Ghana cannot meet the September 21, 2017 deadline set for the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting, the Minister of Communications, Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, has said.
The country missed the initial June 2015 deadline set under the Geneva 2006 agreement of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for countries to migrate onto the digital platform, citing delays in accessing funding for the project.
The turn of events, the minister said, was because the government did not want to be in a haste to switch onto the digital platform, especially when the right regulatory framework and due processes to guarantee quality content and efficient operation of the system were not yet in place.
“I can officially announce that we are not ready to switch to the digital platform this year, but we are sure to start it fully in 2018. I cannot put a timeline to it, but the date will be announced when we are ready next year,” she stressed.
Mrs Owusu-Ekuful was speaking at the opening session of a two-day national forum on the digital migration process in Accra yesterday.
The forum was organised by the National Media Commission (NMC), with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) to start a national discourse on key issues that need to be addressed as the country moves towards the digital platform.
Attended by representatives from governmental agencies, civil society organisations (CSOs) and experts from other parts of Africa, the forum served as an opportunity for key stakeholders to explore regulatory mechanisms and technical issues that ought to be addressed to enhance the road map for the smooth take-off of the migration process.
Ghana began the journey from analogue to digital migration in 2010, in line with international requirements to improve on the communication landscape.
Stakeholder discussions and technical cooperation among key stakeholders led to the development of a road map for the migration process.
Technical specifications of the digital platform were developed in 2011, while the third phase of the migration process was completed in February 2017, paving the way for the migration to begin in September this year.
However, in her address at the forum, Mrs Owusu-Ekuful said a consultant had been invited to review the road map to the digital migration process to ensure that all lapses were addressed.
“We need to bear in mind that technology changes with time, so we are inviting a consultant to review the whole migration process and make recommendations as to the way forward before we switch on the digital platform,” she said.
She underscored the need for all stakeholders, including the NMC and the National Communications Authority (NCA), to strengthen dialogue to come up with innovative ideas that would feed into the draft policy, especially on the generation of quality content.
She asked local television channels to be mindful of local content requirements in the draft policy for the digital migration.
“The draft policy says that 70 per cent of the content of broadcasters should be generated locally, so television stations that broadcast excessive foreign materials, especially telenovelas such as Kumkum Bagya, should begin to look at the type of content they will generate.
“For those who think that the digital platform will give them the licence to generate any kind of content, including pornographic materials, they need to revise their notes because we cannot have a jungle,” she said.
Mrs Owusu-Ekuful warned that the sanction regime would be incorporated into the information policy framework of the digital migration to clamp down on non-complying entities.
She said the ministry would collaborate with other regulatory bodies and key stakeholders to ensure that the content generated by broadcasters was consistent with local culture.
In a speech delivered on his behalf by a Deputy Minister of Information, Nana Ama Dokua Asiamah-Agyei, the Minister of Information, Mr Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, said access to relevant and accurate information was pivotal to national development.
For that reason, he asked local broadcasters to deploy innovative strategies to make good use of the digital platform when it became operational.
He asked all stakeholders to collaborate to make the best out of the digital platform, emphasising that it had the potential to create more job opportunities.
For his part, an international expert on media technology and policy from South Africa, Mr Michael Dearham, urged the government to consult other international bodies to beef up its regulatory framework on digital migration.
He called for massive investment in research and information management to leverage on the potential of the digital platform provided for national development.
The Chairman of the NMC, Nana Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng, observed that given the rapid changes in technology, it was important for all stakeholders in the communications sector to collaborate to ensure that innovative mechanisms were put in place for effective digital migration.
He urged broadcasters to strategically position themselves to take advantage of the digital migration when it was fully implemented.