For three weeks in November last year till early December, I spent quality time on vacation in parts of the United Kingdom with my longest stay in London. As part of my schedules, I took time off my rest to interact meaningfully with some members of the ever growing Nigerian community in London, the United Kingdom and an important aspect of these interactive sessions done in very convivial and relaxed atmosphere was to sound them out on their impressions regarding the publicly owned television conglomerate – the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) which most of them receive via satellite on a popular television station based in London – Ben Television.
For background sake, Ben television is a black and ethnic oriented urban, diverse and cosmopolitan family Channel, established for the specific purpose of providing what the owner called a wholesome mix of entertaining, educative and informational programmes suitable for family viewing.
Ben Tv’s series of programmes also include a range of cultural programming to empower, transform and challenge the conventional perception of Africa, Caribbean and African – descendants in Diaspora. The signature logo of the television station is “bridging the gap”.
Available information shows that a major differentiation and what the owner considered as setting Ben tv apart from other channels is its positive general black-oriented, youthful and diverse cultural-educational programming format along with its enlightening current affairs shows which serve to throw light on issues plaguing the African-Carribeans and the African continent especially through its major content scheduling in Nigeria. Ben Tv reaches about 10 million homes in the United Kingdom and around the World where satellite and Digital reception are accessible.
Available information also shows that Ben tv Collaborates with Africa’s foremost private television station; the largest Network in Africa, through their international feeds, which provides Ben tv with new programmes for the Nigerian and African audiences.
Those spoken to in London on their impressions of the performance and program contents of Nigeria’s and Africa’s largest television Network-NTA, told me that what they enjoy most about the Nigerian Television Authority is still the prime time network news at 9pm. About one dozen persons spoken to were of the opinion that there is now a fundamental shift of focus of the NTA from being the conservative mouthpiece of government officials to extensively broadcasting developmental and human interest stories that cover a broad spectrum of the ways and manners that Nigerians make progress in the human global community.
Mr. Segun Martins; Miss. Edith Obioma and Mr. Abdulkaren Suleiman who clearly expressed their delight at the major shift of emphasis of the Nigerian Television Authority also were of the opinion that the management that have presided over NTA in the last three years have brought a lot of professionalism to bear in the operations of this television station.
Alhaji Usman Magawata recently retired as Director General of NTA after eventful tenure and handed over power to the current Acting Director General Alhaji Musa Mayaki who pundits believe has taken the NTA to greater heights following the beautiful achievements of his predecessor in office.
Mr. Segun Martins stated thus; “I have stayed in Britain for ten years now and I have monitored developments from Nigeria on the Nigerian Television Authority and I can tell you that we are proud of the new changes that we are witnessing now. With the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 2011 by the National Assembly and the signing into law of the FOI Act of 2011 by President Jonathan, NTA has become the proud voice of the people of Nigeria. Could you help us tell the management of NTA to also educationally empower younger Nigerians who live abroad with series of programmes in the indigenous Nigerian languages so that those Nigerian languages that are facing threats of extinction are restored back to life.”
Most of those spoken to however challenged NTA to further dedicate more time to investigative stories on areas such as anti-corruption drives of the government and other human interest stories such as social and organized crimes in parts of Nigeria with a view to helping the law enforcement agencies tocombat these crimes and make Nigeria investors’ friendly.
These Nigerians abroad particularly expressed worry that the Dana plane crash of Sunday June 3rd 2012 involving flight 992 MC Donnel Douglas MD-83 aircraft was not professionally covered by NTA even as some of them said such blunder should not happen again.
But in an interview published by a Lagos-based news magazine, the current Director General of NTA Alhaji Musa Mayaki offered cogent and verifiable reason why NTA did not cover the unfortunate incident as much as Nigerians home and abroad would have loved.
His words; “Yes, as a matter of fact, that particular incident of Dana plane crash was my saddest moment, especially in terms of my duties. The reason is that we have equipment that we can use to report live from anywhere. We call it TVU pack. When the crash occurred, I called Lagos station to use the TVU pack to report it live because we wanted to get live pictures of the incident. However, the station gave an excuse that the TVU battery had not been charged. They had locked up the pack in the store and so the battery was down. They said also that they did not buy credit to recharge the pack. I asked them how much was the credit, and they said it was N15,000. They told me that the major thing was that the battery had packed up and that it would take almost the whole day to charge it so what they did was to go and take still photographs”.
He further explained; “This should have made our station different because we would be reporting every second, and our viewers would be able to know what was happening. Nigerians would have been able to know how the emergency rescue services were coping with the situation and even how the hospitals were responding to the situation. Then they would know that you were coming up with an innovation and every station would tune up to you. Even when the pictures were sent at about 9 pm, it was too dark for us to see”.
Mayaki continued; “The following day, I was so infuriated over the disappointment that I insisted that somebody must be punished for it. We have the pack all over the country, but not every station had it. That is really where my regret came from. So if you say some stations beat us to it, yes. If you say some stations had clearer pictures, I will agree because it is indefensible really. But we have since put our house in order. We are better prepared now”.
NTA which is a government owned public broadcaster with a mandate to inform, entertain and educate the populace has however undergone series of transformations. These innovations which were introduced by the management is the reason for the new kind of optimism and patriotism among most Nigerians abroad who still stay tune to the prime time news porgramme at 9pm daily.
The realization by the management that a multi channel environment requires automation to be effective and efficient, it immediately installed a suite of broadcast automation software and hardware known as wonder cube.
Specifically, wonder cube is a suite of soft ware applications meant to computerize and automate various aspects of the television broadcasting 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. NTA is also preparing the framework for the eventual switch over/migrate to the digital broadcasting system by 2015.
The totality of my interactions with about one dozen Nigerians in the United Kingdom is that they are positively expecting the current management at the Nigerian Television Authority to achieve its long term plan which is to deliver television to the populace through terrestrial, mobile and IPTV platforms and offer a wide variety of choice of local programmes.