Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), has expressed strong reservations about the new standards on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) and Direct-To-Home (DTH) published on the website of the National Communications Authority (NCA).
According to GIBA, the document published by the NCA had a new chapter, numbered 13, which contained Conditional Access and Middleware Applications and additional control features as minimum mandatory requirements, contradicting the original standards (document (GS1099: 2019) published by the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), which is the statutory body mandated to do so.
The association contended that the standards amounted to attempts to implement dramatic changes in the television broadcast sector with the introduction of systems of control known as Conditional Access System (CAS).
Whereas the GSA standard made CAS non-mandatory for free-to-air (FTA) television (TV) receivers, GIBA said the revision to the ‘legal’ standard by the Ministry of Communications made CAS a mandatory requirement for the reception of all TV programmes carried on the nation’s only FTA digital broadcasting facility.
That requirement means that one needs to acquire a special decoder, with proprietary software, before watching any FTA TV programme in the country.
As a result, GIBA called on the government to ensure that the GSA standard was adopted and used to regulate the operations of players in the broadcast space to ensure fairness to all.
Media and democracy
In a press release copied, GIBA said although the broadcasting media gave true meaning to the practice of multi-party democracy in the country, the government was taking steps, in disguise, to curtail the operations of players in the space.
The release, signed by the President of GIBA, Mr Andrew Danso-Aninkora, said contrary to the country’s standards on DTT and DTH, the Ministry of Communications was attempting to implement dramatic changes in the television broadcast sector with the introduction of systems of control.
Beyond the restriction on access to Free-to-Air (FTA) TV, it said, the process and partners helping to implement them raised issues of unfair competition in favour of a foreign company.
“The special decoder shall be controlled by conditional access software and Middleware applications to be provided by a foreign company called Verimatrix, selected solely by the ministry as its partner.
By default, Verimatrix, which has also been awarded the business of running broadcasting valued-added services, shall perpetually provide updates to the platform because by virtue of the proprietary software introduced, no other entity can perform updates to the platform and this raises serious issues of unfair competition.
“Since 2017, the Ministry of Communications has been attempting to implement dramatic changes in the television broadcast sector with the introduction of systems of control which were objected to due to their ability to lock down the liberalised airwaves and send the nation back to the dark days of government monopolised and controlled media,” the release said.
It added that with the new document published by the NCA, there would be no fairness in broadcasting, as the FTA network service provider would also become a programme service provider.
It said although the ministry had been pushing to make CAS a mandatory requirement, GIBA was of the conviction that once the GSA, which had the mandate to set standards in the country, finalised the requirements to govern FTA TV, it would have brought closure to the issue.
“It is instructive to note that during the review of the Ghana standards on digital television receivers, the GSA considered proposals from the ministry, accepted some of them but rejected the introduction of a conditional access system encryption, as the committee overseeing the process deemed that as inappropriate for the FTA television industry,” it said.
The release expressed worry that the ministry and its agency, the NCA, which were well represented on the Technical Committee of the GSA which eventually promulgated the revised GS 1099:2019, ruling out conditional access encryption of FTA TV, chose to doctor the very document they passed, without the knowledge of the document author — the GSA.