From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Federal Government, yesterday, asked for an amendment to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act to enable it regulate the use of the Internet by private broadcasting stations as well as other online broadcast media.
Minister of Information and Orientation, Lai Mohammed, said the government has a duty to monitor all broadcast contents in the country.
Mohammed spoke at a public hearing organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values on a bill seeking to amend the NBC Act.
However, stakeholders in the media industry kicked against the proposal which came barely a week after the NBC had asked all social media platforms and online broadcasting service providers to apply for a broadcast licence.
Government moved to license social media companies after Twitter took down a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari, after stating that the message violated its policy.
In the tweet, the president had threatened to treat Nigerians “misbehaving” in “the language they understand.”
The bill sponsored by Chairman, House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, Segun Odebumni and two others is seeking an amendment for the NBC Act.
Section 2c of the proposed amendment listed the categories of licenses to be granted which include Cable Television Services, Direct Satellite broadcast, Direct to Home, IPTV, Radio, EPG and Digital Terrestrial television; radio and television stations owned, established or operated by the federal, state and local governments, broadcast signal distribution, Online broadcast, community broadcasting, public service broadcasting, among others.
The Information Minister said: “I want to add here specifically that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in this because we have responsibility to monitor content, including Twitter.”
On a proposal that the NBC should regulate and provide digital broadcasting in Nigeria in line with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) agreement 2006, he said the laws of the country cannot be subservient to any treaty
“With due respect, our laws cannot be subservient to international telecommunication union treaties. It is true that we are part of the treaty, but our laws and act cannot be made subservient to any treaty. Treaties re made, but our laws will have to protect peculiar situations in our country. So, will suggest we take another look at this.”
But the Institute for Media and Society (IMS), International Press Centre (IPC) and Centre for Media Law and Advocacy (CMLA) faulted the proposal.
They argued that inclusion of internet broadcast and online media to the category of broadcast service licenses to be issued by the NBC will be injurious to freedom of expression and press freedom.
The CSOs, in a memorandum submitted to the committee, also kicked against a proposal to empower the NBC to fix price for Pay-TV in the proposed amendment.
Executive Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade said fixing tariffs arbitrarily could lead to excessive pricing, which could discourage investment in the sector.
Arogundade argued that the conduct of NBC over time presented it as an extension of the office of the Minister of Information and Culture.
“Fixing tariffs arbitrarily could lead to excessive pricing that has the potential of discouraging investment in the sector and the attendant job losses. Giving the NBC the sole right over tariff issues which cannot be interfered with could be interpreted as an ouster clause that arrogates to it arbitrary powers that cannot be challenged even in the court of law.”
In his intervention, Akin Akingbulu, executive director, IMS said the commission should not receive directives from the minister.
“The power to give directives to the commission, vested in the minister of information in section six should be removed and replaced with powers which include policy formulation for the broadcasting sector,” he said.
In their joint submission, IPC and the Centre for Media Law and Advocacy said the appointment of the NBC board should be subject to the confirmation of the national assembly.
“The conduct of the NBC has over time presented it as an extension of the minister of information and culture which rarely acts independently,” they said.
Only recently, NBC had asked all social media platforms and online broadcasting service providers to apply for broadcast licence.
Its Director General, Armstrong Idachaba, gave the directive in a newspaper advertorial following Federal Government’s announcement that Twitter and other social media platforms must register as a Nigerian company for them to do business in Nigeria.
Idachaba said in the advertorial that the NBC establishment code empowers the commission to ask the companies to be licensed.