By Dorka Yowika
Understandably, conversations around the regulatory framework recently released by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) have mostly revolved around three issues.
First is the desire of the commission to regulate exclusivity of broadcast content and actually outlaw such. Second is to make content sharing, including those created/developed by a broadcaster, with direct competitors mandatory. Third, bizarrely, is the commission’s wish for the power to make the call on what price a prospective sub-licensee should pay the broadcast rights holder in the event of a dispute. The rights holder, the amended code also says, must abide by the decision of the NBC, aiming to be a pseudo-socialist agency in a free market space, whether or not it makes business sense.
It requires no great knowledge of the industry to understand that exclusive broadcast rights holders and investors, local and foreign, in creative content will not be jumping for joy. The disgust of prominent figures in this category has been loudly expressed.
But beyond exclusivity, the 6th NBC Code, in my humble view, contains provisions with more far-reaching implications for the wider society, especially as they affect basic rights to information and public input into media content creation, the latter a key ingredient for plurality. Somehow, these implications have been drowned in the din generated by the eminently justifiable discontent about the clauses on exclusivity.
Without proper attention to other provisions not dealing with exclusivity, we would be handing the NBC a license to piss all over us while telling us it is raining. How?
The Duck Test can guide us. “If it swims like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck,” the test recommends.
A careful perusal of the Code shows that it contains items that have the appearance of abridgement of basic rights. Section 5.6.1, which deals with unconventional reportage, for instance, warns against the broadcast of user-generated content (UGC) that may “embarrass individuals, organisations, government …….” Whichever way you slice it, this section fizzes with the desire to curtail the input of Nigerians to media content and the diversity that such input brings to bear on information dissemination. The inclusion of government among those that should be shielded from embarrassment is particularly dangerous one, as it seeks to intimidate the media into silence. It equally seeks to encourage individuals, organisations and public officials to avoid the responsibility of accountability. The provision offers government officials refuge under the canopy of “being embarrassed” and is evidently conceived to undermine the obligation imposed on the media by Section 22 of the Constitution to monitor governance and hold government accountable.
Not embarrassing individuals, organisations or government when they are found to have acted reprehensibly cannot be deemed a legitimate objective of the media. Doing so may, indeed, be necessary and desirable.
Different media organisations, including broadcasters, have different policies on the handling of UGC content. Some may broadcast such materials and simply identify them as UGC, while others would themselves verify the information contained in the UGC before broadcasting such.
In other cases, media organisations would identify the materials as UGC and warn their audiences that information contained in such is yet to be independently verified. To impose restriction on any material that falls within the UGC category because it embarrasses an individual, organisation or government can, in no way, be appropriate.
Equally dangerous is Section 5.6.5, which seeks to compel a broadcaster to identify the source of UGC. To my mind, this is inflected with a wish to er…