Unpacking Ghana’s Dance with China’s Media Dragons; the Curious Case of Star Times. Are Ghanaian media owners and practitioners afraid of Chinese competition or Ghana is simply unclear about the Chinese State-Led Media Strategy in Africa?
Venue: Coconut Grove Hotel
Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2018
IMANI respectfully invites you to its public forum on the above subject to share with us your understanding, concerns and answers to the listed questions and make recommendations.
In 2006, Ghana and other members of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), signed an agreement in Geneva that specified 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. DTT was preferred to Direct-To-Home (DTH) because DTT would be fully under the control of the government whiles it is not the case with DTH. This is because the latter implies that the country would essentially depend on satellite broadcasting for communications to households even though the state would have no sovereign control of the satellite in space.
In 2012, Ghana’s Ministry of Communications under the previous government signed a contract with Chinese media behemoth, StarTimes to obtain funds from Chinese Exim Bank and construct a digital platform in a year. But, StarTimes could not secure the funds because it could not meet the technical requirements of the Bank after two years, that is, 2014. The contract was then abrogated by the then MoC following which StarTimes sued the MoC. However, Star Times lost both locally and at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) because the grounds for abrogation (which was non-performance) was justified. In 2015, there was a new Request for Proposal but, this time, both financial and technical proposals were needed since Exim bank was no longer a variable in the equation. K-Net Limited, an indigenous company won the bid and has currently completed about 95% of the platform that Chinese StarTimes could not build. K-Net also proposed that resources from the analogue space could be sold to fund the construction of the digital platform so that there would be no need to go for loans.
Yet the current MoC under a new government has sidelined all the laid down processes and appears to be in bed with the same StarTimes, so says industry stakeholders. Stakeholders believe the Chinese owned StarTimes have covertly been given the pass by the current MoC and are now emboldened to overtly penetrate the Ghanaian media market amidst sumptuous tax waivers granted the Chinese that hard-nosed Ghanaian businesses in the same media space can only dream about. Industry stakeholders point to the ‘Access to Satellite TV for 300 Villages in Ghana Project’ as part of a bigger project under which StarTimes, with all the free help from the MoC, plans to provide 10,000 villages in Africa with satellite TV access supposedly 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.
Questions to be addressed at the IMANI forum:
- What realistically are the stakes in the confusing tension?
- Has the MoC been fair to its Ghanaian stakeholders in the matter?
- How will the government-led distribution of StarTimes set-top-boxes (STBs) and other systems affect the entire digital migration in Ghana?
- Should the government consider tax waivers on the importation of satellite equipment and other broadcast materials for all National Communications Authority (NCA) authorized satellite TV operators?
- Should government drive the distribution of commercial Pay TV set-top boxes of a private satellite TV operator against other authorized Pay TV operations, while the nation agreed to the establishment of digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcasting?
- How does the government’s role in supporting the distribution of a private satellite Pay TV set-top boxes betray the national DTT roadmap?
- Should access to free-to-air broadcast (mass communication) to the masses be dependent on a controlled access mechanism?
- Does Ghana need an expansion of the DTT infrastructure to accommodate free-to-air TV; what should be the considerations and options (technical and commercial)?
- Will the control of broadcast infrastructure by the government impede the operations of broadcasting in an environment of free speech as guaranteed by the 1992 Constitution?
- A single national DTT infrastructure: is it a curse or blessing for private broadcasting in the digital era?
- Why should industry stakeholders trust the MoC when it says there is still a window of opportunity to amend the deal and yet kept the door shut for 8 months while engaging the Chinese?
- Exactly what will be given to Ghanaian industry players?
- Are Ghanaian Media stakeholders simply jealous and against competition or they fear obliteration, oblivion and massive job losses?
- Would Ghanaian media players have been comfortable with partnership arrangements with the Chinese?
- How will the StarTimes deal enhance Ghanaian content in media production and jobs?
- Are there country experiences of Chinese media penetration on the African continent to guide us?
- Is the MoC’s mission in line with the President’s trumpeted support for “Ghanaian content’’?
- Isn’t the confusion surrounding this deal simply indicative of an incoherent local content policy for Ghana?
- Shouldn’t we be developing a coherent framework for local content?
- Is the StarTimes deal reflective of the perpetually changing technology environment? Will we continue to watch television via smart boxes?
- Is the MoC ready to adapt to the changing tech environment or simply put, these deals are in pursuit of the government’s overall appetite to mobilise resources come what may?
- Is this StarTimes deal just a business proposition or part of China’s soft power?
- Aren’t we flogging a dead horse? Isn’t Star Times already here?