As House Moves to Regulate Broadcast Practice

0

 

The House of Representatives recently passed for second reading a bill seeking to regulate broadcast practice in Nigeria, Udora Orizu writes

The House of Representatives at its plenary on November 25, 2021 passed for second reading a Bill seeking to regulate the practice of the broadcasting profession in Nigeria.

Over the years, the executive and legislative arms of government have through various legislations sought to regulate the media. In the past, governments had often relied on the media to communicate with the public on policies that will shape their everyday decisions, behaviour and general well-being. Similarly, the masses depend on the media to make known to the government their social and political views and expectations. However, with technological advancement and innovation, media freedom is in a downward spiral across the globe. The right to seek and disseminate information through independent media is under severe attack and threat.

Such instance was seen October last year when the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) fined three media houses namely ARISE NEWS Channel, Africa Independent Television (AIT) and Channels Television for reporting the October 20 #EndSARS at the Lekki Tollgate using eyewitness reports. The regulator maintained that the media houses got the footages from unverified and unauthenticated social media sources.

The NBC Act is a federal legislation which sets out, amongst other things, to regulate and control the broadcasting industry and set policies with respect thereto. Section 1 of the Act establishes the National Broadcasting Commission, the regulatory authority, and section 2 lists the extensive powers of the commission ranging from receiving, processing and considering applications for the establishment or ownership or operation of radio and television stations.

Section 2 (2) prohibits transmission by cable, television, radio satellite or any other medium of broadcast except in accordance with the Act. Furthermore, the Act provides for the procedure for obtaining licences and the granting of licences as well as terms of a license and of renewal thereof. The commission is imbued with the power to enforce the National Broadcasting Code made pursuant to the Act.

The NBC is viewed by many as lacking in independence as it is directly under the control of the Minister of Information and Communications as well as the President. It has been repeatedly accused of being quick to muzzle privately owned broadcast stations with little or no justification while turning a blind eye when government owned stations violate the provisions of the Broadcasting Code, particularly during electioneering periods.

Also, the Nigeria Press Council Act is a federal legislation that provides for the establishment of the Nigerian Press Council “to promote high professional standards for the Nigerian press, and deal with complaints emanating from members of the public about the conduct of journalists … and for other matters connected therewith.”

The council is also charged with monitoring the activities of the press with a view to ensuring compliance with the code of professional and Ethical Conduct of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (sections 3 and 9).

Few months ago, media professionals rejected move to amend the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) bills.

The Nigeria Press Council was established as a regulatory agency for the profession. The body was championed by media owners before it was taken over by the government. An attempt to amend the Press Council bill has now generated controversy.

The bill titled “A Bill for an Act to amend the Nigeria Press Council Act CAP N128, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1992 to resolve bottlenecks affecting the performance and make the council in tune with the current realities in regulating press and for related matters” was sponsored by the Chairman of the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values,” Hon Segun Odebunmi.

A close study of the Bill reveals several contentious clauses. The law increases the fine placed on a journalist for publishing a false news from N2,000 to N20,000 upon conviction by the court to N250,000 flat with an imprisonment of between six months and two years. It also increased the fine for media houses from between N30,000 and N100,000 to between N1 million to N10 million with an option of total closure of such media house. Other provisions include the fact that media houses will now be required to pay a percentage of their annual financial return to the Press Council as part of its funds, but however failed to specify the actual percentage, but vested the council with the power to determine the percentage to be paid. Under the old law, such percentage of fees and levy were paid by the NUJ, NGE, NPAN and BON. This is in addition of license fees, fines and penalties to be charged by the council.

The bills were resisted by Nigerians, including media solidarity groups, calling for the bills to be thrown out. Media groups called it draconian, but the lawmakers said it was aimed at oiling the machineries of the press for optimum performance. The media groups would have none of that as they launched a widely circulated advertorial that ran with the caption ‘Information Blackout,’ on the front page of many national dailies as well as television chyron and lead graphics on online media.

Shortly after in July, Odebunmi suspended the bills for more consultation.

Not deterred by the failed attempts in the past to regulate the media space in the country, the parliament seems to have begun yet another fresh move to regulate the media. This time, the lawmakers passed for second reading a Bill seeking to regulate the practice of the broadcasting profession in Nigeria.

The proposed legislation titled, “A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Regulation and Conduct of the Practice of Broadcasting Profession in Nigeria and for Related Matters (HB.1150)” is sponsored by Hon. Olaifa Jimoh Aremu.

Aremu who presented the Bill for second reading said it seeks to establish a regulatory authority to regulate broadcasting in Nigeria, set required academic qualifications and ethical standards for broadcasters, broadcast journalists or broadcasting practitioners.

He also said it the Bill proposes that a person shall be qualified to practice as a broadcaster or be identified as a broadcaster only if such person has acquired or attained the prescribed academic or standard of training set by the council and such person has been so certified and registered to practice as a broadcaster by the council.

On qualification to practice as a broadcaster, he explained that one can also be qualified if prior to the commencement of the Act, such person has acquired requisite practical knowledge, training or experience in a recognised academic institution or broadcasting station or organisation which shall entitle the council upon verification to certify him or her as a broadcaster and register him to continue to practise as such.

According to him, “There shall be established a body to be known as the Broadcasting Practitioners Council (in this Act called “the Council) which shall comprise of broadcasting practitioners of the highest distinction in the broadcasting profession in Nigeria. The council shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal. The Council shall be charged with the responsibility and performance of the following general duties.

“Formal admission, certification and registration of persons seeking to become broadcasting practitioners. Formal admission, conferment of recognition or certification on deserving persons who have been trained or have been practicing or working as broadcasting practitioners prior to the commencement of this Act. Prescribing, determining and setting the standard of knowledge and skills to be attained by persons seeking to become members of the broadcasting profession and reviewing those standards from time to time. Regulating and controlling the conduct of the practice of broadcasting profession.”

It’s expected that a public hearing will be held on the Bill where various media stakeholders will give their inputs on the proposed legislation.