A News Analysis by Rotimi Ijikanmi, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
David Rooy, American author and international human relations managers, once said, “Change is the only constant in life, yet human are evolutionarily predispose to resist change because of the risks associated with it”.
This position by Rooy, best summarised the stiff opposition and public outcry that have trailed the recently amended 6th edition of the National Broadcasting Code by the Federal Government.
The amendment, carried out by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the agency of Government responsible for regulating broadcasting, introduced far reaching innovations and changes to set standard in the broadcast industry.
The provisions in the amendment specifically introduced new rules and regulations on web/online broadcasting, local contents, production of advertising for local goods and services, music, acquisition of sports rights, exclusivity and national emergencies.
As a saying goes, “the world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress”, stakeholders in the creative and broadcast industries have expressed reservations over the changes while some called for a revisit of the amended code.
It would be recalled that following the conduct of some broadcast stations during the 2019 general elections, the Federal Government realised the need to strengthen the regulatory powers of the NBC.
The Government underscored the need for the NBC to be able to regulate the broadcast industry in an efficient manner on overriding national issues of politics, governance and in the area of social imperative of broadcasting.
President Muhammadu Buhari, after a resolution of the Federal Executive Council directed the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to undertake a study of the operations of the NBC and come up with a report.
The minister, thereafter, set up a committee headed by Mr Bayo Onanuga, the then Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) which in its report recommended, among others, the need to amend the laws guiding broadcasting generally.
After the Onanuga committee submitted its findings, the minister took the report to the Federal Executive Council where major recommendations were approved.
On Oct. 10, 2019, the minister inaugurated the implementation committee to carry out the reform in the NBC and review the National Broadcasting Codes to strengthen the commission’s regulatory role and make it more effective.
The committee was chaired by Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, the then Director of Monitoring in the NBC and currently the Acting Director-General of the Commission.
When the committee submitted its report on Nov. 19, 2019, the minister expressed satisfaction with it, with the assurance that it will revolutionise the broadcast industry to play its critical role of providing information for national development.
He noted that some 27 years into the life of the NBC, there was the need to re-evaluate the applicability of some of its laws.
The minister, therefore, directed the NBC to immediately come up with fresh regulations that will address existing challenges, promote and protect the broadcast industry from monopolistic and other negative tendencies.
In compliance to the directive of the minister, the Board and Management of the NBC conducted a public presentation of the amendment of the 6th edition of the Broadcasting Code to stakeholders on March 25, in Lagos
A flip through the new code reveals that it introduces new regulations on Web/online broadcasting, establishes codes of practice relating to content acquisition, sharing and rebroadcasting, technical standards for media services and regulations for fair market, among others.
Specifically, the code stipulates that all persons who wish to operate web/online broadcasting services in the Nigerian territory shall be registered with the NBC and the owners shall bear liability for every content on their platforms.
Recognising the love many Nigerians have for sports, its usefulness in physical and mental development and as an instrument for national unity and cohesion, the new code mandates broadcasters to uphold the principles of equity and fairness in the acquisition of sports rights and coverage.
“To ensure fair and effective competition on all platforms at an agreed fee, right owners of live foreign sporting events shall offer the rights to broadcasters on the different platforms.
“The platforms include satellite, Multipoint Microwaves Distribution System (MMDS) cable (fibre optics), Terrestrial, internet, mobile and radio.
“In the event that the broadcaster acquire sports rights for a live foreign sporting events for the Nigerian territory without taking cognisance of available broadcast platforms stated above the right shall be made available to broadcasters on other platforms at commercially agreeable terms.
‘In the broad national interest, exclusivity and warehousing of sporting rights in Nigeria is prohibited,” the new code prescribes.
To promote local leagues and sporting events, the new code also prescribes that no prime foreign sports content shall be transmitted in the Nigerian territory unless the owner of such content has also acquired prime local sports content of the same category.
Specifically, it prescribes a minimum of 30 per cent of the cost of acquiring the prime foreign sports content to be spent on local sporting content.
In addition, the code states that advertisement of products and services during prime foreign sports content shall not be broadcast unless the owner of such content has also acquired prime local sports content of the same category.
A minimum of 30 per cent of the cost of acquiring of prime foreign sports content is also prescribed for advertisement on local sporting content.
To stimulate growth in the advertising spend accruing to broadcast industry, the new code prescribes that broadcaster shall ensure that all television and radio advertisements for airing on all broadcast platforms shall be wholly produced in Nigeria
The code states: “Broadcasters shall not transmit adverts produced by foreign entities, companies or organisation for the Nigerian market. Any breach of this shall incur a penalty and such sums shall be invested into the local content development fund.”
A major controversial provision in the code is that of exclusivity which states that a broadcaster or licensee must not acquire any broadcasting right in or outside the country in such a manner as to exclude others for sub-licensing of same.
