Information Minister launches controversial 6th NBC Code

by Araayo Akande

Despite concerns about some provisions in the amended 6th Edition of the Broadcasting Code, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed launched it on Tuesday.

Speaking at the launch held in Lagos, the Minister said the government wouldn’t be discouraged from doing what is best for the broadcast industry irrespective of the positions of critics.

Mohammed explained that the Code was reviewed in line with the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari for an inquiry into the regulatory role of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in the wake of the 2019 general elections.

He said the President also ordered a probe into the conduct of broadcast stations before, during and after the polls.

Mohammed added that despite the negative reactions to the amendments by some people, the government was unperturbed.

The new Code, he reiterated, had been signed, sealed and remained the regulations for broadcasting in Nigeria.

Mohammed said: “What I have observed in the reactions to the last amendment are interests who believe that their singular business interest is superior to the national interest. Therefore, they have resorted to all kinds of blackmail, using hack writers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we remain unperturbed, because we are acting in the national interest. The Broadcasting Code is not a static document. As we often say, broadcasting is dynamic. Therefore, even the 6th Edition of the Code shall be reviewed at the appropriate time.

“But, as it currently stands, the 6th edition and the amendments, which we are unveiling today, remain the regulations for broadcasting in Nigeria.”

The Minister added that “Our intention remains the good of the country. We need to catalyse the growth of the local industry. We need to create jobs for our teeming creative youths.

“The opportunities must be created, and we believe that effective regulatory interventions are a sure way of attaining this. That’s why we will not waver.

“For those who still have misgivings about the amendment to the 6th Edition of the Code, we expect you to meet with the regulator and present your views.

“There are opportunities for constant review of the Code, but please note that this latest amendment is signed, sealed and delivered. We are committed to making it work for the good of the country.”

On the amendments in the 6th edition, the Minister said they were mostly in the areas of political broadcasting, local content, coverage of emergencies, advertising, and anti-competitive behaviour.

One of the key highlights is the provision raising the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5 million.

Other “desirable provisions”, according to the Minister, are provisions of exclusivity and monopoly, sub-licensing and rights sharing as well as a law prohibiting backlog of advertising debts.

He said of the exclusivity and monopoly provision: “This Antitrust provision will boost local content and local industry due to laws prohibiting exclusive use of rights by broadcasters who intend to create monopolies and hold the entire market to themselves. It will encourage Open Access to premium content. I must explain that this provision is not new to Nigeria Broadcasting. Exclusivity was disallowed at a certain time in the history of our broadcasting.”

Sub-licensing and rights sharing, Mohammed further noted, “creates opportunities for local operators also to gain traction and raise revenue for their services.”

He continued: “The law prohibiting backlog of advertising debts will promote sustainability for the station owners and producers of content.

“The law on the registration of Web Broadcasting grants the country the opportunity to regulate negative foreign broadcasts that can harm us as a nation. Such harms could be in the area of security, protection for minors, protection of human dignity, economic fraud, privacy etc.

“The provisions on the responsibility of broadcast stations to devote airtime to national emergencies: This provision mandates terrestrial and Pay TV channels to make their services available to Nigerians at times of national emergencies – like the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic – for their education and enlightenment.”

Founder of IrokoTV, Jason Njoku, was among the prominent opponents of the amendments in the 6th Broadcast Code, describing it as ridiculous.

He had said “NBC in making exclusivity illegal, compelling sub-licensing of content and regulating price, are effectively turning the private enterprise into state property. Interference distorts markets. If implemented, this 100% destroys PayTV in Nigeria.

“This our champagne socialism and zero input style of policymaking is the reason Nigeria is stunted in everything. I invest billions of Naira in content then I am compelled to share with everyone else as NBC sets the price. Why? Dark forces or incompetence is at play here. Ridiculous.”

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