The tug of war between the MultiChoice (Nigeria) Limited and the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) ought not to have gone unnoticed. The CNG is a potent pressure group that is committed to ensuring justice and equity in the nation’s broadcast space, particularly in the North.
The group is accusing the MultiChoice, operators of the DSTV and the GOtv, of ethnic-based favouritism that places the northern television stations at a great disadvantage. It also laid at its doorstep an allegation of ignoring the content diversity aimed at national growth and development of the Northern part of the country and has threatened to organise and enforce a boycott of the Pay-Tv Operator’s Services in the entire region.
The CNG said the MultiChoice has shown gross favouritism towards television companies owned and operated in the southern part of the country, noting that even though the firm has been operating in the country for about a quarter of a century, it has sidelined the interests of radio and television owners in the northern region on its premium DSTV platform. This is in spite of the heavy presence of private northern-owned TV brands with technical and financial muscles as well as human resource capacity to feature on its platforms.
Speaking through its National Coordinator, Balarabe Rufai, the pressure group further lamented the irony of the situation where the outfit is reaping billions of naira in revenue across the region from corporate firms and individuals.
He observed that the MultiChoice was highly secretive and demonstrated lack of transparency, consequently prompting the group to petition the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), the High Commission of the Republic of South Africa, the Senate Committee on Communication and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to intervene.
The group also lamented that broadcast news, current affairs and infotainment from northern private outfits have been deliberately excluded by the firm. By so doing, several millions of audience in diverse communities in Nigeria, the West African sub-region, and parts of the Middle East Africa (MEA) region are denied the (English and Hausa) content aired by the excluded stations.
For instance, the group noted that out of the 82 channels from the GOtv, a DTT arm of the MultiChoice, only two channels are owned by private broadcast organisations based in the North.
Dissatisfied with the scenario, the group took its case to the NBC for intervention. The Commission called for a meeting with the service provider and the aggrieved party. A peace deal was brokered last month during which two northern-based television channels, the Liberty TV and Tozali TV, were tabled for consideration to join the league of local channels, thus paving the way for other eligible stations in future.
Earlier in its petition to the FCCPC, the group alleged biased policies against Hausa language regarded as the second most widely employed means of communication that has been given international prominence on broadcast channels like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa, the Voice of America (VOA) Hausa, Deutshe Welle Hausa, among others. It is, therefore, an irony that the MultiChoice is not taking full advantage of operating in Nigeria to leverage on the wide market and audience.
It alleged that out of the 135 television channels on the DSTV, no northern-owned TV or Radio channel was brought on board, noting that Arewa24 is the only Hausa-speaking channel on the platform managed by an American entrepreneur, with contents that do not in any way portray the socio-economic and political development of the region which accounts for more than 60 per cent of the country’s population.
We commend the efforts and resilience of the CNG in ensuring that a level playing field is guaranteed for all television and radio outfits in the country. The importance of this critical arm of the media cannot be over-emphasised, especially in the northern part of the country that is ravaged by all manner of security challenges like insurgency, kidnapping, armed banditry and allied crimes. Placing the southern part of the country at an advantage over the North may make economic sense, but the security implications are better imagined than described.
The broadcast media are the fastest means of communication, delivered in diverse languages, especially to the rural communities where the level of literacy is low. Any country that pigeonholes the critical sector mainly into the urban centres does so at its own peril.
The MultiChoice would be doing this country a great disservice by limiting access to Hausa channels in view of the raging insecurity in the northern region. Prompt, effective and strategic information dissemination is a potent tool to fight the menace.
Be that as it may, the controversy between MultiChoice and the CNG would not have arisen if there was no hiatus to be filled by the former coming all the way from South Africa, decades after we secured our nationhood. It is high time we lived up to our appellation as the Giant of Africa and the leading economy on the Continent by breaking the monopoly enjoyed by the MultiChoice.