The Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) has warned it will resist attempts by Chinese Broadcasting company StarTimes to takeover the broadcasting space in Ghana through its arrangement with government.
The Chinese company has secured a deal with government that will see it extend satellite TV to over 300 villages across the country.
The communications ministry believes the move will help Ghanaians in rural communities to become alert on national issues and be involved in development since they have will access to content about national projects.
But GIBA believes the move is a coverup by the Chinese firm to push them out of business and control the national space.
“The Agenda of StarTimes is not only aimed at profit or the indoctrination of Chinese culture (names, language, food, etc.) and programmes, but a larger mandate to take over the control of the broadcast space in strategic African countries including Ghana, which is crucial for the China game. Whereas today, China does not allow foreign ownership of media and for that matter, will not allow the African broadcast media the space to trade our African channels in their country. Why then should African states give our broadcast space in the fashion as we are experiencing at the moment”.
GIBA has therefore called on Ghanaians to rally behind them as they resist the move
Below are details of the statement by GIBA
StarTimes ‘Access to Satellite TV for 300 Villages in Ghana Project’ – A Betrayal of the Digital Migration Roadmap
Last July, the Parliament of Ghana adopted a resolution granting prior approval to the Minister of Finance pursuant to Article 174(2) of the Constitution, to waive Import Duties, Import VAT, Import NHIL, ECOWAS Levy, EXIM Levy, Special Import Levy, Inspection Fees and AU Levy amounting to Three Million, Two Thousand, Eight Hundred and Sixty Ghana Cedis and Nine Pesewas (GHS3,002,860.09) in respect of materials and equipment to be imported by StarTimes, a Chinese Pay-TV operator in Ghana for the “Access to Satellite TV for 300 Villages in Ghana Project”. It was not clear from the motion and subsequent parliamentary resolution, what the said materials and equipment comprised in. Neither was it clear who the Grant will be delivered to – whether the project as purported will be established and controlled by Ghana or operated and managed by StarTimes of China. It is however manifestly clear that such a project would not be consistent with the agreed roadmap to deliver the Nation’s Migration through Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) technology, following the Government of Ghana’s agreement with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to migrate from analogue to digital television broadcasting. Apart from the fact that there has been absolutely no stakeholder consultation for this project, it would also run counter to the National Digital Migration Policy and the existing Cultural Policy of Ghana.
The ‘Access to Satellite TV for 300 Villages in Ghana Project’ is part of a bigger project under which the Chinese media group, StarTimes, plans to provide 10,000 villages in Africa with satellite TV access ostensibly to improve access to information on the continent. The project was originally announced by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2015, where he stated that 10,000 villages across Africa would eventually be able to watch digital television for free. So far, they have disclosed the following plans:
Burundi – 300 Villages. Phase one already launched which will see 300 families given access to satellite TV.
Guinea – 300 villages. Each of these remote communities are expected to have an installation of three solar-powered television sets that are equipped with satellite decoders. StarTimes will be charging a monthly subscription fee of around US$1 for the Pay-TV service in Guinea.
South Africa – 1,000 communities. Each village will be aided with two StarTimes Projector TVs, one 32-inch Digital TV set and 20 DTH decoders and satellite dishes.
Rwanda – 6,000 individual households in 300 villages in Rwanda will be connected with satellite television service composed of a satellite dish, a high definition set top box and accessories while 900 public institutions will be connected through a satellite projector TV system and 32-inch television sets.
Nigeria – StarTimes to provide satellite TV in five Nigerian villages.
During the launch of phase one of the project in Burundi, Mr. Chen Yongzheng, Chief Manager of Burundi Branch StarTimes remarked that beneficiaries of the project could watch “Chinese programs like the Kung Fu channel, watch Chinese news so that they can have a direct knowledge of China.” He added that the project was in line with deepening relations between China and Burundi, and the television service will also allow people to watch Chinese and world programmes in their local language.
The Agenda of StarTimes is not only aimed at profit or the indoctrination of Chinese culture (names, language, food, etc.) and programmes, but a larger mandate to take over the control of the broadcast space in strategic African countries including Ghana, which is crucial for the China game. Whereas today, China does not allow foreign ownership of media and for that matter, will not allow the African broadcast media the space to trade our African channels in their country. Why then should African states give our broadcast space in the fashion as we are experiencing at the moment?
Ghana’s Digital Migration
Migration from analogue to digital broadcasting refers to the process in which television services operating on analogue are transferred to digital based transmission networks over a period and at the end of which process, the analogue transmitters are switched off.
In 2006, Ghana, along with other members of ITU, signed an agreement in Geneva that set June 17, 2015 as the deadline for all countries in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Russia to migrate from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcasting technology within the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Band. The Agreement further set June 17, 2020 as the deadline for migrating onto the Very High Frequency (VHF) Band.
It is worth noting that long before we, together as a people, took the decision to migrate the nation from Analogue to Digital broadcasting, there were several consultations and engagements with all stakeholders across the length and breadth of the country and beyond, by the National Communications Authority (NCA) and the Ministry of Communications, giving professionals and experts in the field, the opportunity to research in finding the best broadcast solutions for consideration towards the migration of the Nation. Several factors including projections into the future and the choice of broadcast format were deliberated -whether to use satellite DTH broadcast or the DTT broadcasting system to migrate the country were explored. GIBA is glad to say that, as a major stakeholder, we were all together as a group who took the decision and concluded on DTT as the choice for Ghana, and will like to share excerpts of the works and findings that led to this conclusion which the Ministry of Communications is seeking to truncate by mounting support for the StarTimes Satellite project and the DTT in Ghana.
