Nigeria’s House of Representatives has ordered that MultiChoice Nigeria CEO John Ugbe be tested for Covid-19 after he failed to turn up to answer a House committee’s questions.
An ad hoc House committee is currently investigating the non-implementation of the pay-as-you-go tariff plan by Nigerian satellite broadcasters and the subscription increase for MultiChoice’s DStv service.
It has now instructed Chikwe Ihekweazu, director general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), to find and test Ugbe after his non-appearance.
Ugbe twice failed to appear before the committee and in the second of two letters said his absence resulted from an illness he had contracted after arriving in Abuja on Tuesday for the hearing.
The letter was signed by Gozie Onumonu, MultiChoice’s head of regulatory affairs, on his behalf and addressed to the chairman of the committee, Unyime Idem. The letter appealed to the committee to again reschedule the meeting until Ugbe regains his health and is cleared by his doctor.
The letter reads: “We regret to inform the committee that we would be unable to appear before it today due to a sudden illness of our chief executive officer, after arriving in Abuja yesterday for this meeting. Because of the abundance of caution needed to be taken in line with the current pandemic, we believe it is necessary that the meeting be deferred until he has regained his health and is cleared by his medical doctor.
“In the meantime, we will submit written submissions to the committee to assist the committee in its investigations. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused to the committee and please be assured of our best efforts at all times.”
A motion was moved by a member of the committee, Julius Pondi, directing the NCDC to locate Ugbe, test him for Covid-19 and report back to the house within four days.
Another member of the committee, Prestige Ossy, added: “This person is taking the committee for a ride. If he had written us or the doctor where he is hospitalised, then we will talk about it. But where he is in his house and we are all here seated waiting for him to come and he didn’t send any representative, this is the very height of neglect of parliamentary invitation and necessary sanctions should be invoked to make him appear as quickly as possible.”
Ossy added that the NCDC should also trace other passengers who were onboard the plane with him or had any contact with him at the airport.
MultiChoice Group has partnered with the United Nations (UN) as an official supporter of its Covid-19 awareness campaign, named Pause.
The Pause campaign, which is aimed at highlighting the dangers of sharing false information related to Covid -19, launched globally on June 30 with information broadcast across Africa through the DStv and GOtv on-air and digital platforms, SuperSport and M-Net properties and Showmax.
Furthermore, the campaign asks people around the world to pause, think and take care before sharing information that could be inaccurate or a result of misinformation and may have harmful effects.
Robert Skinner, senior advisor for global communications at the UN, said: “We are in a moment of global reckoning as Covid-19 and its social and economic consequences challenge the world in unprecedented ways. Misinformation, hate speech and fake news are fueling and distorting all of these challenges and eroding the truth. We are very excited to have MultiChoice onboard as a supporter giving the launch of our campaign reach across Africa. They are uniquely positioned to deliver this important message to their diverse audiences across the continent.”
MultiChoice executive chairman Imtiaz Patel added: “Reliable information is vital to the fight against Covid -19. The dissemination of credible information has become critical to fighting this epidemic, which continues to impact millions across the globe and our continent. We are, therefore, honoured to be able to utilise the continental reach of our broadcast and digital platforms across Africa to empower people with vital information.”
MultiChoice has supported a number of initiatives in the fight against the spread of the pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc across the globe and is being felt acutely across Africa. It also continues to seek opportunities to use its platforms to combat the spread of Covid-19 while supporting initiatives and airing educational and news-related content aligned with the organisation’s commitment to making an impact in the communities where it operates.
Nigerian animator Mbuotidem Johnson, CEO of Basement Animation, tells Content Nigeria about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on production, his company and the sector at large.
What do you think about the spread of Covid-19 and its effect on the economy?
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all areas of our lives and even how we do business. No one knows how long this will last. Many businesses have been forced to adapt to the situation and revamp their models and those that have not been able to quickly find and implement new models that work are going out of business. This has brought about massive lay-offs, unemployment and uncertainty all over the world.
Businesses in the media and entertainment industry are not left out as content distribution has been affected. For example, there are movies that ought to have been released in the cinemas in this period. However, the choice has to be made between releasing their movies now and not meet their targets as cinemas are shut down or have their release dates pushed later when they will have to compete with even more movies for the consumer’s money. So it’s not exactly a win-win situation.
Most productions have been temporarily shut down but you have kept production going at Basement. How did you do this?
We are able to work remotely because before the lockdown started all members of the production team were provided with the equipment they need to work from home. We also provide data allowances so that we can send all of the large files we need to send during the course of our work.
