By Tunde Akanni and Lanre Arogundade
Recently, onTuesday Nov 2,2021the entire media community in Nigeria had the opportunity to reflect on its operating environment. It was the commemoration of the UN’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists..
At one of such events held in Abuja, a notable player in the sector, Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of Premium Times was a key speaker. In plain language, he declared that the tirades against the media from the sitting government of President Buhari are incredibly worse than what we endured in the days of the brutal military government which, again, featured Buhari prominently especially with the notoriety of the Decree 4 of 1984 which impacted a most distasteful experience on the psyche of the media as well as the rest citizens till date.
From the numerous documentations already done on the precarious state of press freedom in Nigeria by local, regional and international media, freedom of expression and human rights groups, the jury is already out there, and the fact that Olorunyomi spoke to, can no longer be denied.
The danger is indeed real and one arena where it is dangerously playing out is in that of the deregulation of the broadcast media sector.
As a new publication intended to serve as an advocacy tool is ready for a widecirculation, there can’t be a better time to rouse all stakeholders to action. The publication, titled, Question Marks on the 6thNBC Code Amendments, details assorted reservations of stakeholders for seminal attention and appreciation not only to prosecute the current attack on the broadcast media but potential curtailment moves in the future
Just as it was said in the unfortunate civil war period that ‘to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’, Nigerians now need to equally adopt the slogan: to stop arbitrariness and excesses of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is a task that must be done.
Herculean, no doubt, the task promises to be. But it is one whose accomplishment must be considered an urgent imperative so that businesses operating in the media and communications sector can flourish while freedom of the press and the rights of journalists are not unduly curtailed. In other words, the choice before the Nigerian public is either of these two: to push for a de-politicised and industry-friendly regulatory code for the broadcast sector; or to accept one that strangulates and perpetually holds the sword of Damocles over the sector and its players.
Against the foregoing, some of the key amendments to the 6thedition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code pose a few problematics especially in relation to the extent to which they could undermine democratic norms and standards and jeopardise the cherished values of broadcast sector liberalization and free enterprise economy.
Consider the fact that section 2.127.2 of the Code seeks to confer arbitrary powers on the NBC to, among others, take-down or shut down a station for violating the provisions relating to web/online broadcasting without making any provision for stations that may be concerned to seek redress.
Also consider the fact that the provisions of section 3.18.2 (e) and section 3.18.3 (a-d) constitute a usurpation of the functions and powers of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, with section 3.18.3 (d) being particularly offensive and anti-democratic as it seeks to oust the jurisdiction of the courts by making final the decision of Nigerian Copyright Commission on the issues referred to in the sections. Still about music, the provision of section 3.18.2 (e) does not consider the fact that not all artistic works are covered by or eligible for royalty.
It may seem laughable, but under a democratic set up, the provision of section 5.6.1 is warning against the use of user generated content that may “embarrass individuals, organizations, government …….”.Won’t this limit citizen’s input into media content and the diversity that comes with such in information dissemination? Indeed, by including government among those that should not be embarrassed, the provision can intimidate the media while encouraging public officials to dodge the responsibility of accountability since they can always resort to the claim of being embarrassed. That is why it has equally been argued that the provision can undermine the obligation imposed on the media by section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people.
There are many other objectionable provisions in the revised code that may discourage further investment in the Nigerian broadcast sector while compelling those who have already done so to have a rethink. The movement of the regional headquarters of Twitter from Nigeria to Ghana should be a lesson in this regard.
It was not for nothing therefore that assorted stakeholders took more than a passing interest in the controversial Code.
There is no better time than now for us all torun ahead with the baton of the campaigns for the ultimate victory that we deserve. It’s as much the battle for media professionals as it is for all other citizensitching to have good governancein Nigeria where the press is alive to it’s responsibilities for the sake of our political and economic well being.
*Being the edited version of our remarks at the public presentation ofQuestion Marks on the 6thNBC Code AmendmentsThursday Nov 11, 2021
Lanre Arogundadeis the Executive Director of the Lagos based International Press Centre, IPC, while Tunde Akanni, PhD, is the Acting Head of Journalism Department of Journalism of LASU.