In 2007, the NCA set-up an industry technical committee comprising, the state broadcaster (GBC), the private TV stations (GIBA), government representatives and other stakeholders namely Ghana Standards Authority, National Media Commission, Consumer Associations, Ghana Institute of Engineers, among others. The recommendations of the industry technical committee led to the establishment of the National Digital Broadcasting Migration Technical Committee (NDBMTC) by the Ministry of Communications on the 13th of January 2010.
Ghana’s DTT ‘Roadmap’ Report
The extensive stakeholder consultations carried out by the NDBMTC culminated into the August 2010 report to government on the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting in Ghana which was approved wholly by the Cabinet of the Republic of Ghana in October 2010.
The work of the NDBMTC as captured in the Cabinet approved report included extensive consultations with all stakeholders and in particular a capacity building workshop which was organized on the 29th and 30th of June 2010 at the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence in ICT, Accra.
This workshop to determine the best broadcast mode for the country, brought finality to the choice of technology and broadcasting format for Ghana and was facilitated by several experts invited into Ghana, to join all other stakeholders from within the country, which included the Parliament of Ghana among many other institutions.
Amongst the foreign experts were;
Alan Dowie, Commonwealth Broadcasters Association (CBA) London.
John Bigeni, DVB, Geneva, Switzerland.
Michael Starks, Principal Editor of the International Journal of Digital Television, Oxford University, UK.
Pham Nhu Hai, Head, Broadcasting Service Division, ITU Radio Communication Bureau, Geneva, Switzerland.
Chris Gandy, Broadcast Consultant, Tidworth, England.
Stauart Jack, Nordicity, Canada.
Anton Lan, Business Development Director, Altech UEC, Durban, South Africa.
Mlu Mhulungu, Sales Manager, Altech UEC, Durban, South Africa.
It was concluded that Ghana’s transition from analogue to digital broadcasting should be rolled out with the set-up of a National Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform instead of using satellite transmissions as Direct-to-Home (DTH) service.
The DTT broadcast mode was chosen after several deliberations, consultations and considerations as a more reliable and dependable mode of broadcasting that the nation would have full control over its operations and broadcast platform.
Among the several reasons for the choice of DTT, was the fact that, as a Sovereign Nation, Ghana should be able to have a state-owned broadcasting infrastructure devoid of external influence and control.
It was believed that, the choice of DTT over DTH would safeguard the nation from the intrusions of other cultures and social ills which are usually as a result of dependence on shared global infrastructures, such as the satellite (for Direct-to-Home Service) and the internet. It was also believed that, the nation can rely on content from a DTT network installed, regulated and advised by its own people and thinking.
In most countries, there are wireless terrestrial television systems which can be controlled wholly within the country. Even when satellites are used to link transmission sites, fibre and microwave links could be used to replace them in the event that the satellite service is no longer available for any reason, for example, the recent fatality suffered by the Israeli-based AMOS SATELLITE service which carried hundreds of African TV and Radio channels as well as other communication services.
Generally, universal access to television in most countries is assessed by the technical coverage of the population by terrestrial television. In the case of creating a dominant DTH platform through policy as part of the transition, it would mean the country would depend primarily on satellite broadcasting for communications to households even though the state would have no sovereign control of the satellite in space.
In the event of a national state of emergency, even though the communications laws gives the President powers (Article 99 of Act 775) to have priority over any mass communication platform, those powers cannot be extended to the satellite in space unless it is located at Ghana’s orbital allotment and/or owned by the state.
It was the opinion of the Committee that Government should not make a policy decision that places satellite TV as the primary mode of TV reception and as a matter of course, potentially kill the growth of wireless terrestrial TV in the digital domain, which would be controlled within the sovereign space of Ghana.
The Technical Committee identified that satellite has always been part of the plan for the transition from analogue to digital television. The committee stressed however that, the choice of Satellite service, in the rollout of the Nation’s DTT network, for the transportation of the Digital content should be carefully considered to avoid technical complexities, which may occur during the carriage and distribution of programs to the transmissions stations around the country, such as rainfall, causing signal loss during bad weather (cloudy or rainy) conditions.
It was the opinion of the Sub-committee that a decision that can potentially increase costs and complexities of the transition to the TV consumer should be avoided as much as possible. It was understood that, even though there are bound to be several DTH satellite services (which will be technically unreliable) and the social media via the internet, Ghana needs the DTT service, where authentic information becomes necessary.
The technical committee noted that, if DTH satellite service is going to be used to achieve the analogue switch off deadline, it will mean that, all TV households have to acquire DVB-S2 decoder and receivers as well as parabolic (dish) antenna to access the national digital broadcast service.
The State and Readiness of Ghana’s DTT Infrastructure
To facilitate the digital switch on, the Government opted for a single national platform provider (signal distributor) for FTA services after mutual discussions with broadcast stakeholders in Ghana. The government of Ghana under the previous administration contracted K-Net, a connectivity solution provider to build 42 DTT transmission sites for the purpose of rolling out the DTT services for Ghana. The Minister for Communications, who signed the contract, said following the evaluation of tenders received, K-Net Limited was recommended for the contract to deliver the DTT network project. He said the engagement of K-Net Limited; a fully owned Ghanaian entity, amplifies government’s resolve to develop local content. He further commended the support and commitment demonstrated by all stakeholders especially the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) and the National Digital Broadcasting Migration Committee (NDBMC) for actively supporting in various ways and participating in all deliberations.
Currently, 20 out of the 42 sites have been connected to the national grid for power. Out of these, 17 are live. The government has currently made arrangements to power the remaining transmission sites. Ghana’s state of readiness is underscored by government’s announcement that the Digital Switch on will be done in September or October 2018.
