NBC Code: Consultation couldn’t have held few days to lockdown – Stakeholders

National Broadcasting Commission NBC

The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has received knocks from industry stakeholders for claiming it held wide consultations at a time the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had spread panic across the country before releasing the sixth amendment to its industry regulatory framework.

Following strident criticisms of its claim that it engaged in wide consultations before releasing its 6th Broadcast Code, the NBC claimed it engaged with industry stakeholders on March 26, three days to the imposition of a lockdown in Lagos State and neighbouring Ogun by the Federal Government, at L’eola Hotel, Lagos.

Sources, however, disclosed that what the NBC branded as stakeholder engagement in Lagos a few days to the lockdown was dominated by its staff.

Others included Toyin Subair, founder of the defunct HiTV; and veteran broadcaster, Danladi Bako.

“Ninety-five per cent of the so-called stakeholders were NBC staff and directors,” said a source.

Industry stakeholders argue that the rule-making procedure of the NBC, even under the military, entails open consultation and public hearing.

Ochuko Emuobor, a drama producer, claimed that the most prominent industry members must have been ignored by the NBC if at all an engagement took place.

“The NBC must have had an agenda for excluding prominent players in the content and broadcast sectors. Otherwise, why would they ignore IrokoTV, whose CEO has complained; AfricaMagic and other investors in broadcast content?” he asked.

He stated the NBC should have known, if at all it invited critical stakeholders, that the attendance would be affected by the threat of COVID-19.

Clement Nteps, another industry figure, noted that the criticisms by broadcast and content industry figures were valid, as they nudged the NBC into announcing that it would invite input from stakeholders after the code had been published in newspapers.

He stated that a June 12 statement by the NBC Board that it would reconvene the following week to smoothen the rough edges in the code and seek stakeholder input was an admission by the NBC that it put the cart before the horse.

“Regulation-making sequence is like this: multi-stakeholderism and public hearing. No such thing happened before the code was released. Who would happily have gone out with the virus threatening?

“Shockingly, the NBC, on the first working day of the week it claimed its board would meet, said-at a press conference-that it was not going to alter the code.

“So, what was it saying? That the code, despite having near-zero stakeholder input- should be accepted. That is not democratic and points to an ulterior motive,” he said.

Jason Njoku, chief executive officer of IrokoTV, has been one of the vocal critics of the code.

Njoku had complained that stakeholders were ignored in drafting the code, which seeks to criminalise content exclusivity, compels content sharing with competitors and seeks for the NBC powers to determine content prices in the event of a dispute.

Last week the NBC Board, published a public notice in newspapers, asking for stakeholder input.

Signed by Bamidele Aluko, a lawyer, on behalf of Ikra Bilbis, chairman of the board, the notice called for papers on the amendments to the code over concerns raised by stakeholders.

“The Board of the National Broadcasting Commission 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                

 “Position papers in respect of the proposal amendments should please be submitted to reach the following e-mail addresses not later than 9th of July, 2020,” the notice said.

But on Monday, Professor Armstrong Idachaba, acting director-general of the commission, said in a public notice that the call by the Board for submission of position papers did not have the 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.

“The amendments went through the necessary processes culminating in a public presentation to critical stakeholders on the 26th of March, 2020, at L’eola Hotel, Lagos.

“The amendment, as released, is therefore final. Any group wishing to make further inputs will exercise such views at the next Review of the Code,” the notice signed by Idachaba said.        

NBC sources said Idachaba was forced to sign the public notice, as he was unaware it was drawn up until late in the evening on Sunday when it was sent to newspapers for publication.  

The code had caused an outcry among stakeholders, with many complaining of the failure of the NBC to make wide industry consultations and that it will do grave harm to the industry.

The NBC, in the new regulation, states that every broadcaster must license its broadcast and/or signal rights in any genre of programming to another broadcaster in Nigeria if “the genre of programme(s) enjoy(s) compelling viewership by Nigerians; it relates to a product or service that is objectively necessary to be able to compete effectively on a downstream market; or if it is likely to lead to the elimination of effective competition on the downstream markets”.

The new subsidiary legislation adds that refusal to comply will lead to consumer deprivation and stipulates the imposition of a N10 million for operators who fail to comply.