With 740 Functional Broadcast Stations in Nigeria, Industry Craves for Reforms

With 740 Functional Broadcast Stations in Nigeria, Industry Craves for Reforms

The Nigerian broadcasting industry craves for many reforms; which among others will give Nigerians access to the media and guarantee their freedom of expression. But the industry is beleaguered; the Nigerian Broadcasting code Bill that will rein in sanity and make the regulatory body independent is awaiting passage at the National Assembly and is very

The Nigerian broadcasting industry craves for many reforms; which among others will give Nigerians access to the media and guarantee their freedom of expression. But the industry is beleaguered; the Nigerian Broadcasting code Bill that will rein in sanity and make the regulatory body independent is awaiting passage at the National Assembly and is very unlikely to see the light of day before this administration winds down, May 28, 2023. The argument is, if the media is expected to hold the government to account, how can the same government hold the power of life and death and life over the media.

The Nigeria Broadcasting Commission Act vests power of control in the Minister of Information who is a mouthpiece and agent of the government which the media is expected to hold to account. There lies the big challenge for the NBC because it is directly under the administrative control of the politician at the helms of affairs in the ministry of Information. Whereas the Act vests power to start the licencing process, to interrogate and examine the visibility studies of a would-be broadcast medium licencee in the NBC, it undertakes those activities superficially. Yes, it would compile its report and make recommendations to the Minister for Information who will in turn review the recommendations and submit its review/recommendation to the President who gives the final approval. At the end of the day, licencing is an affair between the Minister and the President.

In the past, it had been reported that some approvals were given from above only for the NBC to be forced to regularize in the line of duty. Sometimes the approvals do not indicate the category of licence. Some organisations are even given licenses as government patronages which they hold on to without setting up any broadcast outfits only to trade with such licences several years later. Conversely, there are several others who genuinely need the licence but are not given or are made to stay on a long queue because they are not well connected. How can license racketeering be stopped? Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari approved another 67 new broadcast licences to increase the total number of broadcast licenses granted by his administration from 2015 to date to 473.

The Director General, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Malam Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, who announced the approval, said the commission would soon commence issuing the licences. He described the approval as a great milestone in furthering pluralism and freedom of expression. Giving a breakdown, he said 47 of the newly licensed organisations were FM Radio stations, while five were community Radio and four DTT Radio stations.

The NBC appears to be powerless on several fronts because of the weakness of the existing law. Sometimes when offending broadcast stations are fined for infractions, such are said to have been instigated from those who exercise political control over the NBC, which explains why the principle of fair hearing under the rule of law is breached. But the NBC argues that within what the law permits it confines itself. The NBC also disclosed, for instance, that 302 stations have been sanctioned for violating the 2023 election electioneering campaign which commenced four months ago.

The Director NBC Broadcast Management, Mrs Franca Ayitor, gave the breakdown of the number of the stations that were sanctioned. According to her, 17 stations were fined while 196 stations were warned. She said 63 stations were cautioned while 93 stations were reprimanded. She added that 70 percent of stations had paid the fines while erring stations have two weeks to pay the fines failure of which will lead to graduation of fines.

The issue of fines have been most contentious leading to a ding-dong affair or a tangle between the industry and the regulators. While it is common knowledge that the regulator needs money to perform its roles effectively but the industry operators complain of not running profitably to be able to absorb the fines. The industry is plagued by several ills but it has been an arduous task getting the reforms needed to be passed using the instrumentality of the law. It is generally agreed that the regulatory framework for the industry is in dire need for a change. It is also believed that having independent regulatory agencies will enhance the work and performance of the professionals. In the next political dispensation starting May 29, 2023, there is a consensus among practitioners that they need to work together to get new laws that would better regulate the industry.

To step up the search for an implementable solution, a two-day discussion on how to move the industry forward held in Abuja recently, (February 1-2) tagged “Conversations Between Industry Stakeholders in Broadcasting, Legislative/Regulatory Issues. It was hosted by the Institute for Media and Society (IMS) with funding support from the European Union under its support to democracy and governance programme. It was generally agreed that the industry needs to have systems and institutions that work and can withstand political pressures.

It was subsequently resolved that there is a need to further amend the National Broadcasting Commission Act, as amended, in the light of the current global realities and standards for the regulation of broadcasting as well as the changing political, technological and economic environment in Nigeria since the Law was first adopted in 1992 and amended by the outgoing military government in 1999.

That the regulatory authority for broadcasting in Nigeria is made independent and freed from any political influence or control in its operations as well as the performance of its functions, in accordance with regional and international norms and standards. To achieve a comprehensive reform of the broadcast sector in Nigeria and engender a more effective regulatory framework, relevant provisions of the Constitution will need to be amended, along with the amendment of the existing Law and the adoption of new policies.

The meeting made other recommendations:

That the independence of the National Broadcasting Commission should be strengthened in law and in practice, including by ensuring that the tenures of the Director-General and Board members are clearly stated and that they have security of tenure; that the funding of the Commission is adequate for its functions and secure; and that the Commission is insulated from political, economic and other interference or pressures.

And further to the need to ensure adequate funding for the NBC, urgent measures should be taken to ensure that the Commission receives its share of the digital dividends arising from the re-sale or re-allocation of frequencies that are being ceded by the broadcast sector as a result of the digital switchover.

That the NBC has a responsibility to ensure that broadcasters, over which it superintends, have a conducive and enabling environment to operate. Accordingly, the Commission should promote and defend media freedom in general as well as the liberty of individual broadcasting stations over which it superintends when they are attacked or facing threats.

That the freedom of the media should be guaranteed by the Constitution and ensured by making Section 22 of the Constitution justiciable and enforceable. In addition, all existing laws which inhibit the freedom of the media should be amended or repealed, as the case maybe.

Full powers should be granted to the NBC to carry out the full range of its regulatory functions, including the issuance of broadcast licenses. Accordingly, Section 39(2) of the Constitution and the proviso to it should be amended to vest in the Commission the final authority to issue broadcast licences while other encumbrances in the National Broadcasting Commission Act should be removed so that the process of licensing broadcast stations should begin and end with the NBC.

Further to the above, pending the amendment to the Constitution to vest full licensing authority in the NBC, the President should delegate his powers under the proviso to Section 39 (2) of the Constitution to the Commission through an Executive Order.

In every case where the NBC receives a complaint of the violation of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, the Commission should ensure that in the handling of the complaint, the alleged violator is given a fair hearing in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Code and that the process is transparent.

Urgent steps should be taken by the National Assembly to ensure that community broadcasting is properly recognised and defined in legislation, and adequately provided for in the licensing process, to better address the plurality of the broadcast sector. Conclusion Participants expressed gratitude to the European Union and the Institute for Media and Society for sponsoring and organizing the event respectively, thereby providing a platform for the important conversations to take place.

So much to do: But what is the strategy to get the broken system fixed? There is need for the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria to mobilise its members to work together on the necessary and desired industry reforms. There has been so much talks and seminars and workshops on the subject matter; it is now time to put the right foot forward. Which is a faster route: An executive bill or a private member bill? Waiting for the executive to send a bill that will strip it of powers may be a hard sell. It is believed that bills are better and faster when proposed as private member bill because it will eliminate major bureaucratic bottlenecks, though it could be a bit more expensive. It is therefore, in the overall interest of the industry to identify its friends in the parliament, get its arsenal ready and hit the ground running the moment the 10th Assembly is inaugurated June 2023.


Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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