The question we have to ask ourselves as a people is that, having made so much gains in the deployment of necessary infrastructure for DTT services and the approval of Free-to-Air Set-Top-Boxes (STB) and Integrated Digital Television (IDTV) Sets, by the National Communications Authority (NCA) following the global publication of Ghana’s DTT Receiver Standard and Specifications (GS1099) by the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA); are we now recommending a government-led shift in policy, with the support of StarTimes by the Ministry of Communications, for tax waivers on their Satellite (DTH) project? If this becomes the case, the economic model for DTT which the nation spent millions of tax payers’ money on, would thereby be totally eroded. If this is the government’s thinking, it should not be done by favouring the Chinese entity – StarTimes, against the Ghanaian industry players by asking the Ghanaian broadcaster to pay all import taxes while granting StarTimes tax waivers.
The Need for Policies and Necessary Legislation to guide Ghana’s Broadcasting Migration
Successive governments have always acknowledged that a successful migration and transmission from analogue broadcasting to DTT broadcasting would require government policy and an appropriate legal backing, necessitating the drafting of the Broadcasting Bill, currently under review, into law and the draft DTT Broadcasting Policy which, when finalised would serve as effective tools. It has also been noted that in addition to the foregoing, an amendment of the Electronic Communications Act, 2008 (Act 775) and other existing laws, policies and regulations that would continue to guide the sector might become necessary so as to accommodate the new digital terrestrial environment.
Betrayal of the DTT Agenda
The million-dollar question on many stakeholder minds is, with such advanced state of preparedness in the DTT migration effort, what will make a government prioritise support for satellite television over digital terrestrial television access, that it has invested so much into? One would have thought that the Government would consider a tax waiver on the importation of STBs that meet the NCA prescribed standard, to make the boxes affordable as a way of ensuring that many Ghanaians will be able to migrate to DTT viewing, with less pain. Why will the Government neglect its commitment to migrate from analogue to DTT and instead support the initiative of a foreign private organisation with an undisclosed parochial agenda, with a Grant to offer DTH Satellite broadcasting in aid of the digital migration for Ghana? It is equally curious why industry stakeholders would not be consulted over an initiative that will impact the entire industry?
There are two major ways any Tom, Dick and Harry can take over the entire Broadcast space of a nation under its control, even without investing in the infrastructure of the country.
Targeting the take-over of the Network Operating Multiplex of the country by presenting oneself as an entity, who is capable of maintaining the already built infrastructure to generate revenue for the Nation. The connivance with people in authority and control of the facility, who may be ignorant of the fact that, the take-over of the multiplex along with the power to install Conditional Access (CA) modules and a corresponding Set-Top-Box (STB) to decrypt the signals (turning the platform into a license-controlled service to operate a Pay TV Service) will virtually be handing over the entire broadcast space to that entity. This is done by adding Free-To-View (FTV) channels, with the pretext of providing Free-To-Air (FTA) services to the entire nation.
The second way to take over the broadcasting space of a nation by any entity, is to introduce a Digital Satellite – DTH broadcast service to the nation under the pretext that it will facilitate the digital migration in that country, again through connivance with the people in authority, to push for the support of their reception equipment such as Set-Top-Boxes and Integrated Digital TV sets, installed with Conditional Access modules and presenting the receiver device as the approved decoders for accessing digital broadcast contents in the country. To have their STBs cheaply imported into the country, they will have to present the satellite project as Grant to the Nation in order to obtain tax waivers for the importation of their CA embedded reception devices (decoders and Digital TV sets). These reception devices, even if distributed as free materials, will only be aiding the businesses of the conditional access license holder.
Already, StarTimes is operating a Pay TV service in Ghana, in partnership with a local license holder – Mobile Zone Limited and distributing Free STBs and IDTV sets to the public in support of their commercial business.
All the decoders and Digital TV traded in Ghana by StarTimes are capable of viewing other Free-to-Air channels which are not even transmitted or uplinked by StarTimes on to the satellite space they rented from Eutelsat or elsewhere. These Free-to-Air satellite channels appear automatically to viewers; so the question is, what new satellite service is StarTimes offering Ghana, if not to enhance their current commercial business and play on the ignorance of our law makers or by connivance of some elements in authority to populate the Ghanaian homes with their own decoder trading stocks under the pretext that, they are providing satellite broadcast services to 300 villages in Ghana?
Africa’s Wakeup Call
StarTimes, the Chinese broadcasting company is on an agenda of spreading the Chinese influence across Africa, matching on from country to country, with offers which target political individuals, who will not care a dime to rip-off their own people for selfish gains. Leaders who StarTimes knows, are technically handicapped and who for personal gains, will not seek expert advice but play on the ignorance of lawmakers of the targeted African nation, in the name of FREE ASSISTANCE.
The StarTimes agenda is for them to lead you to acquire a loan from China, which the African tax payers will later service with interest, but with the condition that they (StarTimes) shall be the contractor to deliver the project. As if this is not enough, they will conditionally force the African nation to allow them to take over controls and operations of the DTT infrastructure, with shareholding of 70% in their favour (as they did in other African countries), regardless of the nation’s total accumulated investment, which in most cases, date back from the time of independence of the African nation.
We watched with great interest, the display of power but lack of technical knowledge in television transmission systems and operations, from our very own Parliament of Ghana, as they rush through approvals for exemptions, dashing out our very needed taxes to the tune of over Three Million Ghana Cedis (GH¢3,000,000.00) to StarTimes, for the provision of a GRANT to build a digital satellite broadcasting infrastructure to serve 300 villages in Ghana and also to offer 20 and 30 Free-to-Air television channels.
GIBA noted that, there were no proper consultations to technically scrutinise the application towards this Grant before the approval was given. Even if Parliament did not have the expertise within their ranks, GIBA believes that, as the people’s representative, itching to do the best and achieving the common good for the nation, they should have sought assistance from outside Parliament or consulted with the National Communications Authority – the very institution the Nation has very excellently established and well-resourced, with brilliant professionals to clarify the request from StarTimes, which was brought to Parliament by the Ministry of Communications. If this consultation took place, GIBA will be interested to know what sort of advice Parliament got from the NCA.