Meetings are being held on WhatsApp groups and video calls. The system is not perfect, yet as the unpredictability of power supply is an issue that affects our working hours. It’s a work in progress and we are facing the challenges as they come.
Are you working on any animated series at the moment?
Since late last year we joined the production team of one of the most popular kids animated series from Africa: Bino & Fino [from EVCL]. Depending on our responsibilities we will be on this project for the next few months. We are also in the development phase of our own IP: Adefellas. We hope to start the production phase soon.
How do you intend handling any unforeseen challenges you may encounter while working remotely?
The greatest challenge would be if any of us contracted the virus. That’s one of the reasons we encouraged everyone to start working from home before the lockdown directive was given. Other than that, we are still facing the same challenges we were faced with before the lockdown: reliable internet access and epileptic power supply. And because everyone has their unique challenges, we communicate regularly with everyone to know what challenges they may be facing and help figure out a way out of these challenges.
Do you think other animation production houses will follow suit? How can they manage what is going on without it affecting their productions?
I am in touch with a number of animation studios and many of them are still functioning. We all have the same issues about power supply and reliable internet access. Eventually everyone will decide what works best for them.
Looking forward, do you intend changing how you operate in the post-Covid-19 landscape?
I don’t think it will be back to business as usual after the lockdown. People will still be wary of crowded places for some time after it is called off.
For us at Basement Animation, we have been able to build a system where people can work remotely and we intend to continue working remotely for some time after the lockdown is called off until we are sure everywhere is safe, so as to protect the health of our staff. We are also growing our team so this will be an opportunity to work with talent from other states who will not have to relocate to Lagos to work with us.
What lessons do you think Nigerians can learn from this crisis, particularly in the Nollywood and animation industries?
We really cannot predict when these types of things will happen even though we have to make plans for them. We have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. For the Nollywood and animation industries, many of us in these industries only get paid when there’s a production going on and now that production has stopped, everyone has to rely on whatever savings they had before.
Perhaps we need to try a different approach to content production and distribution such that the content we create will have a longer life and consumption of these content is maximised. This could ensure that stakeholders continue to get some payment from their past works over the course of the life of the content.
Nigerians have criticised the planned move by MultiChoice Nigeria to increase the cost of its pay TV service DStv to reflect an increase in value-added tax.
According to some, the rise in VAT – from 5% to 7.5% from June 1 – is coming at the wrong time since the Covid-19 lockdown has led to an increase in the price of many commodities as well as transportation.
Felix Morka, executive director of the Social Economic Rights Action Centre in Lagos, said: “The vast majority of the people outside the formal system are the major target of the lockdown and it has hit them devastatingly. And any disruption to their daily livelihood has a huge and significant impact on their ability to meet the most basic needs.”
Investigative journalist Fisayo Soyombo took to social media to say: “It’s highly insensitive of DStv to announce a pay hike (starting June 1) in the middle of a pandemic that has left many of us broke. While lots of companies have been financially battered for the past six weeks, DStv is one of the few that has gained from the increased patronage.
“Even those who would not ordinarily renew their DStv subscription did it this time around to keep themselves busy at home during the lockdown. DStv should have shown gratitude by waiting for this pandemic to blow over. This is not how to reward your customers.”
However, John Ugbe, CEO of the Nigerian arm of Naspers-owned African pay TV group MultiChoice, denied the company was hiking subscription rates and said the rise had been forced on the company.
“We are not increasing prices. What has happened is that the federal government’s finance act was signed in January and implementation began in February, so the increase in VAT is what we are implementing now,” he said.
“We thought we could absorb the cost for a while, and that was what we did. We’ve absorbed the cost since February and we have been paying the difference in taxes and we can no longer do so. So once again, we are not hiking prices, it’s only the 2.5% increase in VAT that we are implementing.”
BBC Africa, which delivers pan-African content in indigenous languages, has launched a weekly Covid-19 TV programme called The Breakdown as well as the bitesize Africa Coronavirus Minute.
The Breakdown is presented by Sharon Machira and will reveal what African governments are doing, what lockdown cost entails, relevant health information, answers from experts on the myths surrounding the pandemic and quarantine tips showcasing the ways people are coping while in quarantine.
The Coronavirus Minute will air twice daily, providing updates in the form of short bite-sized audio content. This is in addition to the Covid-19 video bulletins that are available across the BBC’s 12 language services for Africa.
The new launches are aimed at providing audiences across Africa and globally with the latest updates on the pandemic as it moves through the continent.
Nisha Kapur, head of TV commissioning for Africa at the BBC, says: “With the amount of information and disinformation around Covid-19, audiences can turn to The Breakdown for factual, accurate and engaging content on what is actually happening and what they can do. The Breakdown brings the best of BBC Africa all in one place.”
