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Respite for broadcast stations as FG grants 60% debt forgiveness

The Federal Government has granted 60 percent debt forgiveness to all debtor broadcast stations in the country, effective July 10, 2020, to help ameliorate the impact of Covid-19 pandemic in the industry.

The total debt owed by several radio and TV stations is N7.2 billion, BusinessDay understands. This means that N4.32bn has been forgiven the broadcast stations by the Federal Government and they are now required to pay some N2.88bn.

Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, who made this known on Monday in Abuja, also informed that the existing licence fee is further discounted by 30 percent for all Open terrestrial radio and television services effective July 10, 2020.

The minister said the debt forgiveness and discount is one of the recommendations of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to revamp the broadcast industry and help reposition it for the challenges of business post-Covid-19.

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The minister explained that the criterion for enjoying the debt forgiveness is for debtor stations to pay 40 percent of their existing debt within the next three months. He noted that many of the stations are faced with the reality that their licences will not be renewed, in view of their indebtedness.

“Any station that is unable to pay the balance of 40 percent indebtedness within the three months window shall forfeit the opportunity to enjoy the stated debt forgiveness. The effective date of the debt forgiveness shall be July 10th to October 6th, 2020,” he said.

Mohammed noted that the debt forgiveness shall apply to functional licensed Terrestrial Radio and Television stations only and shall not apply to pay TV service operators in Nigeria.

The minister said the measures are in addition to the two-month licence-fee waiver granted to terrestrial broadcast stations in the country by the NBC, as part of efforts to ease the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the broadcast industry.

“The Federal Government has made these interventions with a view to re-positioning the broadcast industry to play its critical role of promoting democracy and good governance in Nigeria. It is our expectation that the sector will cash in on this unique opportunity to make itself an effective catalyst for national development,” Mohammed said.

It would be recalled that Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) had in May appealed to the Federal Government for urgent intervention to save the Nigerian media industry which is going through tough times.

In the letter addressed directly to President Muhammadu Buhari and signed Chris Isiguzo, its president, NUJ appealed for financial bailout for the media industry through the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) and Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) for the privately-owned media organisations in the country.

The letter told President Buhari that “this is a crisis situation of monumental proportion” and pleaded for his “urgent intervention to avert a catastrophe”.

“The role of the media in national development has become more elaborate and clearer more than ever before despite the little funds available to them. Because of shrinking advertisement, cost of operation, media houses can no longer comfortably pay these costs and offset staff salaries and emoluments.

“It is instructive to note that without the media, the Covid-19 could have gone completely out of control by now,” said the letter May 13, 2020 and entitled ‘Convulsions in the media industry’.

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