Ironically, this approval by Parliament was but a tiny version of the service which patriotic Ghanaian broadcasters have toiled and provided the country, long before now, without a single request for tax exemptions. As citizens, we paid all the taxes as we offered even a better digital satellite service (national coverage) as broadcasters to the whole country (not villages) while also, providing the platforms for Free-to-Air satellite broadcasting, which existed since the NCA issued the authorisations for the establishment of such services.
1, The MULTI TV platform has provided Ghanaians with a MULTI TV for free service, without any assistance, Tax waivers or financial inputs from any Government of the day in Ghana.
2, CRYSTAL TV has installed a MULTI purpose Africa-wide, broadcasting platform in Ghana, without any such help from governments since the liberalization of the airwaves in Ghana, allowing for private participation.
3, The NCA authorized MULTICHOICE and GOTV, STRONG DIGITAL, MEGA-CHOICE DIGITAL, and many others, who on their own brought in their investments to establish their various services as authorized by the NCA, and with space for hundreds of Free-to-Air channels, did so without a grant or waiver of any kind.
4, FIRST DIGITAL, another Digital TV platform established by our very own Papa Kwesi Nduom, has set-up a MULTI CHANNEL platform, open to carry several Free-to-Air channels, but paid all the necessary taxes without such waivers granted to StarTimes – a Chinese broadcasting company who is treated as though they are offering a novelty. What at all is happening to us???
GIBA’s Disappointment in the Parliament of Ghana
GIBA is disappointed in the Parliament of Ghana for granting Tax waivers to StarTimes of China for importation of equipment and other materials to drive digital migration in Ghana.
Did Parliament find out if the proposed new service of StarTimes, which they claimed is a Grant to offer 20 and 30 Free-to-Air channels in aid of the digital migration in Ghana, be similar to their current business operations? If no, how is it different?
It is clear in our minds that, currently, the StarTimes satellite broadcasting in Ghana is a service provided outside Ghana with contents pushed from China and elsewhere onto the Eutelsat Transmission platform and distributed through their conditional access boxes, in partnership with license holders.
Has Parliament made the relevant enquiries to understand in detail, the very nature of the Grant from the Chinese StarTimes before approving their application for exemptions?
What is the type of satellite equipment and its very use?
As a Grant from China or StarTimes; has Parliament enquired whether the other materials as stated include set-top-boxes/decoders, Digital TV sets?
Is Parliament aware of whom these so called Grants are to be delivered to?
Whether the equipment will be a physical equipment installation to be operated by the Chinese for the people of Ghana, or to be operated outside of Ghana for the Consumption of Ghanaians?
How does the StarTimes satellite technology work in delivering broadcast feeds to only 300 village locations in Ghana?
What are the types of receiver (Decoder) systems expected to be supplied to our people in Ghana in the name of Grant – Free-to-Air or embedded Conditional Access boxes?
How does this satellite project support 20 and 30 Free-to-Air channels?
Are the Free-to-Air channels Ghanaian TV channels or the StarTimes’ own TV programs? Or the Free-to-Air channels uplinked by individual broadcast entities and programming from Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) of other countries, which are already available on the transponders of existing satellites that StarTimes themselves hire space on?
Is it clear to Parliament that if these 20 and 30 Free-to-Air channels are the existing Free-to-Air Ghanaian TV stations, this solution will not favour the local broadcasters, to be migrated onto the StarTimes proposed digital service? The following facts should be noted;
Copyright and the laws on intellectual property rights will be flouted, when Free-to-Air TV channels broadcast contents meant for only the Ghanaian environment and jurisdiction. Even our local producers will be short-changed and denied the opportunity to resell their productions into other countries, unless these broadcast feeds are scrambled under a conditional viewing arrangement, because nowhere in the world are satellites controlled in space, and able to deliver its contents (broadcast) into particularly selected villages and localities as Free-to-Air programmes.
What is available globally is, satellite beams provided by licensed satellite operators, under the regulation of the INTERNATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS UNION (ITU) to launch transponder carrying satellites into space, lined up on the Clark Belt and delivering Voice, Video, Data and security contents etc., which are UPLINKED from EARTH to SPACE and DOWNLINKED in a turn around to EARTH, for the consumption of people (both governments, individuals and commercial entities) across the world.
Satellite operators such as EUTELSAT, INTELSAT, ARABSAT, SES, and several many others, provide these services but their transmissions are not limited to only selected villages as purported by StarTimes and the Chinese government. It should be noted that, StarTimes themselves rely on these satellite operators to deliver their broadcast content to all parts of the continent of Africa, just as other Ghanaian NCA authorized broadcast companies also patronize them.
The satellite BEAMS are transmitted with various strengths and power capacities by the satellite operators to various grouped locations as spot BEAMS, with footprints covering large areas of the globe and not as a beam to a particular town or village, as the Ministry has made parliament to accept.
Broadcast Satellites carry both Encrypted and Free-to-Air channels from all over the world. Some countries that are wary of the indoctrination of other cultures CARE about the influx of these hash contents from broadcasting feeds which satellite services throw above from space into our skies as a super highway service.
If these Ghanaian Free-to-air channels are scrambled through the StarTimes Conditional Access control system, those channels cannot be said to represent Free-to-Air broadcast into the selected villages, as presented to the Ghanaian Parliament. They certainly become a Pay service, to be opened conditionally only by StarTimes to the Ghanaian village consumers.
Is Parliament aware that the NCA already has an established and approved fair framework, for the Grant of broadcast authorizations which included the Pay TV sector and its conditions, with some players’ heavy investments already running? The NCA also has the category for Free-to-Air services with its regulations, satellite broadcast services, IPTV, etc., which are processed in conformity and in recognition of the provisions of the Constitution of Ghana.
