NIGERIA’s latest broadcasting regulatory framework, which the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, released to the industry and general public on May 27, 2020, is a mish-mash of defective thinking, with a potential to leave the industry and the wider economy worse off.
Prefaced with the rote claim of a desire to make the industry more robust and competitive, the sixth NBC Code actually seeks to strangle the sector. This is why prominent stakeholders have responded with anger to the Code and the process that yielded it.
The Commission did not take inputs from industry stakeholders before finalising the Code. It responded to widespread complaints on Friday, June 12, 2020, by calling for stakeholder inputs. It promised to smoothen the rough edges. Four days later, it backtracked. Its Acting Director-General, Armstrong Idachaba, announced at a media briefing that the Code was final. Expectedly, industry stakeholders raised the decibel of their protests.
In a continuation of its flip-flops, the NBC, in a June 26, 2020 public notice signed on behalf of its Chairman, called for position papers from stakeholders, giving July 9, 2020 as deadline for submission. On June 29, the Commission again backtracked. A public notice signed by Idachaba stated that the call for position papers by the Chairman was not endorsed by the Management and advised those with ideas for improvement of the Code to wait for its Seventh amendment.
Many of the amendments to the Code have left industry players red-eyed, particularly the aspects seeking to outlaw exclusivity, which encroaches on some extant provisions of the Copyright Act of 2004; legislating content-sharing with competitors and desiring to determine what prices content should cost. We find these curious and unacceptable. What it implies is that if a broadcaster has invested heavily in, say, a compelling series, it must share with competitors.
How should investors – including foreigners pouring money into the local production sector – earn dividends on their investments and continue to create more jobs? How does a broadcaster differentiate its service offering? Does the NBC want lazy broadcasters to free-ride on the back of innovative risk takers?
The bid to be the final arbiter in content price disputes paints the NBC as an entity wedded to dictatorship, which has no place in a free enterprise system.
The NBC is not the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, FCCPC, neither is it the Nigerian Copyrights Commission, NCC. It is unacceptable that the NBC is straying into areas over which it has no jurisdiction.
Sections of the Code dealing with advertisement debts on broadcast platforms and payment of royalties on music present the NBC as being unaware of the limits of its powers. It seeks to determine how long advertisers can owe broadcast platforms. That is a violation of contractual obligations between broadcasters and advertisers.
If an advertiser defaults, the NBC has no power to interfere, as it is up to broadcaster to determine how flexible it wants to be in the payment for advert placements. A loan agreement between a bank and a customer does not require a third party. If the customer defaults, the two parties are at liberty to work out a repayment schedule or seek a judicial intervention.
We also take a dim view of sections dealing with payment of royalties to musical artistes. The Code seeks to give the NBC the power to prosecute broadcast stations that delay royalty payments for the use of musical work, something that clearly conflicts with the duties and responsibilities of the NCC.
The NBC must know its limits and carry industry stakeholders along in issuing the broadcasting Code. It must promote innovativeness and competitiveness, not mediocrity. The NBC should stop making itself a laughingstock.