Criticisms as Nigeria’s new broadcasting code targets internet TV, radio stations

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed

Web television and radio channels operating in Nigeria will henceforth be regulated under the same stringent policies that apply to traditional broadcasting channels in the country, details of a recently amended code obtained by PREMIUM TIMES says.

Since the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, unveiled the Reviewed Broadcasting Code on August 5, there has been uproar by operators in the industry.

The amendments in the code are mostly in the areas of political broadcasting, local content, coverage of emergencies, advertising and anti-competitive behaviour.

The code will also affect Pay TVs, streaming platforms, sports and music content providers.

While many Nigerians have kicked against them and accused the minister of trying to gag the media, the government says the anti-competition objectives of the code will create a fair market for others in the industry.

"The amendments of the code make provisions for local content in the broadcast industry. It also makes provisions for increased advertising revenue for local broadcast stations and content producers. It significantly creates restrictions for monopolistic and anti-competitive behaviour in the broadcast industry in Nigeria," the National Broadcasting Commission said.

It said part of the aim of the amendment is "To maintain and promote fair and efficient market conduct and effective competition in the broadcast industry in Nigeria or, in the absence of a competitive market, to prevent the misuse of monopoly or market power or anti competitive and unfair practices by broadcasters or licensees or facility providers or equipment suppliers in the broadcast industry; and

"To establish codes of practice relating to content acquisition, sharing of content rights for rebroadcasting and technical standards for media services; and to regulate standards of fair market and monitor compliance with such codes".

Web/Online Broadcasting

For online broadcasting which is gradually growing in the country, the new code says, "All persons who wish to operate web/online broadcasting services in the Nigerian territory shall be registered with the Commission."

It adds: "Web/online platform owners (IPS) shall bear liability for every content on their platforms.

"Contents on web/online platforms shall conform to the provisions of the Code on programming standards, especially as it relates to hate speech and fake news.

"Where a service provider or a platform provider breaches any or all of the provisions of the Code on web/online broadcasting, sanctions as provided in the Code, including a take down order, a block or a shutdown order shall apply."

The commission recently fined Nigeria Info 99.3FM, a radio station, N5 million for alleged "hate speech."

According to the commission, the station allowed its platform to air unverifiable and inciting views that can trigger crime and public disorder.

This section of the code is one of the reasons many media experts and analysts have accused the government of trying to stifle the media.

Critics say it is not so straightforward to determine what constitutes a "hate speech". They also argue that the NBC cannot accuse, prosecute, judge and enforce at the same time.

Also, some have criticised the section that has empowered the NBC to regulate and enforce sharing exclusive content.

It means streaming platforms and Pay TVs have been stripped off their right to exclusive content. This will largely affect their revenue but will also create room for more players to join the industry.

It compels them to sub-license their content at a price the commission states and if any platform refuses, they will be sanctioned or fined as the case may be.

Criticisms

Operators in the industry have been lamenting how that the new code will affect their effort to create content.

The Chief Executive Officer, IRokoTV, Jason Njoku, had on his Twitter account, said the new law, if implemented, will destroy PayTV in Nigeria.

Also, a filmmaker, Charles Uwagbai, on Friday sued the commission, asking for the amended code to be set aside.

On the aspect of free speech, the Executive Director, International Press Council, Lanre Arogundade, said he had already submitted a position paper to the commission on the amended code.

Mr Arogundade said the provision of the section dealing with web/online broadcasting was a violation of democratic norms and standards.

"It is a threat to web channels and others using the web because it confers arbitrary powers on the Commission to among others take down or shut down a station for violating the provisions of the code relating to web/online broadcasting without making any provision for stations that may be concerned to seek redress," he said.

Also, the Head of Department of Public Law, Baze University, Sam Amadi, said the code would freeze free speech and discourage the stations and web platforms from objective and courageous defense of democracy and freedom. He described it as a punitive attack against freedom of expression and democracy.

Mr. Amadi, who is also a former chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission(NERC), said the code was clearly a design to obstruct free speech especially during a period of failing governance, using the rule of law.

"This highlights the fact that law could be a vehicle of repression and retardation and not always a tool of empowerment.

"The question is whether we should allow the Minister of information and the NBC to make far reaching regulations in such a manner without sufficient public participation. Maybe we should consider challenging in court the chilling effect of these codes and its economic and social impact on TV stations and web platforms.

"These codes are dangerous because they could retard the development of democratic accountability and endanger good governance," he said.

Source: By Ayodeji Adegboyega