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NTA as CNN: Lai Mohammed’s tall ambition

The report that Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is seeking to get a $500 million loan to digitalise the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), and bring it up to the standard of Cable News Network (CNN) that got him trending on Monday on Twitter may not be true after all.

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Although, the minister indeed wants approval of a $500 million by the National Assembly during his appearance before the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Loans to defend the loan the ministry applied for from President Muhammadu Buhari’s $29.96 billion loan for funding infrastructure in the country, only $11 million is meant for the digitalization of NTA.

$245 million would be spent on establishing the media and culture industry centre and the remaining amount for integrated television services to infuse on network.

Having missed the 2015 deadline of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) given in 2006 for all members of the organisation to migrate from analogue to digital and the subsequent one for 2017, it is desirable to want to meet the June 17, 2020 new deadline.

So there is nothing wrong with the minister’s desire to upgrade NTA facilities to make it compete favourably with television stations in the country. There was a time in this country when NTA was the main television station in the country.

It had all the necessary facilities and Nigerians across the country depended on the stations for all the latest news, information and entertainment. Unfortunately that is no longer the case.

The stations no longer rank among top in the industry in the country in terms of quality of content and production. There are many private local stations and cable options for Nigerians who still watch television.

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So what the minister should be aiming at is restoring the lost glories of the NTA for now not the tall ambition of making it become like CNN. It’s good to be ambitious and aim high but when the desire must not be unrealistic given what is possible within the situation on ground.

Mohammed says the NTA has the “manpower and the technology” but the only thing left was to digitise the network. This claim is debatable considering the kind of programmes one sees on the NTA network.

It’s true that NTA has many old and experienced hands but it should not be assumed that they have what it takes to operate digital stations and match the quality of production now obtainable in the industry.

They have a lot to learn and catch up with private and international stations which Nigerians are now used to. CNN is a private owned leading station globally with massive resources and freedom to operate compared with the NTA, which is government owned and usually subjected to all kinds of control, which cannot give it room to meet best practices in the industry.

Can NTA afford to pay the kind of salaries journalists and other workers are paid in CNN? Can the government allow NTA to hold its officials accountable the way CNN does?

Instead of wanting to be like CNN, the minister should be more concerned about getting out of its analogue state for now. There will be need for restructuring of operations of the NTA and there may be no need for the number of stations it presently operates.

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Modern day broadcasting requires a lot of creative personnel, innovation and up-to-date facilities, which the NTA of today may not have considering how it has been run for years based on available facilities and resources.

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