Ever since the proposed amedment to Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th edition) was unveiled, as part of reforms in the broadcasting industry, there have been contending issues. While the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has stoutly defended the proposed amendment, some stakeholders have found faults in it. The NBC said the amendment was, more or less, in national interest, but the aggrieved stakeholders insist that some of the provisions would stifle investment, among others.
In order to reform the broadcasting industry, the Federal Government had set up a committee, headed by the director in charge of broadcast monitoring, NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, with chief press secretary, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Mr. Joe Mutah, as secretary. Other members of the reforms committee were Sir Godfrey Ohuabunwa, acting chairman of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON); Mr. J.K. Ehicheoya, director, legal services, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture; Hajia Binta Adamu Bello, secretary-general, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON); Mr. Ibrahim Jimoh, director of administration, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria; and Hon. Agbo Kingsley Ndubuisi, board member, NBC. While inaugurating the reforms implementation committee, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had declared that reforms of the broadcasting industry became necessary owing to unprofessional and unethical conduct of some broadcast stations, among others.
Outlining the terms of reference, Lai Mohammed said the committee was to look at the Nigeria Broadcasting Code as well as existing broadcasting laws, in relation to hate speech, inciting comments, licensing of Web-TV and withdrawal of broadcasting licence, recruitment of monitoring staff, deployment of adequate monitoring equipment and technologies and the enhancement of welfare packages of NBC, among others. The committee was given six weeks to conclude its work.
The NBC Reforms Implementation Committee concluded its job and submitted its report to the minister last November. It made 26 recommendations, including the increase of fines from N500,000 to N5,000,000 for hate speech, inciting comments and indecency breaches, as well as the abolition of monopoly and anti-competition in the broadcast industry. It recommended the amendment of the broadcast code to prevent, among others, pay-TV and streaming platforms from making content exclusive and compel them to sub-license content at prices the commission would regulate.
Mohammed had said the process for the amendment of the NBC Act had begun, revealing that an executive bill would be sent to the National Assembly for legislation. He also said the NBC would begin the implementation of the reforms. He said at an event: “You can now see that this reform is not a fluke. I, therefore, want to challenge your group (Filmic Group, made up of creative industry practitioners) and other stakeholders to continue to cooperate with the industry regulator in order to ensure faithful implementation of the recommendations.”
In defending the Nigeria Broadcasting Code (6th edition) proposed amendment, the NBC said the measure would not only reposition the broadcasting industry but also make it more responsive. According to the acting director-general of the NBC, Prof. Idachaba, the proposed amendments would protect and promote the local broadcast industry against monopoly and raise advertising revenue. He said: “Part of the objectives of the amendments are the protection and promotion of the local broadcast industry from monopolistic and anti-competitive behaviour; the stimulation of advertising revenue into the broadcast industry and, by extension, the local creative industry.”
Major stakeholders, on their part, have faulted the proposed amendment. According to Paradigm Initiative, the new code could set back innovation, declaring: “The Internet space in Nigeria is developing and innovation is to be encouraged.” It said policies like the new NBC code could “greatly discourage the development of technology and technology-based services, thereby creating an unfavourable environment for the kind of economic growth that is relevant in this age.” Specifically, the group said NBC codes gave unfavourable conditions for the pay-TV industry.
Although the government wants to go ahead with the implementation of the recommendations on the new NBC code, there are contending areas, which need to be looked at. There is the issue of non-consultation of stakeholders at the appropriate time. This is against international best practices. Even in parliamentary procedures, there is usually public hearing when laws are to be amended. This gives all the stakeholders, those for and against, the opportunity to make inputs. Instead of following this process, the government is doing the reverse. First, the government wants to start implementation before calling for stakeholders’ meeting. This amounts to jumping the gun. A meeting with the stakeholders, wherein all the contending issues would be tabled, should be held before the final approval of the code and the implementation of the reforms.
Such provision as granting NBC power to determine sub-licence fees is unfair, as it does not take into account the terms of the initial licence agreement. The code did not consider that there are contents acquired through agreements that do not allow sub-licensing. Also, some programmes are commissioned and produced by the operators. Subjecting such programmes to sub-licence, therefore, would discourage such investment. When there are extreme measures that seem to gag some players, investors would not have much confidence to do business in the country. Not sure of return on investment, operators would not be forthright in their investments into such areas as acquiring unique content, which would attract new subscribers and retention of existing ones.
There are unanswered questions regarding the provision on anti-competition. Is there absence of competition at present? Is there anything wrong with competition? Has there been any report by the licensed DTH operators and pay-TV of unfair market conduct or anti-competitive conduct? What does NBC want to resolve? How would NBC determine “fair market”? When policies raise questions and provide no answers, there is certainly something wrong.
The provision on unconventional reportage is harsh. How does the code define “embarrassment”? In whose perspective is embarrassment defined? Truth can be embarrassing to the person who wants it hidden. In such a case, why should it be an offence? This provision is like the draconian Decree 4 of General Muhammadu Buhari’s military government of 1983. This is against the constitutional provision for freedom of speech.