No agreement on digital TV platform to StarTimes — George Andah

BY: Musah Yahaya Jafaru
Mr George Andah  — Deputy Minister of Communications
Mr George Andah — Deputy Minister of Communications

The government has dismissed the suggestion by the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) that the government has signed an agreement to hand over the management of the country’s national digital television transmission platform to StarTimes of China.

A Deputy Minister of Communications, Mr George Andah, told the Daily Graphic in Accra on Tuesday that “the StarTimes transmission is totally separate from the national digital terrestrial television transmission. They (StarTimes) are not running it on the national digital television transmission”.

He said the government had rather agreed to an arrangement in which the Chinese government, through StarTimes, was rolling up a programme to enhance digital viewing experience in 300 communities in the country.

In a public announcement made available to the Daily Graphic last Monday, GIBA asserted: “If StarTimes is allowed to control Ghana’s digital transmission infrastructure and the satellite space in the name of digital migration, Ghana would have virtually submitted its broadcast space to Chinese control and content.”

GIBA further indicated that it was 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 was pay TV broadcasting and was already distributing licensed controlled conditional access decoders and digital television sets across the country in aid of its commercial business.

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However, Mr Andah said the apprehension of GIBA that the government’s arrangement with StarTimes amounted to submitting the country’s broadcast space to Chinese control and content was not grounded, since StarTimes was not going to use national digital transmission infrastructure.

 “There is no element or accuracy in there. It is just misinformation. People may have their various reasons and their personal interests why they will peddle out such untruth.

“There is no intention. Indeed, we have agreed 100 per cent that StarTimes, being a broadcaster, has no basis managing the national digital television transmission platform,” he said.

Government/StarTimes arrangement

Touching on the government’s arrangement with StarTimes, Mr Andah indicated that the Chinese government, through StarTimes, was rolling up a programme to enhance digital viewing experience in Africa.

He said 10,000 communities in Africa were to benefit from the package throughout Africa and indicated that 300 communities in Ghana were going to benefit from the package.

Mr Andah said each of the 300 communities was supposed to identify a public viewing centre — a church or community centre, school or chief’s palace where people could go to have a view.

“StarTimes is providing a digital television and two powered solar projectors, including a set up box, so that the public in that community can go and experience a bouquet of education, entertainment, news, information on the StarTimes bouquet,” he said.

Mr Andah said in addition to the set up for viewing, 20 households within that community were also going to be given the set up boxes and they had six months of free viewing.

He said at the end of the six months, if the people wished to continue, they would subscribe with StarTimes and pay GH¢15 a month.

Marketing arrangement

Mr Andah said what StarTimes was going to do “is a pure marketing arrangement to drive its penetration”, adding that the government of Ghana was not running that programme.

“It (the government) is in partnership with them. It is a Chinese government facility that the government of Ghana is a beneficiary,” he said.

Draft policy

Mr Adah said there was a draft DDT policy which dealt with the setting up of a commercially oriented corporate body, to be called the Central Digital Transmission Company Limited (CDTCL), to run the national digital television transmission platform for long-term viability and growth of same.

He said GIBA members had made an input into the policy.

On operational structure, Mr Andah said the draft policy stipulated that a seven-member governing board shall be appointed by the President to oversee the affairs of the company.

He said membership of the board comprised a chairperson, a representative each from the Ministry of Communications, the Ministry of Finance, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), GIBA and the public, preferably from the creative arts industry, and the Chief Executive Officer of the CDTCL.

“So GIBA itself is a member of the governing board of the CDTCL. The members of GIBA are aware; they have seen this draft document and provided their inputs into it. So on what basis will they go and say that we are going to give the management of the platform to StarTimes?” he asked.