Advertising Regulation: Concerns As FG Commits To Fully Fund
A NEW era may just be about to begin in the nation’s advertising industry with Federal Government’s commitment to begin full funding of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) following its recognition as a regulatory agency of the government. Before now, APCON’s designation as a government’s agency, and not as a professional body, had attracted partial funding for the nation’s advertising watchdog. According to industry sources, who spoke under the condition of anonymity because of the nature of the subject and the fact that they are practitioners, APCON’s new status will definitely come with a prize. They disclosed that the new development might strip the Council of its autonomy as it will give government greater control over it. They are worried that as this appears to be the case, the Council may end up dancing to the tune of the government. It is noteworthy that the nation’s advertising sector, which had been engulfed in a leadership crisis for some months, has finally put its house in order following the recent inauguration of the sixth Governing Council of APCON. No doubt, the appointment of Udeme Ufot as Chairman and other council members have come as a sweet relief for sectorial associations. Over the last 18 months, APCON had grappled with the controversial appointment of Ngozi Emioma, which an overwhelming majority deemed as a political appointment. Ancillary associations within the Nigerian advertising space comprising the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Advertising Association of Nigeria (ADVAN), Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and Media Independent Association of Nigeria (MIPAN) now have course to smile following the positive outcome of the protracted issue. However, there has been growing concern from industry watchers and observers over the recent remark of the Registrar of APCON, Alhaji Garba Bello Kankarofi bordering on government’s full funding of APCON. While thanking the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the Senate and House of Representatives for their intervention during the period APCON was in crisis, he also appreciated the Federal Government “for the recent reinstatement of full funding for APCON following its recognition as a regulatory agency of the government and not a professional institute as hitherto classified.” By the time the new Council settles into office, one task Nigerians would expect them to face is how to regulate advert contents on radio and television. The infamous death-wish-for-Buhari advert sponsored by Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians, and indeed media players. Some media observers believed that APCON lack the institutional rectitude to forestall some of these incendiary ads, which were displayed for public consumption without express vetting. Although, the registrar had condemned this ugly trend in the strongest term, media observers viewed the condemnation as a cosmetic approach. In the opinion of Joseph Adekunle, a media analyst and commentator, APCON should be more circumspect in its operation. “I was very bitter and deeply sad that the body that is vested with the power to vet ads and sanction erring offenders can look on as though everything is fine. It is even more depressing that government is (now) fully funding APCON. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. What happened to the money paid for vetting and other means of generating money for APCON? Unfortunately, this development has set an ugly precedence for the industry which APCON is meant to protect in the first place,” he said. Speaking to The Guardian on the issue of funding, the National President of Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Dr. Rotimi Oladele, stated that it stopped getting financial support from the government in 2006. “We are independent from government. It is our resolve to explore avenues to get resources. Since the time of Frank Nweke Jr, we have not been getting money from the government unlike APCON which gets fixed money from government. Even if we were taking money from government, I would have advised putting a stop to it. This is because it makes us redundant and subservient to forces,” Oladele observed. Industry observers and analysts opine that APCON should be an impartial arbiter and a non-compromising regulator of one of Nigeria’s rewarding sector of the economy. Speaking while inaugurating the new APCON Council led by Udeme Ufot, the Supervising Minister of Information, Chief Edem Duke enjoined all the sectorial groups being regulated by APCON to play by the rules and work within the confines of the code they swore to uphold. He argued that the path to a glorious and respectable future of the industry is for practitioners to resolve to build and sustain a profession where its attachment to integrity and credibility should improve the public perception of the profession and the industry generally. He observed that the efforts to evolve and nurture worthwhile respect for the profession and the practitioners are being diluted by infractions in the way practitioners have carried on. “We are all aware of the critical issues affecting the advertising practice and indeed Nigeria’s advertising industry. Unethical behaviours, sharp practices and unbridled pursuit of money have all added up to a depreciation of the profession’s value system,” he noted. While imploring practitioners to uphold professionalism and take ethical issues seriously, Duke urged the new Council to critically look into the issue of media debts. Duke said: “Ten years after your 2007 Media Summit to address nagging issues of industry debts, and adoption of global best practices, can we lay a strong claim to help sustain a virile media in our beloved country, Nigeria? This is food for thought, especially as advertising prides itself as being the greatest supporter of a free and virile media.” He said that it is mandatory for APCON to encourage a much more serious adherence to responsibilities inherent in contracts with media houses and other groups. “For the new Governing Board of APCON, I wish to emphasise that you are accepting a major responsibility – a resolve to effect positive changes in the practice and bestow on the profession a new lease of life. You can do something about defaults that encumber on every step of your practice by enforcing industry-engineered regulations, including applying necessary sanctions,” Duke said. For Ufot, a highly labour-intensive and talent-driven creative services industry, such as advertising and marketing communication, deserves some encouragement through appropriate policies. According to him, APCON could only be as strong as the industry it regulates. “So, the stronger, more viable and professional the sectoral groups are, the stronger the industry will be and so also APCON,” he added. Noting that the media as gatekeepers in the quest for responsible advertising must not fail in its role, he maintained that desperation for advertising revenue should not motivate the exposure of uncertified advertising.