Communications Minister, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, has hinted that private broadcasters in Ghana will soon pay fees for being hosted on the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform.
The private broadcasters, fronted by the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), for close to three years have been hosted on the existing DTT platform for free as part of a roadmap to switch the country from analogue broadcasting to DTT broadcasting.
The free hosting was meant to give a firm footing to indigenous private broadcasters who had already invested heavily in the process to migrate and transmit from analogue to digital, and to whip up the appeal for other private broadcasters to buy into the digital migration agenda.
The Communications Ministry is scheduled to meet GIBA and other important state and non-state stakeholders on Wednesday, September 29, 2018, to discuss a myriad of issues including the digital switchover roadmap, management of the DTT platform, the draft DTT policy among others.
“At that next meeting, we are going to going to be discussing fees that you [GIBA] are going to be paying after being hosted on that platform for free for over two years. All these are issues that need to be discussed,” Mrs Owusu-Ekuful said.
She added “they [GIBA members] are all aware that they have to pay at some point. That platform will have to be self-sustaining. It is not a charity.“
Photo: Urusula Owusu-Ekuful
The Minister dropped the hint about the upcoming DTT-hosting fees on Saturday on news analysis programme, Newsfile, during a heated discussion about GIBA’s suspicion that StarTimes may soon be handed the contract to manage the DTT platform on the blind side of stakeholders in the sector.
GIBA, which fronts private broadcasters in Ghana, says handing the management of Ghana’s DTT infrastructure to StarTimes, a foreign competitor in the pay-TV space, along with millions of dollars in tax waivers, will put local broadcasters at a disadvantage and distort the pay-TV market.
Should the Ministry go ahead with the threat to slap the fees on GIBA, the woes of local broadcasters will intensify as the cost of doing business, already high, will increase even further.
GIBA is rallying the nation to oppose what it believes is a crafty attempt by the government to hand over Ghana's DTT infrastructure to a third party, StarTimes, to manage.
Dr Chief Crystal-Djirackor, of the Council of Elders of GIBA, has explained that the Association’s opposition to the possible StarTimes-government deal is informed chiefly by its potential to distort the pay TV market.
“If you have a roadmap [to roll out Digital Terrestrial TV nationwide]…and then government supports somebody…[it] will distort the market process,” he said on Newsfile, Saturday
President of GIBA, Andrew Danso-Aninkora, also said GIBA’s suspicion of a simmering industry-damaging deal with the Chinese operator has been made rife by the Communications Ministry’s failure to respond to questions about the migration roadmap and related matters.
StarTimes has already clinched a deal with government dubbed ‘Access to Satellite TV for 300 Villages in Ghana Project’ to provide various content via satellite to some 6,000 households drawn from 300 villages nationwide.
GIBA is fighting that deal too. GIBA says that deal is inconsistent with a roadmap for Ghana’s Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) migration and tax waivers granted StarTimes as part of the deal are unfair to local competitors in the broadcast space.
“The Agenda of StarTimes is not only aimed at profit or the indoctrination of Chinese culture (names, language, food, etc.) and programmes, but a larger mandate to take over the control of the broadcast space in strategic African countries including Ghana, which is crucial for the China game. Whereas today, China does not allow foreign ownership of media and for that matter, will not allow the African broadcast media the space to trade our African channels in their country. Why then should African states give our broadcast space in the fashion as we are experiencing at the moment?” GIBA said in a press statement recently.
The Communications Minister, Mrs Owusu-Ekuful, acknowledges the need for GIBA to protect the interests of its members, however, she has vowed to also protect the interests of any Ghanaian business too.
“Yes, GIBA wants to protect the interests of its members. That is fine. I will also fight to protect the interest of any Ghanaian company as far as it is in my power. So far, nobody has brought any issue before me which needs my intervention either for the imposition of tax waiver or any business that they are doing.
“Nobody has had any engagement with the ministry. Unfortunately, the Ministry is not in a position to intervene in many of these matters. Because it no longer has the supervisory authority of the Ministry of Information as it did previously so I am only interested in the infrastructure which is being put in place; which is my mandate," she said on Newsfile.
Regarding fears that the content from StarTimes under the '300 Villages project' will be Chinese content, Mrs Owusu-Ekuful explained that the relevant Ministry to deal with that concern is the Information Ministry.
"My business is the infrastructure and I will make sure that the most robust infrastructure is put in place. Neither K-Net which built the infrastructure nor StarTimes which may enhance the infrastructure will have the duty of determining how that infrastructure is operated and how your businesses are engaged on that infrastructure,” the Minister said on Newsfile, Saturday.
Watch the discussion on Newsfile in the video below.