A BROADCASTERS’ CODE

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Saturday comment2

The broadcasting code helps to keep the industry on the path of professionalism, writes Joyce Umahi

For the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), 2019 will tower above previous years in asserting its regulatory role in the midst of rising tendencies among broadcast stations to choke the frequencies with unregulated content. The NBC was able to checkmate the excesses of the violators by imposing an effective network of monitoring systems that provided on-air evidence that could not be contested and using them to release quarterly breach profiles of offending stations accompanied by appropriate sanctions.

In the first quarter of 2019 as many as 444 infractions were recorded of which 62 infractions were on the use of obscene materials; 203 on hate speech and politics-related infractions; 55 for lack of professionalism; 54 for unverifiable claims; 17 for technical breaches and 255 breaches were over advertisements.  A total of 155 cases were penalized with various fines. Such an incriminating record significantly silenced the previously vociferous critics accusing NBC of “censorship” and even strengthened the case for greater vigilance and stiffer sanctions considering the patently inciting, immoral, unlawful and unpatriotic contents being deliberately broadcast into our already tense communities.

Then came the AIT episode which saw the station initially attempting to stir up public sentiments over “free speech and political manipulation” to demonize the NBC’s remarkably restrained efforts to demand compliance with statutory regulations by the station. By the time the NBC’s calm but firm DG Ishaq Modibbo Kawu responded with equal measure to AIT’s transgressions of broadcasting code and license terms, the agitator opted for an out-of-court negotiated settlement that upheld the regulator’s position but softened its demands.

It was therefore apt that NBC successfully disentangled the unduly-delayed 6th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code from the bureaucratic web and launched it in Kano in July, to the satisfaction and relief of the various professionals and other stakeholders who were engaged in the review and drafting preliminaries, that commenced with the Kaduna retreat as far back as August 2016. No one could have been more satisfied than NBC DG, Ishaq Kawu who adopted the pending review of the code as a top priority shortly after his appointment in May 2016, conscious of how the impact of the 2015 election outcome rendered the 5th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code inadequate and overtaken.

There was also a felt need to bring the code up to speed with the dynamics of ever-evolving technologies in broadcasting particularly to strengthen the regulatory functions of the NBC such as the imminent implementation of the Digital Switch Over (DSO), with the launch of a pilot project in Jos in April 2016 and the scheduled launches in Abuja, Ilorin, Kaduna, Enugu and Oshogbo.  The Kaduna retreat in August 2016 commenced the first level of review work on the 6th edition of the code, with emphasis on broadening the base of participation in the review exercise for a more inclusive process that would enhance capacity building in NBC by deepening experiences of staff for long-term relevance and also engaging with former NBC Directors General and retired directors.

Deliberations were geared towards ensuring that the 6th broadcasting code becomes an essential instrument of regulatory work that helps to keep the industry on the straight and narrow path of the highest professional and ethical standards and anticipates the challenges of the new era.  The Kaduna retreat produced the draft copy of the 6th Nigeria Broadcasting Code which was presented to the industry at a gathering of broadcasters, media intellectuals and representatives of civil society organizations from all over Nigeria between May 15 and 17, 2017 for the conclusive phase of the work within the industry.

Evidently, the Nigeria Broadcasting Code is not an imposition by the regulator on the licensees but an all-inclusive professional application that requires all concerned to work the straight path of professionalism which the code prescribes. The NBC also strengthened the code in respect of hate and dangerous speech after commissioning a major study of hate and dangerous speech in Nigeria, against the background of the widespread abuse of the broadcasting standards, in the lead to the 2015 general elections. 

It was also reasoned that emerging controversies about the nature and definition of local content demand that the Nigeria Broadcasting Code should be strongly affirmative of the national aspiration to create and defend jobs in the creative industries within the Nigerian economy. It must also ensure that our sports in general  gets adequate advertising funding support comparable to advertising  support for foreign sporting activities.

It is instructive that in the aftermath of these enhancements of the regulatory framework and operating environment for the broadcast industry, the National Broadcasting Commission has convincingly established its legitimacy and credibility especially in the context of the emerging challenges thrown up by our evolving democratic culture, economic imperatives and the indispensability of peaceful co-existence and law and order. The broadcasters, media intellectuals and representatives of civil society organizations, stakeholders and former NBC Directors General and retired directors who undertook the intensive process of review and drafting of the 6th National Broadcasting Code provide the most authentic endorsement of its relevance and effectiveness. The NBC should embark on sensitization of the broadcast industry on the defining features of the latest code as the manual to transmit a straight path of professionalism for the industry now and in the future. 

 Umahi wrote from Abakaliki