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Is NTA on trial?

It was later understood, following the appearances of leading stakeholders before the National Assembly, that the contract to upgrade the facilities in the Nigerian Television…

It was later understood, following the appearances of leading stakeholders before the National Assembly, that the contract to upgrade the facilities in the Nigerian Television Authority was granted exceptional presidential waiver because of the urgency of the anticipated national assignment that the broadcast conglomerate was expected to perform: namely, the transmission of the 2009 FIFA Junior (under 17) World Cup which Nigeria hosted. It is instructive to note that both the Director General of the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) Emeka Eze, and the Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili, appeared before the communications committees of the two chambers in the National Assembly to inform Nigerians that there were no skeletons in the cupboards of the NTA management for going ahead with the upgrading of facilities since the highest decision-making body of the federal government approved the award of the contracts to upgrade the equipment in the NTA which will benefit all Nigerians.

For now, the legislators have exonerated the management of NTA headed by Alhaji Usman Mohammed Magawata, of any financial indiscretion in the award of the contract for the upgrading of the facilities, particularly because the executive council of the federation and the Bureau for Public Procurement approved and monitored the process leading to the award.

The next issue that has put the NTA on the firing line is the coverage of the events unfolding in the absence of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, following his departure to Saudi Arabia to attend to his health condition. The alleged refusal of the NTA to give live coverage to the debate in the Senate on the prolonged absence of the president was viewed differently by a cross section of Nigerians. While some Nigerians, including the Senate media committee chairman Senator Ayogu Eze, regard the failure of the NTA as a dereliction of its social responsibility duty, some persons in the management said that the decision not to cover the debate live has indeed saved Nigerians from undue tension that would have been generated.

Other analysts have questioned the social responsibility role of the NTA and demanded that the general public and not government’s interest be projected by the publicly-funded television outfit.

On its official website, NTA said: “The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) is the national television network for the people of Nigeria. Its key function is to provide as a public service in the interest of Nigeria, independent and impartial television broadcasting for general reception.”      “NTA seeks to service as a tool for national integration. The vision is to be a world class Television Network and the mission is to provide excellent television service world-wide and project the true African perspective.”

How far has NTA gone in achieving these noble objectives? In response, The Guardian, an independent national newspaper, ran an editorial on Sunday, October 18, 2009, whereby it stated thus: “The Federal government owned television network, the NTA, is arguably the largest of its type in Africa, but it is yet to have the operational freedom required to maximize its potentials.”

Many Nigerians have often asked questions relating to the editorial independence of the NTA which culminated in doubts raised by a contributor to an online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, on the veracity of the claim of the NTA’s management that it is out to serve public interest. The online encyclopaedia stated thus: “The Nigeria Television Authority claims to run the biggest television network in Africa with stations in several parts of Nigeria. The network began with a take over of regional television stations in 1976 by the then Nigerian military authority”.

Some observers believe that the current Director General Usman Mohammed Magawata, appointed on May 9, 2008, by the president, will introduce some radical changes to give the Nigerian people the true ownership of the NTA. Those who hold this view say that the defence of human rights background of the director general goes to show that the outfit will implement NTA’s core values which are: professionalism, accuracy, credibility, impartiality, balance objectivity, national interest, social responsibility, sensitivity and commitment to world peace and development.

Analysts believe that some innovative news programmes like News 24, introduced by the current director general is one way of handing back true ownership of the NTA to the Nigerian people who are the authentic owners. Other observers are not satisfied with what they regard as the slow process of transmitting real pro-people programmes that will serve the interests of Nigerians. It is expected that the current director general will strike a balance between public and government interests so that Nigerians an gain real ownership of NTA.

Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria.


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