MOPICON:Regulation or strangulation?

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Airtime Plus By  Nwabuikwu Onoshe   airtimeplus98@gmail.com

Whatever may be its merits, the proposed Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPICON) bill may turn out to be a solution worse than the problem it was designed to address. I believe that every stakeholder who is interested in this industry which was created and built by the ingenuity and hard work of Nigerians, largely without government support, should be concerned about this government endorsed effort to “regulate” the industry. My fear is that regulation may soon morph into strangulation if care is not taken.

By the time you read this, the ministerial committee set up by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to review and harmonise the MOPICON bill would have been inaugurated (on April 8 somewhere in Lagos, Nigeria). The 17-member committee, has as coordinator Peace Anyiam-Osigwe (President, AMAA) and Chairman, Audio-Visual Rights Society of Nigeria (AVRS), Mahmood Alli-Balogun as deputy coordinator. Tony Anih of the Film Makers Collective is to serve as committee secretary.

It is not surprising that MOPICON has sparked a heated debate in the media especially online across various social media sites. On one side of the argument are those who believe that regulation in the form of MOPICON is just what the doctor ordered to move Nollywood to the ‘next level.’ Then there are those vehemently opposed to any attempt to regulate creativity, no matter government’s good intentions. And somehow, this got turned into an Old Nollywood vs Young Nollywood battle where the young film makers were accused of being afraid of regulation seeing as many aren’t enthusiastic about joining existing guilds. How effective are guilds as presently constituted? Younger film makers say there’s no space for them in those guilds.

Peace Anyiam-Osigwe has chided critics of the bill asking: “How can anyone think that another film maker will want a film maker to go to jail, maybe, just maybe whilst trying to destroy what is good for our collective life, in your self-centred egotistical need to prove that you know it all, you are actually showing your ignorance and it’s so annoying. Before shouting kill maybe, just maybe you should look well before you leap joining the bandwagon. Arrogance based on ignorance is not intelligence.”

Unfortunately, Anyiam-Osigwe doesn’t provide any additional information beyond the draft bill available online.
So it’s still the 2006 MOPICON draft bill, all 49 pages of it, that’s up for review. We can’t go through its every aspect though. Fortunately, this very helpful summary by Chidumga Izuzu Izuzu for Pulse Nigeria shows why many people involved in Nollywood do not share Anyiam-Osigwe’s enthusiasm for MOPICON:

“1. Without being a member of MOPICON, you will not be ‘entitled’ to practice in any area of the business of movie making in Nigeria. The list of ‘entitled’ people will be circulated to the following bodies every year.
2. The functions of the council governing the body include; determining who are Motion Picture Practitioners, determining what standards of knowledge and skills are to be attained by persons seeking to become registered as Motion Picture Practitioners and reviewing those standards from time to time.

3. A person not registered as a member with the Council is prohibited from producing and making projects for both the Cinema and Home Video Market plus Television Stations and Networks for gains.
4. A person in breach of the above number 3 is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N100. (Or face imprisonment for up to two years. or both)
5. It shall be the duty of MOPICON to furnish the NFVCB with the list of practitioners to be licensed in accordance with the National Film and Video Censors Board Act.

6. No director is allowed to be on more than one project at a time.
7. No religion or form of worship shall be depicted in a manner that will expose it to ridicule. 8. Marketers are to endeavour to ensure that the Producer gets his copies of the box office return statement and that payments are made when due.

9. No actor shall be on more than one project at a time.”
As Feyi Fawehinmi notes: “In effect, MOPICON will now decide what kind of film gets made and which ones don’t. On pain of de-registration, directors who make ‘inappropriate’ movies can be stifled. The cosy arrangement where government funds MOPICON gives the government a back door through which it can regulate films.”

