of a project like this is the most critical part; this is in terms of distributing transmission infrastructure. Even when you have put in place the transmission infrastructure, what channels would you put to be viewed? Those issues have however been largely addressed. Now, with the two signal distributors on ground, we have rolled out nationally. Initially, we had problem with the Set-Top boxes which were being imported but our idea now is that they have to be produced in the country. To that extent, we licenced some Nigerian companies to do that and they have started rolling them out especially the Gospel TV in Calabar. We are overcoming the problems gradually and soon, we will be there fully.

One of the teething problems subscribers are facing is their inability to recharge in order to access the signals. What is the commission doing about it?

Really, that is one of the problems on our hands which we are working to address at the moment. Somehow, what happened was that we gave one of our approved agents the responsibility of recharging the digital TV in the form of providing access to the signals of the TV, by paying a little token fee ofN1,500.

The company we gave the responsibility began to produce what we call scratch cards. Somehow, between them and their retailers, we discovered that there are price differentials which we frowned at. Although the price is not the problems of Nigerians really but availability. To that extent, we have told them to increase their awareness of where those cards can be purchased and also ensure that appropriate information is scrolled on the screen to enlighten the subscribers about all they need to know. It’s work in progress. Above all, we want to make it digital such that you can do that even from your phone.

Some players in the industry have alleged that obsolete equipment were being deployed for DSO. Why is the commission seemingly cutting corners at the expense of quality delivery?

That misconception was at the beginning, through allegations and counter allegations. The simple answer is that NBC would not allow obsolete equipment to be used for this revolution in broadcasting. In all the installations, we were there to inspect the equipment before they are being installed. The standard we are using is DVT2. That is the standard everywhere in the world. From the available signals, you can see that they are up and running with clarity of reception.

How has DSO enhanced access to information in the country?

The availability of channels output obviously has boosted information in the country. Somewhere on the DDT box, there is a column for interaction where you can easily go and get any information you want. In terms of availability and diversity of news sources, DSO is equal to the game.

Can we beat our chest and say in the next few months, the near monopoly of Multichoice and other media will be a thing of the past, owing to the success of DSO?

As long as humanity exists, tastes will always vary. As far as this issue is concerned, they will all exist side by side. Remember that Nigeria’s population still remains largely under-served and to that extent, the potential TV consumption is still unserved. Hopefully, DDT will close that gap since it is largely free.

What has been the financial implication on embarking on DSO on Nigerian tax payers?

To be sincere with you, it’s huge. All the channels running now are entirely free; in order words, the government bears the burden until we shut down completely the analogue system. Asking the stations to pay now would amount to double payment. So, we will wait until full migration, but the cost is huge.

What economic benefits has the country so far gained with DSO?

Generally, it impacts on the creative sector. For example, more local channels means more artistes and more personnel from inception to completion. There are a lot of ancillary jobs associated with film and programmes production. Remember that it was this revolution that provoked government’s claim of providing additional jobs for Nigerians. It’s a whole lot.

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