Mary Lusiba, the BBC’s head of Africa business development, added: “At a critical time such as this, audiences seek out trusted and reliable news and information. BBC Africa is making every effort to offer audiences unrivalled news and information on the impact, implications and solutions around the corona pandemic in Africa across radio, TV and online through our vast partner network.”
BBC Africa is also hosting a number of Facebook live specials in English, Swahili and Somali that address topics such as how the virus has affected Africa and financing healthcare in Africa.
BBC Africa ensures a pan-African approach to the output, offering audiences opportunities to join the global conversation and has teams based in London and across sub-Saharan Africa.
In Nigeria, the service airs on Silverbird TV, Silverbird News 24, Wazobia TV, TVC News, ABS TV, NTA Network and on other channels.
Pandemic-hit broadcasters all over Nigeria are appealing to the government to aid the country’s media industry.
The broadcast media claims it has achieved huge traction is its mass coverage of Covid-19, with the help of committed workers and resources. But terrestrial broadcasters say they have to fund their operations on dwindling revenues from advertising and other forms of sponsorship.
A statement by Usman Umar Bello, chairman of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, read: “We appeal to the government to rescue broadcasting from imminent collapse.”
He said this should involve the government “taking some exigent measures that include the funding of advertorial and public information campaigns running on broadcast organisations; and government approval of a stimulus package for the broadcast industry through tax rebates and an intervention fund for the broadcast industry to access long-term capital at a single-digit interest rate.”
He added: “We also canvass the speedy conclusion of the digital migration process, which has been lingering for several years.”
Another appeal, made by Guy Murray-Bruce, secretary to the Independence Broadcasting Association of Nigeria (IBAN) and Silverbird Group founder, reads: “The broadcast media has been hit both on the demand and supply side, which has not only led to cash flow problems but has also resulted in an existential crisis for the independent private broadcasters.
“IBAN is calling for government support including the commissioning of a multi-billion Covid-19 awareness advertising campaign in an effort to support Nigeria’s struggling media industry.”
The Association of Licensed Set-Top Box Manufacturers urged the government to assist with unlocking the manufacturing potentials of its members and unleashing the creative capacity of the entertainment industry by completing the broadcast digitisation process.
Godfrey Ohuabunwa, chairman of the association, said completing the process will free up some frequencies which the government can auction to raise cash for telecoms services, now that other sources of funding are drying up.
Talkshow host and veteran broadcaster Funmi Iyanda is back with a new live Instagram show called Public Eye Live.
The aim of the show is to have conversations about the Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown, its effects on crime, conspiracies, the economy, our health system and more.
Iyanda will have conversations with professionals and lawmakers about the pandemic in an attempt to find answers.
She said: “The question is, what happened? I don’t think anyone has an answer. For the first time in modern history, something has happened to put the world at a standstill. We are being forced to question who we are, how we live, how we want to go on and how we got where we are today. This is an opportunity to begin to have hardcore conversations by asking the right questions of the right people.”
Iyanda, who took a career break a few years ago, began in television by producing and presenting Good Morning Nigeria, a breakfast magazine television show that focused on the injustices suffered by Nigerians. She also produced and hosted the successful and transformative New Dawn in 2000, a show that tackled many social issues.
Public Eye Live is on every Friday on Instagram Live at 8pm.
Pay TV operator StarTimes has introduced and educational television programme for students and children across Africa amidst the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown.
The programme, which will air in various African countries including Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Guinea, South Africa and Mozambique, will ensure kids enjoy great educational content that will inspire learning and spark curiosity.
The show is set to air from Monday to Friday at 10.00am on ST Kids, homeschooling children on subjects such as social studies, science, handicrafts, painting and dance.
StarTimes said: “We have been working closely with each country’s authorities and broadcasters to provide local educational solutions to every African family. Education is crucial for every society and television is a unique tool to reach kids wherever they are. At the moment, the world has chosen TV as the main education platform since the shutdown of schools and we have made it a priority to keep children busy at home through various learning programmes.”
Pay TV operator StarTimes has developed a series of videos to raise public awareness about the Covid-19 pandemic as well as help contain the spread of rumours about the virus.
As part of its social responsibility drive, the company has released 30 short videos produced by its African employees who are working remotely.
The company said in a statement: “As a leading media group based in Africa, it is StarTimes’ role to disseminate accurate and scientific information to fulfil its social requirement.
“Recently, a dedicated TV programme, StarTimes Daily Covid-19 Report, was launched in providing viewers with update and data about the pandemic in Africa and the world every weekday.
