The federal government has raised the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5 million and mandated broadcast stations to devote airtime for public education on emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made this known in Lagos yesterday while unveiling the Reviewed Broadcasting Code, according to a statement by the ministry.
The reviewed Nigeria Broadcasting Code contains the anti-trust provision aimed at boosting local content and encouraging the growth of the local industry, among others.
Mohammed, at the ceremony organised by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), said the anti-trust provision would boost local content and local industry due to laws prohibiting exclusive use of rights by broadcasters who intend to create monopolies and dominate the market.
He added that the anti-trust provision would also 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. I recall Multichoice sub-licensing EPL matches to other local operators in Nigeria. I recall HITV engaging several local operators on sub-licensing the EPL when they got the rights,” Mohammed stated.
According to him, the revised code contains a law prohibiting backlog of advertising debts in order to promote sustainability for the station owners and producers of content, as well as a law on the registration of web broadcasting, which will grant the country the opportunity to regulate negative foreign broadcasts.
“The provisions on responsibility of broadcast stations to devote airtime to national emergencies…obviously mandates terrestrial and pay-TV channels to make their services available to Nigerians at time of national emergencies- like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic- for their education and enlightenment,” the minister said.
He said the amended code also included the provision raising the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5 million.
Mohammed clarified that the amendments were necessitated by a presidential directive, in the wake of the 2019 general election, for an inquiry into the regulatory role of the NBC with a view to repositioning it for optimum performance.
He said despite the attacks by some vested interests, who believe that their singular business interest is superior to national interest over the provisions of the amended code, the federal government remained unperturbed.
“But, as it currently stands, the sixth edition and the amendments, which we are unveiling today, remain the regulations for broadcasting in Nigeria. 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,” the minister said.
The Acting Director General of the NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, commended the Buhari administration for showing keen interest in the development of the broadcasting industry through the implementation of reforms and several other interventions.
FG Unveils Reviewed Broadcasting Code Despite Industry-wide Opposition
The reviewed code was unveiled despite opposition to some of its provisions by stakeholders in the industry.
Since 27 May when it was proposed by the NBC, industry stakeholders have been critical of many of its provisions, which were deemed draconian, with the NBC facing allegations of straying into areas over which it has no jurisdiction.
Considered most irksome by stakeholders are provisions seeking to regulate content exclusivity, mandate content sharing and empower the NBC to determine prices at which content is sold to sub-licensees by rights holders.
Notable critics of the code include Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who described the code as “strangulatory” rather than regulatory, and CEO of IrokoTV, Mr. Jason Njoku, who branded it as “quasi-socialism” and a means of subsidising inefficiency in the industry.
Fielding questions from journalists, Mohammed said the new code makes it mandatory for broadcasters to share content rights with competitors, claiming that the code does not infringe on the copyright of right holders.
He also claimed that the prohibition of exclusivity is not new to Nigerian broadcasting.
He explained: “Nigerian Copyright Commission Act actually makes it mandatory that if you buy a right, you must sell that right to whoever wants to buy at a price to be agreed by the parties. By bringing it into the code, we are simply reinforcing the law.
“The truth is that all the giants of the day, Amazon, Netflix and iTunes started by sublicensing to become what they are.
“It is only here in Africa that we buy rights and hold it to ourselves.”
On the allegation that the NBC is straying into areas over which it has no control, especially advertising regulation and debts, the minister said that as the apex broadcast industry regulator, it is the duty of the NBC to ensure a sustainable, qualitative and profitable industry.
Mohammed explained further: “Just like CBN ensures you can’t owe one bank and seek loan in another without paying your debt, we are also prohibiting advertisers from short-changing content creators and owners. Content drives advertising and we don’t want a backlog of debts to cripple the media houses. And when the media houses are not being paid, we the regulator cannot get our fees.”
Industry stakeholders have also branded the code as agenda-driven, noting that they were excluded from making input before the code was finalised and described its unveiling as an ambush.
A content creator, who craved anonymity, said the invitation to the presentation was silent on the fact that the code would be unveiled.
“The invitation simply said it was a press briefing, which would see the acting director-general of the NBC speak on matters arising within the industry. That should tell you they just sneaked it in on the industry,” she said.