Is the government promoting a Pay TV service of StarTimes to dominate the broadcast space of Ghana and to take over the only national infrastructure as they are seen supporting StarTimes with tax waivers?
It should be noted that, long before now, stakeholders, together with the NATIONAL DIGITAL BROADCASTING MIGRATION COMMITTEE and the NCA, had concluded that as a nation who is a signatory to the international copyright convention, satellite broadcasting cannot guarantee the Free-to-Air broadcasting media the rights to provide mass communication services to its people, as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution, without infringing on copyrights, especially the rights we acquire and limited to the territory of Ghana, unless this media content is acquired for international coverage or broadcast encrypted. When a Free-to-Air content is encrypted, it will no longer be accessed as an open air broadcast to the nation. Encrypted contents require a Conditional Access (CA) license module for viewers to access the free broadcast service and this is unacceptable for the fact that, per our constitution, there can be no licensing conditionality either for the operations or the accessing of Free-to-Air broadcast content by anyone in Ghana.
A Conditional Access module – CA, planted into TV sets, Set-Top-Boxes (STBs) and receivers of all kinds, is a licensed application which is used to permit or deny access of broadcast information to viewers. A Free-to-Air broadcast service as authorized and well-defined by NCA, is meant to be in the clear and therefore, the use of CA embedded in STBs, will pose an impediment for the operations of the Free-to-Air broadcast media in Ghana.
The scientific definitions of a Conditional Access System by several authors, intellectuals and institutions including Wikipedia are presented in the following:
Conditional access (CA) or conditional access system (CAS) is the protection of content by requiring certain criteria to be met before granting access to the content. The term is commonly used in relation to digital television systems.
A Conditional Access System, or CAS, is a type of system used in Internet and television broadcasts in order to restrict unauthorized users from accessing channels or services that they have not paid for and allow subscribers who have paid for services to access the specific services they purchased. Conditional Access Systems are most commonly referred to as “Pay-Per-View” services and are often used to restrict television channels.
How Conditional Access Systems Work
Conditional Access Systems work by scrambling data that is received by a network’s satellites/terrestrial transmissions. While the data itself is freely broadcast from land-based television transmitters to orbital satellites and then back to the user’s receiver box, the Conditional Access System scrambles the received data before it reaches the user’s television set, or set-top-box (STB) by using a number of encryption methods. When a user has purchased a specific service or group of channels, the Conditional Access System unscrambles the data relating to that service or group of channels and allows the user to view the data instantaneously.
Set-top box: The set-top box houses the security module that gives authorization for decrypting the transmitted programs. The set-top box also converts the digital signal to an analogue signal so an older television can display the programs.
A typical CA process involves three basic elements: the broadcast equipment, the set-top box, and the security module. The broadcast equipment generates the encrypted programs that are transmitted to the subscriber. When these are transmitted, the set-top box filters out the signals and passes them to the security module. The security module then authorizes these programs for decryption. The programs are then decrypted in real time and sent back to the set-top box for display.
While Conditional Access Systems are commonly used for Pay-Per-View applications, they are also often used to restrict Internet and telephone services from subscribers who have not purchased them. For example, while data is constantly being passed through a coaxial cable provided by a cable company, the data is encrypted in order to prevent it from reaching the user’s modem. When the user activates his/her modem by purchasing the service, the modem is able to unscramble the data and provide that service to the user.
Marginalisation and Denial of Free-to-Air TV access to the poor
Conditional Access Systems are advantageous because they are able to prevent unauthorized users from accessing data they have not purchased without interfering with subscribers who have purchased service. Conditional Access Systems are also advantageous because they are seamless and work without the user’s knowledge.
Conditional Access (CA) is a technology used to control access to digital television (DTV) services to authorized users by encrypting the transmitted programming. CA has been used for years for Pay TV services. There are numerous ATSC and DVB-compliant CA systems available for a broadcaster to choose from. The CA system provider provides the equipment and software to the broadcaster who then integrates the CA system into his equipment. CA is not designed solely for DTV. It can be used for digital radio broadcasts, digital data broadcasts and non-broadcast information and interactive services.
Why should Ghana allow the use of CA Modules to offer Free-to-Air and public broadcast content to her people, when the Constitution grants the rights to operate mass communication, including Free-to-Air broadcasting services to the public without any control or a license of any nature as a prerequisite to disseminate information to the public in Ghana?
The Conditional Access (CA) Set-Top box and Integrated Digital TV (iDTV) influence and control
The success of the digital roll-out will be measured more on the ability of the ordinary Ghanaian to access the digital signals through efficient and affordable set-top-boxes (STBs) and Integrated Digital TV (IDTVs). This, we believe cannot be achieved by the introduction of CA Pay TV STBs. It should be noted that, the national interest, and indeed the interest of the industry comes first hence the need to critically analyse our decisions going forward.
The Migration Experiences from Other Nations
Let us interrogate the failures and difficulties of digital migration in other countries where the introduction of CA controlled Pay TV services were made to drive the migration. Take for instance countries such as Zambia, Tanzania and Nigeria to mention a few, where StarTimes took over the National airspace for DTT, you cannot find a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) for instance available on TV sets anywhere in those countries unless you acquire a StarTimes digital set-top-box or television set. What we find in those countries are either analogue signals even in public places, or private broadcast channels, operating through the platform of the national broadcaster, which now is under the control of StarTimes, holding 70% majority shares and leaving 30% for the state broadcaster, who actually owns all the infrastructures. Unfortunately in such countries today, there are no more public broadcast services accessed Free-to-Air by the public but rather through a commercial pay service of StarTimes.