“The anti-pandemic knowledge videos further support African people with scientific knowledge to protect themselves with the right behaviours against possible infection. The videos are in accordance with guidance from experienced international professional organisations such as the World Health Organisation.”
The videos will be on the ST Guide and 22 self-operated channels and can be viewed in six different languages, including English, French, Portuguese, Swahili, Hausa and Chinese. It will also be available on the StarTimes ON App and the official Facebook page and YouTube account of StarTimes for better exposure to audiences on diverse platforms.
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has warned all broadcast stations against airing programmes about the Covid-19 pandemic that have no verifiable claims.
The NBC has observed a spike in the spread of fake news and misinformation, which is harming the fight against the virus, and has said it would not hesitate to impose severe sanctions on any channels that carries unverifiable claims.
The NBC highlighted sections of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, which states that the broadcaster must ensure every programme is accurate and credible; descriptions, claims, testimonials or illustrations in an advertisement relating to verifiable facts should be easily be substantiated; and that the broadcaster must ensure an advertisement is not broadcast if it contains an offer to diagnose or treat conditions by myth or superstitious beliefs and practice.
According to the NBC: “The coronavirus has been declared a global pandemic and no station shall allow its platform to be used to undermine the seriousness of the virus, and all broadcast stations are responsible for all contents that they transmit.”
Ekanem Antia, assistant director of public affairs, said: “In compliance with the directives of the commission for pay TV to decrypt the signals of local channels on their platforms for one month, in the first instance, to enable viewers get adequate information and directives during the Covid-19 pandemic, free TV has announced unrestricted access for customers during the lockdown.”
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, minister for information and culture, said: “If you go by WhatsApp, there are so many myths and cures for Covid-19 today. Some people will tell you it cannot affect Africans or the disease is not even existing at all, while some will say all you need to do is to take garlic or ginger.
“As we speak today, there is no vaccine or medicine for Covid-19. The only weapon to combat the virus is what we call non-pharmaceutical intervention, which largely means sensitisation, advocacy, keeping very good hygiene, social distancing, not shaking hands and not gathering.
“These are the only effective ways to contain the pandemic and that is why governments are declaring total lockdowns. Once it starts spreading, no healthcare in the world can survive it.”
Pay TV operator StarTimes has launched a self-assessment app on StarTimes ON to offer African users practical tips on how to protect themselves from Covid-19.
The Covid-19 self-assessment system was co-developed by the Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Tsinghua University and the University’s School of Clinical Medicine and was launched in Africa with the support of Chinese digital TV provider StarTimes Group.
The self-assessment service is in multiple languages including Chinese, French, English, Portuguese, and Swahili and it is available in 45 countries.
Its aim is to help the public know more about the virus and their status by answering questions on their health conditions and recent travel history. Users will get an evaluation result indicating the risk level of infection, determine how to seek further care, relieve anxiety and fear and provide health suggestions.
The system has been reviewed and approved by a panel of international experts and has been used on trial by more than 10 million users in 19 countries. People living in sub-Saharan Africa can access it using the StarTimes ON mobile application.
Amy Pang, the general manager of product operation department in StarTimes, said: “As a company operating in Africa, StarTimes hopes to make full use of its own advantages to contribute to the common anti-pandemic war across the continent. We would like to make the most of our media platforms in sharing effective information and methods against the pandemic to benefit African people.”
Users can access the self-assessment service on the front page of StarTimes ON.
Pay TV operator MultiChoice will launch a special Easter weekend pop-up TV channel on April 9.
This African Easter channel is being organised by TBN Africa and is designed for Christian viewers who subscribe to DStv Premium, Compact Plus, Family and Access.
Its aim is to provide religious content to viewers who cannot attend church services because of the national lockdown caused by the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa and also broadcast content for various Christian denominations who celebrate Easter.
Lucky Mbiko, TBN’s MD, says the channel is “partnering with churches and some of the biggest gospel artists to bring you the best Easter worship experience to as many viewers as possible. Join us on the African Easter channel 343 on DStv for four days during the Easter weekend.”
Calvo Mawela, MultiChoice Group’s CEO, said the pay TV operator will assist millions of South African worshippers who regard Easter as a pivotal period of worship.
“As a responsible broadcaster, we are more than happy to partner with the department of communications and digital technologies as we afford worshippers to observe Easter from the comfort of their homes,” said Mawela.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, South Africa’s minister of communications and digital technologies, said the department appreciates MultiChoice’s move.
The programmes will be aired on channel 343 and will broadcast music programmes, sermons, church services and religious programming until Easter Monday April 13.