Why rage over broadcast content regulation persists
That a good number of practitioners are not happy about the outcome of the 6th review of the broadcasting code by National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is evident in the public outcry that has continued to trail the report. Although the NBC said it meant well and hopes to take broadcasting to greater heights with the review, many of those on the field, who know where the shoe truly pinches, have not aligned with NBC’s position.
Sarcastically, a new twist to the attendant drama that had trailed the review of the code played out recently, when the NBC board through an advert signed by Barrister Salihu Bamidele Aluko called for submission of position papers on the review of the code.
In the advert, published June 27, the Board premised its request on feedback gotten so far about the outcome of the review. It said: “In the last couple of weeks, critical stakeholders in the broadcasting industry have raised concerns on the recent proposed amendments of some sections of the 6th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. The board of the NBC sat to review the various positions and resolved that fresh invitations be extended to all stakeholders in the industry especially those with genuine observations aimed at improving the quality of broadcasting in Nigeria.”
If industry players thought they had got a relief, they were shocked, when on June 29, just two days after an earlier advert, another counter message came through an advert, tagged public notice, with NBC management asking the public to jettison the call for the submission of position papers, put out by its board.
In the advert signed by the acting Director General of the Commission, NBC management said: “The attention of the NBC has been drawn to a publication calling for position papers on the recently amended Broadcasting Code. The NBC wishes to state that the publication has no official endorsement of the commission. The amendment to the 6th edition of the Code, we must reiterate, is consequent to the Presidential approval for the reform of the National Broadcasting Commission.”
In the advert, the commission maintained that the amendments went through the necessary processes culminating in a public presentation to critical stakeholders on March 26, 2020, at an hotel in Lagos, insisting that the amendments as released remain final. It added that any group wishing to make further inputs would exercise such views at the next review of the code.It is surprisingly that in a democracy, despite huge divergent views from those who will be impacted by the review, the NBC is maintaining that the review stands.
If truly the opinions and suggestions of stakeholders were truly sought, why the huge deviating stands after the review was concluded. What might have transpired in the due process the NBC claimed it followed was firmly captured by Dr Tunde Akanni, an internet rights activist and development communication scholar, in his reaction to the review.
Akanni said: “To stem possible replication and escalation of violence, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) received an unsolicited offer to support the reworking of its Code in 2017. The support was to ensure conflict sensitivity, as well as sensitivity to gender inclined issues. The resultant suggestions were directly shared with the NBC management for possible further scrutiny. Furthermore, on account of the multi-stakeholderist leaning of broadcasting, entailing what has come to be known as surrender value, the consultants, led by their anchor, took the campaign to the 2017 Kano Broadcasting Summit. The presentation, done by the anchor, was well received by the general house. But that was the end of that intervention.
“The NBC management, obviously running like a closet, had a different plan. Recommendations on conflict-sensitivity and gender sensitivity could not be immediately accommodated in the forthcoming Code. All that happened before the first off-campus community radio was set up in Niger State. Today, there’s a plethora of not only campus radio stations but also those run by grassroots folks, in addition to online broadcasting, done by dudes with little or no professional media training. We can therefore imagine the quantum of anomie occupying our airwaves today, even as the reach is limitless. Part of the impact, perhaps, is the multiplication of gender-based violence (GBV) and others. Shouldn’t we tame our technological advancement to attract more and more benefits to us by the day? We missed that opportunity in 2017 when the opportunity to tame our broadcasting code came.
“What looks like another review opportunity of the NBC Code is here in 2020 in the form of major amendments, but the ‘closet culture’ of NBC seems to have persisted. And now the price is doubling, in line with the prophesy of Historian Santayana that when history repeats itself, the price doubles. With utter disregard for multi-stakeholderism, NBC has concluded another review. Sadly enough, rather than signal advancement for the country, it is steeping us into a reverse gear with multiple unpleasant manifestations, at a time everyone is seeking healing balm for the sudden, but protracted affliction of COVID-19 and even Nigeria’s peculiar socio-economic challenges,” Akanni stated.
Lending his voice to the issue, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka described the review of the broadcast code by the NBC as a tactical declaration of war against the arts and its producers.
In a statement, Soyinka said: “I think it is about time the government come out openly to admit that it has declared war against the Arts and its producers, instead of its present tactics of piecemeal attrition.
“Just when we were reeling from the action of the Ministry of Youth and Development in joining hands with book pirates by providing a free-loading portal for the works of Nigerian authors, among others, along comes a new regulatory hit against the cinema and video enterprise and its operators. Let me quickly utilise the opening of this new flank to commend the Director-General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission for his prompt attention to the complaint by Nigerian authors.”
The literary icon further said: “Now, it is the turn of a sister industry to be placed under siege! I have just read excerpts of the newly proposed NBC code and become aware of some potentially dangerous aspects of the code.”Although Soyinka conceded that some of the regulations were well-intentioned, he shuddered to imagine unintended consequences such as backhanded censorship in the age of digital media.
“These restrict intellectual property rights and their scope of exploitation with whomsoever one chooses to collaborate. It is economic sabotage writ large, directed against thousands of practitioners. Regulatory? This is strangulation in effect!”
He noted that several practitioners’ voices have been raised in protest. “For one such insider’s detailed and passionate exposition on the deleterious provisions of this code, I shall draw particular attention of policymakers to Chris Ihidero’s Why Does the NBC Want to Kill Local Content in Nigeria? If I may invoke a contemporary tragic image to render graphically what Ihidero and others have pleaded on behalf of both creators and consumers of this artistic productivity: Let government kindly take its knee off the neck of this industry. Please – let it breathe!” Soyinka stated.
A major stakeholder in the sector is the Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria (IBAN) and it has not kept quite too. In a statement by its Secretary, Guy Murray Bruce, IBAN called for the suspension of the implementation of the amended 6th broadcasting code.
In a statement, Murray-Bruce said the amendment should be subjected to a new round of wide stakeholder consultation to avoid a legal crisis, noting that the committee in charge of the amendment did not circulate a draft of its work to stakeholder groups before its ratification.
“We at the Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria (IBAN) wish to make a few observations which will touch on issues of stakeholder consultations, the committee’s terms of reference vis-a-vis its outcome and the practicality of the amendments as enunciated,” he said.
“First of all, as a vital organ of the broadcasting value chain, we feel that we deserved a seat on the committee. Granted that IBAN is a part of BON, we still needed to be represented on the committee in our capacity as private sector investors in broadcasting.
“We believe that the fact that as a body the committee didn’t deem it fit to avail us with a draft of its findings before formalizing its ratification with Mr. President’s approval is somewhat demeaning. We also find that the presumably inadvertent timing of the release of the amendments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic fears may have hampered our ability as a group to internally consult and express our views.
“We strongly feel that a draft of the committee’s work ought to have been circulated to stakeholder groups before its ratification. On the issue of the committee’s terms of reference, we find that the amendments do not reflect the core issues highlighted by the minister in his terms of reference which in the main centered on licensing of Web TV, recruitment of monitoring staff and allied issues.
“We all the same have reservations as to the practicality of implementing the amendments in their present form. We have observed what we believe could be areas of possible conflict with other government agencies due to overlapping mandates. We most humbly submit that the NBC hold off on the implementation of the amendments at this time. Indeed we recommend that a new round of wide stakeholder consultation be embarked upon.”
But the NBC has a defence. The broadcast regulator said it called for stakeholders’ submissions and comments, aside asking that industry players and stakeholders should come for the public presentation but many decided to stay away. It added that its acting DG was also on broadcast stations to galvanize stakeholders to be part of the process.