It is simple to know that where the public is uninformed, the Pay TV operator could easily influence the people through various trade schemes and strategies to make-believe that their Pay TV box represents all digital broadcast services. To the Pay TV operator, the control of eye balls depends on viewers seeing all broadcast services through the eye of its STB, which has their licensed Conditional Access control module embedded in them, giving the control to grant access or otherwise, or the viewing of broadcast contents from even other operators as an advantage.
StarTimes Agenda to Take Control of the Only Free-to-Air National DTT Infrastructure in Ghana
The offering of the Ghanaian digital terrestrial broadcasting space to StarTimes, through the glaring support from the Ministry of Communications, with their backing of the application from StarTimes to the Parliament of Ghana to obtain Tax waivers purportedly to aid the country’s digital migration is deeply worrying. It is equally worrying when we see the StarTimes moves to take over the only DTT Free-to-Air infrastructure with the Ministry’s (MoC) explanation that, StarTimes is being engaged to expand the facility when this is not necessary at the moment. A platform of this kind anywhere in the world, (at the level of completion with only few mop-ups) is capable of generating its own funds to meet all areas of expansion needed if it is run well, instead of sourcing for a loan and new contractors, who, for all you know are themselves interested in taking over the entire infrastructure to operate their own businesses, while the tax payer is made to pay for such loans.
It is disturbing to have the only Free-to-Air digital broadcasting platform which is the medium for the dissemination of information to the public and operations of mass media in the digital domain, to be controlled by an individual entity whose current business in the country is Pay TV broadcasting, and is already distributing licenced controlled conditional access decoders and digital television sets across the country in aid of their commercial business.
If StarTimes is allowed to control both Ghana’s only digital television infrastructure and also the satellite space in the name of digital migration, Ghana would have virtually submitted its broadcast space to Chinese control and contents. Meanwhile, the nation of China is not prepared to grant even the tiniest of broadcast space of any kind to any broadcast channel from Africa into their country.
GIBA thinks that, it is dangerous for the only authorised Terrestrial FTA Broadcasting infrastructure on which every Free-To-Air (FTA) broadcasting station, including GIBA and our National Broadcaster – GBC, will run their services, to be managed by an individual entity with interest in broadcasting. Such a strategic installation (without any alternatives) cannot be given to a single entity to manage, talk less of a foreign Chinese entity. GIBA has all the time advocated for an independent company to be setup to manage the infrastructure with clear guidelines and with the National Media Commission (NMC) appointing the leadership of such management company to guarantee fairness, equity and accountability. GIBA believes that at the NMC, every sector, including the Presidency, Parliament and all other stakeholders are represented, as prescribed by the Constitution of Ghana.
Contradicting the Culture Policy of Ghana
The Culture Policy of Ghana has as part of its objectives, the enhancement of Ghanaian cultural life and the development of cultural programmes to contribute to the nation’s human development and material progress through heritage preservation, conservation, promotion and the use of traditional modern arts and crafts to create wealth and alleviate poverty. Specifically, the policy objectives include the creation of awareness of the traditional values and to generate pride and respect for the nation’s heritage.
The policy also seeks to enhance the role of the media as channels for promoting understanding of our cultural values and the potential of the rich diversity of ethnic expressions for nation building. Under Chapter VII of the policy on Mass Media, the policy provides that:
“Television shall be used to:
project Ghanaian arts, culture and value systems;
enhance national consciousness and self-reliance by making its programme content from indigenous resource, making its programme content relevant to Ghanaian realities, history and aspirations; giving adequate attention and coverage to programmes featuring children, traditional intellectuals, custodians of culture and public service; and
making its programmes 70% Ghanaian and 30% foreign.”
This above quotation from the Culture policy forms the basis for the recent assertion by the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts that the Ministry would seek to promote a 70%:30% local-foreign content ratio on free-to-air (FTA) television.
Against this background, the contradiction of Ghana’s Culture Policy by the Access to Satellite TV for 300 Villages in Ghana Project is palpable. The Chinese media group, StarTimes made no secret of their agenda to promote Chinese culture through our FTA television space by flooding the screens of our local television viewers with Chinese cultural content.
Is there a cause for opening up the broadcasting landscape to foreign participation and control?
It should be understood that it is not for nothing that all over the world, countries jealously guard their spectrum especially those that are utilised for broadcasting and the media in general. Unlike other sectors of the economy, broadcasting, in particular, is a critical asset (public good) that should be protected against foreign ownership either by regulations or administrative rules.
The reasons for any country to look for foreign participation, is where the locals have no capacity and as such, the governing class/administrators must always bear this in mind in deciding to invite foreigners to a particular sector.
Since 1995, when the airwaves were liberalized, it can be stated without doubt, that indigenous Ghanaian-owned companies have set-up, managed and owned broadcasting companies in all the categories; cable, satellite, Pay TV and Free-To-Air and performed above average even in the absence of a Broadcasting Law which regulates the industry. The success of the Ghanaian broadcaster therefore cannot be underrated.
We note with much commendation the progress made by the National Digital Broadcasting Migration Committee and the NCA, in defining a clear structure for broadcasting services in Ghana, categorizing broadcasting with functions well-regulated to legally bind the sector. With this structure well-defined, the NCA authorized the various TV broadcast entities including Free-to-Air DTT broadcasting, Pay TV services, Satellite broadcast services (in its many forms), Digital Terrestrial Mobile television Service (DTMS) and Internet protocol television service (IPTV) among many others, with clear guidelines.
GIBA believes that, as a nation, we cannot have it more right than having all stakeholders on board to forge a common front in dealing with the country’s digital migration program. It becomes worrisome therefore if in the light of the success stories of Ghanaian broadcasters enumerated above, the Ministry of Communications will throw all this down the drain and seek to mount support for a Chinese broadcast entity, even to the extent of making request for Tax waivers on their behalf – Taxes which all the local Ghanaian broadcast entities pay to the state without any such support from the Ministry of Communications, while we offer even bigger and better services compared to what StarTimes proposed.
