" ITREALMS: Paying for broadcast in Africa

Monday, June 26, 2006

Paying for broadcast in Africa


Asking the poverty stricken people of Africa to pay for radio or television taxes could be liken to using a thorn to pitch a wound, writes REMMY NWEKE.

Preamble arrive

Landing the city of Hamburg-Germany, as a student recently, for a-month course, Mr. Muyiwa Iyawe, was excited and hopeful that no matter what may, he would be abreast of issues at home by following trends through the television or radio.

And coming from one of the Least Developing Countries (LDCs) of Africa, his excitement was hinged on having constant electricity power supply and hopeful that the course organizers would provide them with such social incentives as free TV and radio in their apartments.

To participants' chagrin, there was no radio or TV in their rooms or a central rest room where they could, at least, listen to the world news and know the political trends in their home countries.

The only available ones invariably were Tokunbo Tvs as referred to in Nigeria which are fairly used or second-hand TV and radio sets respectively being offered for rental at a cost of about E15 plus the E17 paid to broadcast, which participants considered exorbitant and the same applies to getting telephone landlines.

Your guess is as good as mine, considering that none of these participants numbering about 18 eventually hired any from the housekeepers.

Counting electronics

During the just concluded national population census held in March this year, one notable question that sounds irritating was the inclusion of the number of electronics gadgets families have and use, as enumerators took time to ask how many TVs, radios, Global System for Mobile (GSM) phones, fixed lines, refrigerators to name a few.

Factually at Obalende, a suburb of Lagos State, some enumerators were reportedly insistent on sighting TV sets in a family to record same, which ensued into fighting with attendant damages.

Also in another part this led to harassment and stealing of GSM phones from families by some allegedly fronting as enumerators.

Obviously afterwards, those who have two mobiles were reported to have declared one and to a very large extent most people either forgot they also have land or fixed lines, depending, however, on the mood of the respondents at the census time.

In addition, some see the fear or invading of taxes as the beginning of benefit from the national cake despite that some pay taxes at their offices, which are usually deducted upfront for the working class.

Broadcast and NBC

According to thefreedictionary.com broadcast, defined as transmission of programmes over a radio or television for public or general use, while webopedia.com says broadcast is to simultaneously send the same message to multiple recipients especially through radio or television.

In Nigeria, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is the regulatory organ for broadcast in the country. NBC sees broadcasting as most potent mass medium given its combined audio and video technology thus making it capable of reaching audience simultaneously, and availing man with the means of information dissemination and reception.

It also enables individuals to share in, and contribute to the best of their abilities, to the world around them.

NBC, established by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria led then by President Ibrahim Babangida, who was acting in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee on National Mass Communications Policy, on August 24, 1992, promulgated Decree number 38, which has since been amended with Decree 55 of 1999, which paved the way for the creation of the National Broadcasting Commission.

However, these decrees hitherto have been adapted to Acts of the National Assembly numbers 38 and 55 in line with democratic tenets.

Paying for broadcast

A recent research by an independent organization across the continent at the last quarter, showed that Africans are aghast with paying for broadcast so is other least developing nations of the world and Africa is not alone.

Major reason given for this attitude, mostly on the continent was poverty. According to respondents, may have contributed immensely to the inability of the populace to accept the evolution of paying taxes specifically for their radio and television consumptions, as outlined in the research conducted by ITRealms Online, recently.

The research had respondents across the continent including Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa as well as Nigeria among others.

Investigations revealed that in a country like Uganda, such taxes were supposed to take off on August 1, 2005, but was scrapped by the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in order not to burden the already impoverished populace further.

A respondent and lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, Ms Sara Namusoga, noted the scrapping was to save the populace from another tax burden.

In South Africa, for instance, the populace accordingly only pays tax for TV, at present. Although before now, radio tax was being collected by the South African Post and Telecommunications, prior to restructuring of the polity.

As at date the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) collects taxes for television licenses.

The research also touched down in Tanzania, where it was learnt that radio or TV owners do not pay taxes for usage in the country.

“Since independence in 1961, there has not been any tax charged for radio or TV usage,” a respondent, Mr. Emmanuel Onyango, was quoted in the report.

In recent times, especially in 1990s, there was one national radio station in Tanzania before the liberalization of the media sector in 1992.

Scrapping of such taxes as radio and TV by the Tanzanian government was to reduce the poverty level of her citizens.

He further described plans to introduce taxes, if any as unimaginable for now in a place like Tanzania.

Also in the Southern African country of Malawi, the ITRealms Online research indicated that few Malawian media practitioners could afford to pay taxes on their radio and television sets equally due to poverty level and disparity in the income.

Additionally, those who managed to own TV sets, mostly reside in the cities whereas there is no distinctive radio policy for taxation in the country.

The report also quoted Ms Rebecca Chimjeka, as saying that though the government has began talks on the issue of tax but only for the radio, for instance.

“But it could take a long time to permeate the system by way of drafting the policy and implementation,” she said.

State of the nation

In Nigeria, this fear or invading syndrome is heightened by the daily increasing corruption existing in the public sector coupled with lack of adequate infrastructure and social amenities.

As one of the respondents declared, "I am 30 years now, I cannot boast of anything I benefited from the government." He stressed that when he left school (post primary), for instance, there was no job for him. So he has made due with an offer he got from a private sector establishment.

Apart from invading taxes of all kinds in a developing economy like Nigeria, the populace seem to be saturated with the inability of the state to fulfil its own part of the bargain, hitherto, by providing infrastructure and social amenities to encourage the citizenry.

Also in Nigeria, there is a radio tax, which is enforced by most local governments in the country as source of revenue within their domain. On the other hand, most radio and TV stations are public except for those on satellite.

Currently, there are about 100 telecommunications operators at various levels of existence including the first batch of four licensees of the Unified Licensing Regime (ULR) as at Saturday, May 13, 2006, Starcomms Limited, Multi-Links Telecommunications Limited, Prest Cable & Satellite TV Systems Limited, and Intercellular Nigeria Plc.

According to the telecommunications regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the nation has 32 licensed Local Exchange Operators and 37-fixed telephony in the Private Network Link (PNL). Also within the PNL category, NCC has 58 licensees deploying Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) for domestic market and another 47 VSAT firms to serve as hubs and the international market; four National Long Distance operators, two national telecom carriers, three metropolitan fibre cable network providers, coupled with 22 fixed wireless access (FWA) operators.

Sum up

Until the leadership style on the continent as a whole changes by providing relevant social incentives to the people, the populace may continue to dodge taxes, which they now see as extortion rather than contribution for some individual pockets.

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