It is a rare opportunity to stand before such an eminent gathering of broadcasters. We are pleased also to share our thoughts today with this distinguished forum of mass communications scholars and students, manufacturers of broadcast equipment and their representatives, independent producers as well as broadcast regulators and policy makers from various parts of Africa and beyond, who have come to attend the 8th biennial conference of Africa Broadcasters, Africast 2010.
I must congratulate the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, of Nigeria for sustaining this important conference, which has, since, 1996, continued to form an important platform for discussing issues relating to the development of the broadcast sector in Africa. We are also pleased at the steady growth of the exhibition element of Africast, which is an effective way of introducing the latest in broadcast hardware and software to Nigerian and African broadcasters. Africast is a platform that the broadcast sector should fully adopt and build into the African version of the NAB Conference in America, or the IBC conference in Europe.
I wish to also use this platform to acknowledge and pay tribute to the Nigerian broadcast sector for its contributions to nation building. Through their programmes broadcasters have continued to entertain, educate and inform the public about happenings around them, taking elected officials to task on their responsibilities and thus fulfilling their constitutional role of holding the government accountable to the people. This is as it should be, and as we steadily march towards the 2011 elections, I urge all broadcasters, and indeed, all journalists to maintain professional integrity, by ensuring truth, balance and fairness in their coverage of political activities. That is the only way they can truly help to ensure that we achieve the desired free, fair and credible elections we all crave for in this country.
The broadcasting sector in this country celebrated the golden jubilee of Television in Nigeria in October last year. During the series of events marking the anniversary, broadcasters reminded themselves of the paramount place of content; they refreshed and gave a new urgency to the phrase that content was King. If we as Africans must tell our story, in our own words, to the rest of the world, then we must pay close attention to the production of edifying programmes using the best available technology. The Challenge of providing sufficient suitable content is also further underlined by the imminent transition from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting, which will further expand the spectrum and offer more space that needs to be filled with content.
This brings me to the theme of Africast 2010, which I am aware is “Africa in Digital Transition: Options and Perspectives.” Like the theme of Africast 2008, which also dwelled on digital transition, this one is also a clarion call on African countries to work assiduously towards meeting the ITU deadline of June 17, 2015. Here in Nigeria, We have chosen an earlier switchover date of June 17, 2012, and in an effort to meet that deadline, government has finished studying the report of the Presidential Advisory Committee, and will issue a White Paper, which will drastically alter the way in which we conduct the business of broadcasting in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, I am aware that the broadcast regulator has steered the sector towards the preliminary stages of digitisation. I understand that all non-terrestrial broadcasters have already gone digital, and that virtually all the production and studio equipment of the broadcast stations in this country are all in the digital format. We now have to face the final stage, the transmission phase, which is the most crucial aspect of the transition, which directly reconfigures the operational format of the industry and affects the public. Indeed, at this juncture, let me commend the efforts of the management of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA which has recently launched its digital terrestrial multi-channel station, a positive step in the digitisation of programme.
In recognition of the fact that Digitisation in the broadcast sector is best driven by policy, Government is preparing to present a bill to the National Assembly for a law that will provide the legal framework for the transition. It will deal with the basic issues of the signal distribution system, the licensing framework, spectrum planning, broadcast standards, training, Set Top boxes and such other relevant issues that will make the transition smooth and meaningful. We recognise the crucial need to successfully transit to digital broadcasting, and we shall leave no stone unturned to achieve it within the deadline.
Similarly, we are aware of the need to expand the broadcast space and give more voice to the people. Consequently, the Federal Executive Council has considered and approved the guidelines proposed by the National Broadcasting Commission for the licensing of Community Radio in Nigeria. Further, we have devolved to the Commission, the power to consider and issue the licences without further recourse to the Presidency, provided such applicants have met all the conditions stipulated by law.
Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen, I know that Africast is a very serious and engaging experience full of paper presentations, master class programmes, exhibition and very deep deliberations. But you must not fail also to spare some time to experience Abuja – the first truly modern African city. I invite you to enjoy its spectacular cultural endowments and the sincere hospitality of ordinary Nigerians.
While congratulating the National Broadcasting Commission for creating this important forum, it is now my honour and pleasure to declare this conference open.
Thank you for your attention.