Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) said it has imposed fines on 60 broadcast stations for breaching the broadcast code in relation to hate speech and incitement of the public during the 2019 general election.
Also, an undisclosed number of radio and television stations are said to be indebted to the NBC to the tune of a whopping N4. 2billion in fees and fines.
The Director General (DG) of NBC, Mallam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, who disclosed this in an interview with journalists in Abuja, expressed frustration that many broadcast stations appeared unwilling to pay up their debts as well as play by the rules in terms of adherence to the broadcast code.
Kawu said that the huge debts owed by licensees meant that less fund was available to the NBC to pursue its programmes, adding however, that in spite of paucity of funds, the Digital Switch Over (DSO), the flagship project of the agency was moving on at a steady pace.
According to him, the programme, which was flagged off in Jos, Plateau State in 2016, has since been launched in Abuja, while efforts were in top gear to take it to other cities across the country.
“The important thing about the Jos pilot is that it offered us an experience of what exactly that we will be doing in the DSO.
“The choice of Jos was just deliberate. Jos has been at the centre of television development in Nigeria.
“It is reputed to be the first place to have coloured television in Nigeria. It was chosen because there has been that tradition on the Plateau. There used to be just PRTV and NTA Jos.
“What we then did was to offer the people 15 channels on national television and with a lot of value-added in the proposition. Now it allowed NBC and our set up boxes manufacturers and our signals’ distributors to understand how to put all these things together beyond the scenarios we are creating.
We also had challenges sometime in June. We had an outage for a few days. Again it was part of the process of learning how to do it.
“So, of course, we then went to other locations namely Illorin, Enugu, Osogbo and Kaduna.
The issue is that if you look at the achievement we have made on the DSO so far; we have done those switchover between April 2016 and February 2018 in the six locations.”
He added that the facilities have been out in place in Gombe State.
The DG said the commission is working with other stakeholders to also extend this programme to Lagos, Kano and port Harcourt to do the switch over in these three major media markets, saying the impact will be massive.
Kawu said the DSO project has also been dogged by shortage of knowledge, and low funding to put the technical processes together.
He expressed dissatisfaction with the process whereby Nigeria had to rely on foreign technology and expertise to drive the process.
He disclosed that plans were on the way for the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) to loan NBC about $50 million from the fine paid by MTN Nigeria for breach of the telecommunication regulation to enable NBC complete the DSO programme.
“The Chinese have been central to the process. Sometimes they have been thrown out of the process in some African countries.
“In terms of the manufacture of set up boxes, the first batch of 900,000 boxes was put together by Nigerians. 750, 000 of this has been distributed around the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We have also been able to finish a Digital National Coverage Plan for Nigeria. You have to be able to know the best locations to have your digital transmitters. The plan is for us to be able to cover every state and region across the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he said.
Kawu who made a strong case for increased local content in the execution of the DSO programne, said it would make better sense of the technology, equipment and personnel driving the project were locally sourced.
According to him, “from the moment I came to the NBC, I have always asked one question: Why would you launch a national DSO and use an international satellite service?
“So, we have held a lot of discussions with NigComsat and they are improving their facilities. We are looking at so many opportunities so that we can use their facilities for our national digital switch over and so that we can localise everything within Nigerian territory,” he added.