There is so much talk in political circles about transforming certain publicly-owned agencies to become fully commercially viable and self financing. In the National Assembly for instance, the thinking is that several government-funded services are viable enough to generate resources to carry through their in-house activities and contribute meaningfully to the central treasury of the federation.
But in all of these national discourse, there seems to be a salient error of judgment regarding how all of these publicly owned services are expected to derive maximum commercial benefits from their core mandates that may not fundamentally endanger public good.
Some of the exponents of the view that almost all government funded agencies should become fully commercialized may not have given serious thought to the fact that some of these federal government publicly funded agencies such as the Nigerian Television Authority play such a social responsibility role that it may be impossible to expect that it can become fully self funding without endangering the fundamental values for which it was set up in the first place to promote.
NTA is the government-owned public broadcaster with a mandate to inform, educate and entertain the populace. Unlike the British Broadcasting Corporation, (BBC) the Nigerian Television Authority was not at inception authorized by legislation to collect licensing fees from Nigerian households which makes it imperative that the government of Nigeria accepted to take the responsibility of providing certain basic operational subventions to enable it carry out its mandate.
Back to our national conversation on why the Nigerian Television Authority should be given better funding so as to continue to remain relevant and effective, we may like to know that previously, the NTA had only one network channel which transmits in over 80 stations across Nigeria. Specifically, that single network was used to broadcast a variety of programme types including News, entertainment, educational, children and current affairs.
Viewers are now sophisticated and have demanded better broad range of choices of programme, and the NTA management worked very assiduously to launch new specialized channels namely news, sports, educational and entertainment. To achieve these lofty dreams, the NTA management installed a suite of broadcast automation soft ware and hardware known as wonder cube. Wonder cube is a suite of software applications meant to computerize and automate various aspects of the television broadcast chain. The NTA wonder cube system consist of a six channel automatic play out system; newsroom computer system; a media asset management and archiving system; a compliance recording system and an ingest system.
Since 1977 when it was inaugurated, the NTA has set up stations across several parts of Nigeria some of which went off air due to poor subvention by government but due to the managerial acumen, the team headed by acting Director General Alhaji Musa Mayaki has brought back to life most of these stations. "Well, what I met on ground on assuming office was a network that was actually not there. We had a number of stations that were down within the network, such that it was impacting negatively even on our revenue. This is because, when advertisers want it on network, they monitor and they tell you that this station or the other station did not join or were not on, and that they were not going to pay for it. Really, when you come to think of it, they are actually paying for the network. So there were so many stations that were not on board. We were just calling ourselves 'Africa's Largest Network' when in actual fact, the network was collapsing gradually," he averred.
It is therefore imperative that additional fund be provided to the NTA for the purposes of achieving full scale transformation of facilities to meet the demands of the Nigerian citizenry.
In preparation for the digital switch over by 2015, the management of NTA has since the tenure of the last Director General Alhaji Usman Magawata got a technical partner, Star Communications Network Technology of Beijing, China and this has yielded the building of a pilot DPP platform with the blessing of relevant government agencies.
It is the view of a cross section of Nigerians that the federal government must take responsibility for providing operational financial lifeline to the NTA until such a time that the enabling environment is in place for the broadcasting firm to become fully commercialized and self funding.
The government should borrow a leaf from the British government by creating avenue by which additional fund could be generated by the Nigerian Television Authority such as is the practice in Britain. NTA took the opportunity of the 'Africast 2010' to demonstrate mobile television on a variety of mobile devices even as we all know that if granted the necessary licenses, NTA's mobile television shall be deployed on a variety of devices including mobile phones; mp3 players; car television among others. The relevant authority should facilitate the rapid granting of these licenses without let or hindrance.