Guarding the National Broadcasting Space
Our research into countries that have opened up their airwaves/broadcasting to foreign participation, over the years, indicated that, among the many reasons, the overriding one was to build local capacity where it did not exist in the national jurisdictions. The case for our country, Ghana, cannot be said to be same. Prof. Pninahahav, a scholar of press law at the Boston University, provides the academic underpinning: “The nation-state accepts the value of freedom of speech, but only within the limits of its own borders and as applied to its own nationals.”
In fact, the World Press Encyclopaedia sums it all up; “Almost all countries in the world have legal and administrative restrictions on the purchase, ownership and operation of the media by foreign interests. The media are among the most jealously-guarded national resources.”
Governments’ apparent intention to maintain minimum levels of safeguarding national interests therefore makes it mandatory for them to exercise direct and indirect control over public infrastructure operations (PIOs) as their responsibility on behalf of the citizenry.
In the following, GIBA will like to share with the Nation, the various control levels of the Broadcast Airspace in other Nations. Even though the report was significantly based on the year 2000 data, with some reviews however, it is believed that as a developing nation, taking a cue from the advanced economies, this document will guide us, as we make decisions governing our broadcast space. Especially as we migrate the country from Analogue to Digital broadcasting.
The control levels as shown in the following however, differ among countries with few nations reviewing their positions and controls. NB: The position of China in this document is their current regulation (Reference Table 1).
Table 1 Foreign Ownership Policy of Broadcast Media
Ceiling of Foreign Equity Share in TV Industry as of March 2000
Region Terrestrial TV Cable TV Satellite TV
China 0% 0% 0%
Hong Kong 49% 100% 100%
Japan 20% 100% 20%
South Korea 0% 33% 33%
Mali 0% 0% Not defined
Taiwan 0% 50% 50%
In 2009, the Chinese government reviewed its threshold for foreign ownership of broadcast media to forty nine percent – 49% (however not practical) with a caveat that two-thirds of the company’s programmes (production and distribution) should have Chinese themes. This threshold has been maintained to date.
According to a report by BBC NEWS titled “China Profile – Media”, TV is available in most homes (in China) and the sector is competitive, especially in cities. There are more than 3,300 local, regional and national TV channels. State-run Chinese Central TV (CCTV) is China’s largest media company. Its dominance is challenged by provincial TVs, which are on the air nationally via satellite. China is a major market for pay TV, which is almost entirely delivered by cable. All of China’s 2,600-plus radio stations are state-owned. There are around 1,900 newspapers. Each city has its own title, usually published by the local government, as well as a local Communist Party daily. China spends hugely on TV, radio, online and press outlets targeted at international audiences, aiming to extend its political influence and boost its image. It is less keen to allow foreign players into the domestic market. (BBC, March 2018).
South Africa has set twenty per cent (20%) as the maximum foreign ownership in any category of the electronic media.
Imposing limitations such as maximum holdings by foreigners is an explicit means of exercising control but other implicit means as rules are also adopted to supplement the effectiveness of these policy measures (Table 2).
Table 2 Summary of rules applied to foreign ownership of public infrastructure operators (PIOs)
The Government currently limits foreign ownership to a maximum of 49% for the second carrier (there is no legal restriction)
The Government limits ownership and control of carriers by foreign owner(s) to 20 per cent (there is no legal restriction.) As for Teleglobe Canada Inc., non-resident corporations may not own more than 20 per cent of the voting shares, while non-residents may own up to 30 per cent.
Foreign ownership is allowed up to less than 20% of the shares of NTT and KDD. The ceiling is one-third of the shares for other Type I carriers. There are no restrictions to Type II carriers.
No restriction on the ceiling of the share owned by foreigner(s), except that any single foreigner owner is allowed maximum of 49% of the shareholding.
The original shareholders (Ameritech and Bell Atlantic) were made to resell TCNZ’s shares to reduce their aggregate ownership to 49.9% of the total shares.
Foreign capital was not to exceed 25% and remains subject to the provisions in Spanish law governing foreign investment in specific sectors of the economy.
No restrictions on foreign ownership, except that any single owner, regardless of his/her nationality, is allowed no more than 15% of the shareholding.
Those PIOs owned by foreigners by more than 20%, or which include one or more foreigners among the Board members are prohibited from the granting of a radio license used for the provision of a common carrier broadcast and certain aeronautical services. (Section 310 of the 1934 US Federal Communications Act).
Imposition of regulation on the dominant carrier status.
Comsat (satellite carrier): Maximum of 20% of shares may be owned by foreigners. NB: even Rupert Murdoch for these reasons had to take American citizenship to enable him extend his broadcast business into the United States.
For those countries not listed in the table, most of them are generally 100% state ownership of the main PIO and therefore a de facto restriction on any foreign ownership exists.
The limitations on foreign ownerships of the broadcast media come under the domain of national policy. The Broadcasting Bill currently making rounds, we believe, contain these commendations to protect the industry. We publish for your advice (Table 3) below, rules that have been imposed by some countries to limit foreign control of public infrastructure operators;
Table 3 Rules affecting limitation of foreign control of Public Infrastructure Operators
Japan (NTT & KDD platform) – No foreign national is allowed to be a member of the Board of Directors.
The United Kingdom – a. Board of Directors
One or two members of the Board may be appointed by the government.
No foreign national may hold the position of Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.)
b. No party is allowed to own more than 15% shares.
The United States Board of Directors
No radio station license shall be granted or held by any corporation of which more than 20% of the share is owned by foreign nationals or foreign entities, or of which any officer or director is a foreign national.
All the members of the Board shall be US citizens.