In addition to this, the bill states that: “A person shall be entitled on proper application to be registered as a member of the profession if: he is not a person of unsound mind so found by a court of law.’ Somewhere else, ‘insane’ is used. In other words, were Robert Downey Jnr, one of the most respected actors in Hollywood a Nigerian actor when he had his well publicised mental challenges as result of drug use many years ago, he would have been deregistered as an actor. Today, Downey has topped the Forbes list of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors, for three straight years (2012-2015), making an estimated $80 million in earnings between June 2014 and June 2015
It is clear that the MOPICON bill, if passed in its present form could result in the stifling of the spontaneous creativity and dynamism that made Nollywood possible in the first instance.

That is why I align myself with those who say the MOPICON draft bill in its current form “is not progressive” as Mildred Okwo has said. No doubt, advocates of MOPICON include well meaning and respected professionals but the idea may lead to the creation of a “professional cartel” in the film industry. Yes, the industry needs government support to build capacity and provide a more conducive environment to boost investment and infrastructure.

As film maker Uduak Isong put it: “We have major challenges, there’s piracy, there’s poor distribution, and there’s Telemundo. You’d think we’d be talking about tax rebates, waiver fees from LASAA so we can have increased marketing, more support for filmmakers to ensure they thrive in this tough environment that is Nigeria.”

Finally, the industry needs to tell itself some hard truths. Ordinarily, if guilds within the industry were better structured and properly run, they would have provided the peer review and regulation that Nollywood needs to boost professionalism and production values. But as it is, many a Nollywood guild is a glorified ego-boosting, political tool. Can then there be a third option as a compromise solution that addresses the concerns of those for and against MOPICON in its current form?

FESTIVAL NEWS

Woody Allen’s Café Society opens 69th Festival International du Film
“The 69th Festival International du Film de Cannes will launch with a screening of Woody Allen’s new film, Café Society, on Wednesday 11 May in the Palais des Festivals’s Grand Théâtre Lumière as an Official Selection Out of Competition title. Allen, the New York director has already opened the Festival twice, in 2002 with Hollywood Ending, and again in 2011 with Midnight in Paris.

Cafe Society tells the story of a young man who arrives in Hollywood during the 1930s hoping to work in the film industry, falls in love, and finds himself swept up in the vibrant café society that defined the spirit of the age.
The film features Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg alongside Blake Lively, Parker Posey and Steve Carell.
The 69th Festival International du Film de Cannes will take place between 11 and 22 May, 2016.”

COME AGAIN?
“President Buhari summons minister of state for petroleum Dr Ibe Kachikwu over the fuel crisis across Nigeria.”
-AIT headlines, Tuesday April 5, 2016.
What the above ‘news’ item actually means is that the minister of petroleum (who also just happens to be the president) met with his colleague, to find ways of resolving the excruciating fuel scarcity. Nothing more. Nothing less.

As far as this particular news item is concerned, why isn’t the media more concerned about the zero communication from the minister of petroleum concerning the fuel scarcity? Where has our minister petroleum been all this while? In the UK, no, South Africa. He was actually in the US. Or was it China? For a fuel scarcity that has lingered for a few months, why is it now that the minister of petroleum is summoning his minister of state? Should that have even been news?

Just the other day in this section I was saying ‘Come Again?’ about this practice of forcing action on an otherwise motionless or all motion no movement government. The media appears to have adopted a violent language as if we were in some kind of a military democracy. A minister can no longer meet harmlessly and noiselessly with the head of a government agency. Thereafter, the headlines would scream: “Minister A summons or orders DG of X, gives him/her marching orders…” Let’s not even talk about the EFCC media razzmatazz: EFCC ‘is thinking of planning to order the arrest of’ Chief So and So.

If only that was all it took to run a government. Hasn’t anyone wondered why with all the reported ‘ordering’ and ‘summoning’ going on, things have got to this present sorry state? Power supply, not unlike our visiting president, is now a very irregular visitor. Buying petrol for our cars has now become a full-time job. In Abuja, black market fuel sellers are now everywhere, a few feet apart. The boys have got jobs, alright.
Is this evidence of the jobs promised by the government for the unemployed?