Sitting and gazing at the ashen screen of a dead television which might be a queer sight in cities like Lagos is a past time in Lokoja where the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) is supreme. The onslaught of somniferous programmes hour after hour is enough to persuade anyone to switch off the TV and have plain, unobtrusive boredom instead, with some quiet on top.
And what is politely called programmes are essentially Insurance and Claims, The Scale, The Environment, Environment Matters, Pension Matters, You And Your Reps, You And The Constitution, You And The Economy, Finance And Economy, Politics Today, Food Today, Food And Drugs Safety, Health Reports, Health Care For All, Health Line, News Line, Tuesday Live, Life, a handful of entertainment programmes (nothing that might amuse an intelligent adult), news, televangelism, and a myriad of sponsored broadcast.
It is hard to define the NTA brand from its programming as it has neither the conservativeness of a sworn news station nor the liberal range of an entertainment station and it lacks the faculty or will to combine both gracefully. The NTA is one station that couldn’t be bothered about its image, nay, viewership. Regardless of the patronage, salaries are guaranteed month end, thanks to the generosity of government. While private stations strive to create equilibrium between maximising profit through commercials and retaining viewership, it does not have these to worry about. The NTA can afford to bungle up and still have viewership, thus, sponsorship. The impunity it enjoys is largely due to its size. With over a hundred stations, it reaches corners of the country beyond the fantasy of its competitors.
The patronage is so overwhelming that it sells airtime in bulk, leaving programming, virtually, to the control of sponsors. More disturbing is the airing of programmes of regional consequence on the network service. There abound all year round festivals, convocations, church services, rallies, conventions, and other eventsto cheer up the Director of Marketing. It is a wonder that a public station should have such an appetite for commercials. It is its avarice that misled the station to air a certain ad that showcases the tourist attractions in South Africa, which in itself is not a bad idea. The gist of the story is that in promoting South Africa as the quintessence vacationland this ad has a supposed Nigerian declare South Africa the giant of Africa. This still would have been less grievous had it been on any other stations but the NTA, the national television network. Gratefully the offensive bit was subsequently edited and then the ad pulled out entirely.
NTA switches from scheduled programmes to one or the other sponsored, live broadcast with a rudeness paralleled only by PHCN. The local NTA stations, after the same manner, cut off at the climax of independently produced soaps, game shows, talk shows that liven the programming, so as to have ample time for commercials, even sometimes chopping the headlines of the news at 9 p.m.
Of its newscast, any flaw in its content is in a way related to the station’s conflicting responsibilities. While it is superficially charged with the task of providing independent and impartial television broadcasting for general reception, it naturally seeks to promote the agenda of the government. Under the guise of proper information management, it defers or totally ignores news that might reveal the ineptitude of the government. Most times stories that have become news analysis on Aljazeera are breaking news on NTA. Even then the details are scanty and they are relayed in a tone that discards the conflict in parts of the northern parts of the country as mere scrape. So when it reports that normalcy has returned to Jos, it in fact means the situation has worsened, inadvertently propelling civilians to the battlefield. Apparently, understatement and exaggeration are on a scale equally distortion of fact. Nonetheless, the network news at nine is one of its star programmes– photogenic newscasters with adequate presentation skill- no amount of badmouthing can turn off its pensioner audience.
Local contribution to programming though minimal, is worth a glance. The problem with this stratum is varied but marked generally with poor production. The unacquainted may still have difficulty distinguishing between local and network broadcast. A clue to determining local production, without waiting for the closing credit, is the set. They are fixed in the myth that recording on location, beside flowering plants with breeze whooshing in the background, is exotic. One worrying feature in the case of NTALokoja broadcast especially is the selective phonology of its presenters. Words like market, disturb, return, second, and words ending with ‘ion’ are picked from the body of English vocabulary and pronounced properly, so to say, with emphasis on the final syllable of these words. Every other word in between these run along regional accents.
With the exception of a few zonal network centres, just about everything of the local stations- the staff, the facilities, the output, is substandard. What appears to be autonomy to these stations is on closer look abandonment by the headquarters. Lack of supervision and abandonment. Alas, it is through the local stations that network programmes are seen; a bad eye distorts the whole view.
It isn’t just for the lack of a place to rest the blame for the inadequacies of the organisation that it is going to be hung on the government- the ambiguous super-structure built to absorb all sorts of accusations- but the government is actually in the background of NTA’s failings. ‘The federal government-owned television network, the Nigeria Television Authority, (NTA) is arguably the largest of its type in Africa, but it is yet to have the operational freedom required to maximise its potentials.’ Though it is uncertain the level of independence the station enjoys, going by this extract from the editorial of The Guardian of Sunday, October 18 2009, it is safe to construe that the station needs to be weaned off the government so it can indeed be ‘the reach’ that it so frequently claims to be. And perhaps it has all the freedom that it needs and is only suffering from the indifference to duty that is the prevalent malady of most government offices in Nigeria.
In any case persons without channels to surf through will have to stay tuned to the NTA or embrace the handy alternative of pressing the power button on the remote.
©2011 Ladi Opaluwa