The provision mandates broadcasters to offer all sports and news programme and channels to others for retail to residential subscribers in the country upon request on writing and other conditions.
A new provision was also introduced in the code for mandatory allotment of broadcast time at times of national emergencies by compelling broadcasters to comply with any decryption and encryption order from the NBC.
“The private commercial broadcasters shall ensure that it allots a minimum of 20 per cent of weekly broadcast hours to public service programmes on emergencies of current trends and issues. Such programme shall be given prominence during family belt and shall not be less than 120 minutes, two hours, per transmission days.”
The code also states that broadcasters shall ensure that payment of royalties for all music and musical works is done promptly.
Similarly, the code compels broadcasters or broadcast service providers to ensure that all Set-Top-Boxes for Digital Switch Over (DSO) are sourced locally to encourage the growth of indigenous industries.
The code also prescribes new set of rules on local content production for programmes including fictions, series, serials, films, documentaries, arts and educational programmes, sports events, games and advertising.
“For a programme to qualify as local content, broadcaster shall ensure, among others, that its conceptualisation, production, target audience should be Nigeria. It must also ensure that: The producers of the programme, responsible for creative control, are Nigerians residing in Nigeria and the directors and author are also Nigerians.
“At least 75 per cent of the leading authors and major supporting set including voice actors or on-screen presenters appearing in the programme are Nigerians. A minimum of 75 per cent programme and post production expenses are paid from services provided by Nigerians and Nigerian companies,”
As laudable and beneficial as the new codes might be, prominent stakeholders and industry players including Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and Chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Chief Tony Okoroji, have kicked against some of the provisions.
In a statement entitled “That NBC Regulatory Code!”, Soyinka said that “while some of the amendments are well-intentioned, the code is the equivalent of a knee to the neck of the creative industry and carries the potential of economic sabotage.”
He accused the federal government of declaring war against the arts and producers of art works, saying the code will strangulate the producers of artworks.
Similarly, Okoroji, a reputed intellectual property expert noted that some provisions of the code may be unconstitutional notably those on content exclusivity, advertising and payment of royalties for musical works and sound recording.
He expressed concerns that the NBC did not take input from many key stakeholders who will be impacted by the code, before or during the amendment process.
Okoroji alleged hounding, contending that the hold that Multichoice has on English Premier League (EPL) was driving some of the provisions.
In the same vein, Mr Chris Ehindero, an independent movie producer, said the code will kill investment in the creative space, at a time the industry was about to start enjoining investments in big productions.
Some other stakeholders contended that the amendments to the NBC Code do not incentivise innovation in the broadcast and television industry and they called for a revisit.
Reacting to the public outcry, however, Idachaba explained that the amendment aimed to reposition Nigerian broadcasting industry to make it more responsive to emerging realities in the broadcasting ecosystem.
Idachaba noted that there is no provision in the code that can strangulate the industry and the players, rather it is meant to democratise and ensure everybody is protected and get value for their investments.
He said that contrary to the allegation that industry players were not carried along in the process, the NBC aggregated stakeholders’ opinions at every stage of the amendment of the code.
Specifically, he said the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, the Nigerian Union of Journalists, independent producers, broadcast practitioners, legal luminaries, the academia and the NBC Board participated in the detailed consultative approach.
Idachaba said the NBC has not breached any constitutional provision as Section 2 of the Commission’s enabling Act gives it the power to regulate broadcasting based on the existing revolutionary and emerging realities that confront the industry.
“Among the functions of the Commission is to establish and disseminate a National Broadcasting Code and set standards with regards to contents and quality of materials for broadcast,” the provision reads.
The NBC Acting DG said the negative narrative that exclusivity would hamper investments was unfounded because by democratising the space, many industry players would benefit.
“We have a huge creative industry in the country that is untapped and young creative minds that are seeking opportunities and we have seen a situation where we must deregulate the monopoly market and democratise to have a multiplier effect.
“There will be a resegmentation of minor operative players that will also receive advertising revenue and that is the way you can build cells of units of creative enterprise rather than concentrate all the potentials on only one conglomerate,” he said.
Using the example of sports, Idachaba said that many Nigerians like the EPL, but restricting it to only a platform and even a few that can pay higher subscription on the platform is exploitative and discriminatory.
“From the democratisation, many people can watch the matches and many idle stations can have access to the content and boost their potential through advertisement.”
Idachaba said the code has stopped the ugly trend where the production of contents meant for local consumption are produced outside Nigeria thereby leading to capital flight and lack of stimulus for local industry.
The Acting DG said the public outcry was not unexpected because, “there is nowhere in the world where people generally accept new regulations and changes because it comes with demands.”
He expressed optimism that when Nigerians begin to reap the dividends of the amended code, even those who were opposed to it would realise that their fears were unfounded. (NANFeatures)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)