‘How to deepen democracy through broadcasting’
The need to reform and reposition the broadcast industry in Nigeria to serve public good and play a remarkable role in the nation’s democratic development came to the fore at the second annual lecture of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) held last week in Abuja. With the theme ‘Broadcasting, Democracy and the Challenge of the New Nigeria,’ the event brought together stakeholders and professionals in the industry from across the country to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the NBC.
While delivering the lecture, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Atahiru Jega noted that broadcasting in Nigeria evolved very closely tied to the apron strings of the government, adding that the ways and manner by which broadcasting evolved and has been practised in Nigeria since colonial rule substantially deviated from the philosophy of public service broadcasting.
He observed that while privatisation and deregulation have increased the number of broadcasting services and improved pluralism and diversity of media, it has done little to bring about improvement in professional and ethical conduct in broadcasting or to minimise the influence of vested interests.
Jega, who pointed out that broadcasting in Nigeria is weak institutionally and lacks democratic content, noted that public broadcasting, if repositioned, and freed from the vested interests, which have strangulated it, would play a great role towards our aspiration for desirable democratic development.
According to him, in spite of privatitization and the regulatory role of NBC, the phenomenon of influence of vested interests on broadcasting whether state or private, seems to have increased and remained a major concern since 1999 till date.
He said, “It is arguable whether access has been widened by privatization given the profit disposition of the services and their lack of independence from the influence of their owners. With regards to the government controlled public broadcasters, in most cases, incumbent governments and parties at both the state and federal levels secured undue advantage and unfair disproportionate coverage of their activities. Not only do they deny fair and equitable coverage to opposition parties and candidates, they deny access to their services to even those willing to pay and place advertisements”.
“They lacked editorial independence and displayed crass partiality in coverage and programming. Some acted illegally and contravened extant regulations on even declaration of results during elections and the NBC seemed helpless in checking these excesses. With regards to the private broadcasting services, their role in the 2011 and 2015 electioneering activities made it evident that deregulation, privatisation and liberalisation of broadcasting do not in themselves facilitate democratization”, he added.
Jega stated that broadcasting needs to undergo a considerable reform to acquire democratic content for it to play a significant role in democratic consolidation in Nigeria, adding that democracy cannot be nurtured with undemocratic institutions and tendencies.
He observed that broadcasting has an important role to play in the democratic development of Nigeria, noting that the industry has played some of these roles epileptically over the years and by so doing, has contributed to the trials and tribulations of democratization in Nigeria.
Jega argued that President Muhammadu Buhari has a responsibility, under the mantra of change for a new Nigeria, to reform and reposition broadcasting so that it can play a remarkable role in Nigeria’s development.
He said, “Before coming into power at the federal level, the party now in power had been a victim of incumbent government influence and control on broadcasting, which made the 2011 and 2015 electioneering campaigns gargantuan, David versus Goliath affairs. Now in power, it has a rare opportunity to make things right to turn broadcasting services from merely government broadcasters to truly public broadcasting services, to turn the regulatory agencies, especially NBC, into a remarkably independent, conscientious and non-partisan regulator, by law and practice”.
According to him, in order to play a greater role in national democratic consolidation, broadcasting in Nigeria needs to be significantly democratised and infused with democratic values and ideals while public service broadcasting needs to be strengthened to ensure that structural imbalances and lack of access do not undermine democratic development.
he stated, “In Particular, the government-controlled broadcasters must be transformed, in all material particulars, into the public broadcasters and strong institutions relatively independent of government. For this to happen, there has to be a clearly articulated media and broadcasting policy backed by an excellent regulatory framework to both protect the autonomy of broadcasting institutions and ensure that they do not sacrifice the public good on the altar of vested political interests or profit motives. In addition, attention has to be paid to adequate public funding, institutional independence, professionalization of staff, motivation and security of tenure of staff, strong code of ethical conduct and a robust legal and regulatory framework”.
Also speaking, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said that broadcasting all over the world had become a critical element of good governance, social responsibility and enterprise adding that the critical role of broadcasting regulation is in harnessing its power to work for the democratic process.
Represented by the permanent secretary in the ministry, Mrs. Ayotunde Adesugba, the minister said the theme of the lecture is most appropriate at this time of the nation’s development, when several significant changes are taking place.
He stated that a well regulated broadcast environment should promote access to a wide range of information and ideas from the various sectors of society, report news and current affairs in a way which is not influenced by political, commercial or special interests, hold those in power accountable and promote the principles of free speech among others
Mohammed called on NBC to be guided by the general principles and policies enunciated in the nation’s Mass Communication Policy to use broadcasting to promote the well-being of Nigerians
The minister noted that the current challenge for NBC is the switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting, adding that in order for Nigeria to meet the June 2017 deadline, the Federal Government has licensed 13 Set-top-box manufacturers who will establish manufacturing plants in the country to produce the Set-top-boxes.
In his speech, the Director General of NBC, Is’haq Moddibo Kawu, noted that democracy is an open forum of engagement between the citizens and government, noting that it is important to incrementally deepen the nation’s democracy.
Kawu stated that Nigeria’s decision to establish an institution to regulate the broadcasting industry was a timely effort that was geared towards a complete re-vamping of a sector of national life, with ability to significantly influence the pace of national development.
According to him, “The institution of an annual lecture to commemorate the setting up of NBC is, therefore, in response to the importance of the commission, especially in the processes of democracy consolidation, the expansion of the frontiers of national development and the consolidation of the freedoms available to the citizens of our country.
Besides, he stated that the commission is conscious of the fact that its broadcast regulatory functions will continue to evolve in order to keep pace with the dynamics of societal development and the technologies, which continue to change the manner that deliver broadcasting.