Foreign ownership refers to the legal perspectives and is defined as “the foreign holdings in the real assets of a company”. Foreign ownership regulations are aimed at limiting foreign holdings in assets deemed important for national security (and broadcasting nevertheless is a key asset in achieving this) and preserving local culture and ensuring peace.
The Foreign Culture Invasion of Africa and the China Agenda
Indeed, Africa had a fair share of the invasion of its media space, through the setup of foreign broadcasting stations, i.e. the BBC, VOA, DW-TV/Radio, France24/Radio France International (RFI), etc. To date, the interest of all the foreign broadcast entities into Africa are to push their foreign interests through broadcast contents (policy, trade, culture and other agendas) but never was there a time after the independence of the various African states from colonial rule, that the interest of a foreign nation risen above cultural content invasion, to the level of a complete take-over of the main broadcasting infrastructure and space of African countries as StarTimes and the government of China are implementing, using the global shift in the technology (digital migration) for the delivery of broadcast services to its citizens.
China’s protectionist restrictions on the foreign ownership of its media space, should be a wake-up call for Africa before we hasten to sign agreements with the Chinese media entity – StarTimes, who has the backing of the government of China in the rollout of their agenda.
With Ghana migrating from analogue to digital broadcasting, GIBA believes we should, as a people improve our regulations and strongly seek the protection of the local entrepreneur in broadcasting, as a necessary prerequisite in realizing the benefits inherent.
We therefore entreat the Government to make policies that will encourage the citizens to maintain maximum levels of safeguarding our national interest, by exercising direct and indirect control over such public structures. And this, we advise can be done not by setting “minimum Ghanaian ownership” but by setting “maximum foreign ownership”, ensuring that at all material times the Ghanaian interest remains supreme. It should be clear now in our minds that, it is not by having foreigners that the Ghanaian broadcaster can perform. It is time our governments realized they have to partner the local broadcasters and empower them to champion the Ghanaian airwaves while they build enough capacities to share in the limited openings allowed elsewhere.
Our nation’s digital migration, as earlier structured by the DBMC and NCA, to ensure universal access for public and private Free-to-Air broadcasting services, has come a long way and is ready to be replicated by other African countries to correct the ill-planned and StarTimes-influenced digital migration process. We should therefore jealously guard against any fatal error in making it fail.
GIBA, as a group, wish to state our unequivocal objection of the Ministry of Communications move to give out our only DTT infrastructure to StarTimes – the Chinese Pay TV entity.
As an extension of the anticipated success of our digital migration program, Ghana, as a matter of urgency should share once again with the rest of Africa, the knowledge and courage to resist the indirect pressures coming from China towards the take-over of our broadcast space, in order to liberate the African states from the shackles of China.
The Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) believes it is about time, the above tenets were upheld in the various stages of the digital migration.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Communications (MoC) continues to ignore industry players over legitimate concerns relating to the digital migration for the last six months since they engaged on the draft policy. The date for Digital Switch On (DSO) has been postponed multiple times. Several questions remain unanswered as the latest date communicated by the MoC inches closer.
GIBA has written several letters to the MoC seeking information and clarifications about the process. None of these communications have received the dignity of an acknowledgement much less a response to the questions raised.
In the latest of such letters, GIBA sought clarity on the oversight and management of the National Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Infrastructure. GIBA observed that the National DTT Project has been running since 2015 with no clear governance and management structure. For example, as regards the platform ownership and control (whether PPP or not), the initial understanding and agreement as well as from the recommendations made by the Digital Migration Broadcasting Migration Committee (DBMC) pointed to a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between GIBA, GBC and the Government of Ghana under the PPP Division of the Ministry of Finance to operate the Platform. GIBA complained that the process of the formation of the said PPP appeared to have been stalled and sought clarity on when the PPP will be established and how it would be managed.
GIBA further complained about the StarTimes’ activities around the National DTT Infrastructure which it considered suspicious. The Ghanaian contractor engaged to build the infrastructure to the best of GIBA’s knowledge, had completed the assignment so GIBA wondered if the meddling as reported at the National DTT sites, had been sanctioned by the Ministry of Communications and the basis for authorisation. GIBA expressed worry about the possible security issues for such a highly sensitive broadcast infrastructure intended to carry its members’ transmission across the country and sought to know whether the story going round that StarTimes had been offered an opportunity to expand the DTT platform for FTA channels was true and if true, what the scientific or economic basis was since there was no identified need or industry requirements currently, but all these questions to the MoC were unanswered.
Today, as obvious to the good people of Ghana, the private broadcasters in the country, have over the years, served the nation by deepening our democracy, providing for more than eighty percent (80%) of information flow in the country. All this was provided, recognizing our roles as the Forth Estate of the Realm and as patriots holding the Government accountable to the people and educating the people to take up the responsibility for good conduct as nation builders. The Ghanaian broadcasters seeking fair-play from our leaders are offering their services to the nation without any aid from the Government of Ghana.
Having done so much and giving all Ghanaians the opportunity to partake in our democracy thus far, the Government should not allow the invasion of the broadcast space by a determined foreign-interest broadcast entity, to destroy what the Ghanaian media has toiled for all these years, as we are now experiencing through the unfair support for the Chinese StarTimes entity, in the name of need of all descriptions.
The arrangements being considered by the current Government, to give out the media space of Ghana, will sell out even GBC the very pride of our Nation and its infrastructures to StarTimes.
Digital migration implies much more than a technical migration, its impact is not only economic but also socio-political. GIBA thinks that, any entity with interest to provide Pay television services in Ghana, needs to go through the appropriate channels of submitting an application for Authorization to the National Communications Authority and paying for the license just as others have done.
As a national platform and for that matter a monopoly, it is important that, government should ensure fairness and equitable access by all stakeholders in the broadcasting industry onto the only National public DTT platform.