FG insists on regulation of social media, seeks legislative backing

• As IPC, CSOs reject proposed tariff regulation for satellite Tv in new NBC amendment

The Federal Government, on Wednesday, insisted on regulations of private broadcasting media in the country and urged the National Assembly to give legislative backing to the move in the interest of all and sundry private broadcasting in the country using the internet and other online outlets, saying the government has an obligation to monitor broadcast content.

Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who spoke at a public hearing on a bill to amend the National Broadcasting, NBC Act organised by the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values said this became necessary so as to monitor the contents going to the members of the public as a responsible government

He stressed the urgent need for the National Assembly to amend the existing NBC law to include internet broadcast and all online media broadcast in the country.

The Minister who spoke against the backdrop of the controversy trailing the ban on the use of Twitter in the country enjoined the lawmakers to grant full regulatory powers to the government over internet broadcasting and all online media outfits.

The Minister asserted that the country’s laws must not be subservient to international telecommunication union treaties in view of the need to protect peculiar situations in our country.

He faulted moves to compel the NBC to pay all monies accruing to it into the federations account in accordance with section 162 of the constitution.

According to him, “We have a problem with this because it is not in line with the thinking of the Executive. Very soon, NBC will exit the number of parastatals whose salaries are paid by the federal government. In other words, the NBC would need to be paying its own salaries, pay for its overheads and operations

“If that is the way the Executive is thinking, it will be a drawback if you now pay everything into the Treasury Single Account. It means that the government would have to continue to pay our salaries and take care of all our needs. This will defeat the objective of the federal government that certain parastatals should contribute more to the revenue of the government

“I think I need to reconcile this with the Minister of Finance before we proceed. The practice now is that 30 per cent of whatever we generate, we retain and 70 per cent is what is paid into the Central Bank

“In 2020, we have been given letters that from next year, we need to be self-sufficient and that we will no longer enjoy the privilege of our salaries being paid by the government. We have to fend for ourselves. So, we need to look into this area.”

On the power to grant a licence, he said: “The spectrums do not belong to licensees, but to the federal government and can use it either for broadcasting, telecom or any other thing. The impression is given that those enjoying it today can do so forever.

“The Federal Government can decide who to give the spectrum to. We must be careful not to give spectrum permanently to foreign companies who may decide to do whatever they please with it

“It is our hope that when we eventually transit from analogue to digital broadcasting, the spectrums that will be left will now be sold to fund developmental programmes. Saying those enjoying the spectrum now should continue to do so is like taking away the powers of the federal government to allocate spectrum.”

But stakeholders in the industry including the Institute for Media and Society, International Press Centre and Centre for Media Law and Advocacy said the inclusion of internet broadcast and online media to the category of broadcast service licenses would be injurious to the civic space, freedom of expression and media freedom.

However, Speaker of the House, Rep Femi Gbajabiamila, said when passed the contents of the bill will substantially influence the creation of media content in the country.

Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila while declaring the hearing open acknowledged that each of the Bills under consideration seeks to significantly alter the statutory framework of media, advertising and intellectual property regulation in Nigeria.

Represented by the Deputy House leader, Mr Peter Akpatason, he said: ” If these bills become law, the proposals contained therein will influence the creation of media content, they will determine the contact of advertising, regulate free speech and establish institutions that will impact our country for generations to come.”

The Speaker thereby charged stakeholders to ensure that all the legislation that emerges from the process are of the highest quality and do not allow for infringements on the human rights of citizens.

The bills being considered comprises:

A BILL FOR AN ACT TO AMEND THE NATIONAL BROADCASTING ACT, CAP N11, LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA 2004 TO STRENGTHEN THE COMMISSION AND MAKE IT MORE EFFECTIVE TO REGULATE BROADCASTING IN NIGERIA, TO PROVIDE FOR PAYMENT OF ALL MONIES RECEIVED BY THE COMMISSION INTO THE FEDERATION ACCOUNT IN ACCORDANCE WITH SECTION 162 OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, 1999 AND ENCOURAGE LIBERAL OPENNESS AND FAVOURABLE COMPETITION IN THE INDUSTRY; AND FOR RELATED MATTERS (HB 332);

A BILL FOR AN ACT TO ESTABLISH THE NIGERIAN INSTITUTE OF TRANSLATORS AND INTERPRETERS AND FOR RELATED MATTERS (HB. 136);

A BILL FOR AN ACT TO REPEAL THE ADVERTISING PRACTITIONERS ( REGISTRATION, ETC.) ACT, CAP A7 LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2004 AND ENACT THE ADVERTISING PRACTITIONERS (REGISTRATION, LICENSING, ETC.)

A BILL FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF A COUNCIL FOR ADVERTISING PRACTITIONERS AS THE APEX REGULATORY AUTHORITY FOR THE NIGERIAN ADVERTISING PROFESSION AND PRACTICE AND ENSURE SMOOTH OPERATIONS OF THE COUNCIL AND FOR RELATED MATTERS (HBS. 137 & 518);

A BILL FOR AN ACT TO REPEAL THE NATIONAL FILM AND VIDEO CENSORS BOARD ACT, CAP N.40 LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2004 AND ENACT THE NATIONAL FILM AND VIDEO CENSORSHIP CLASSIFICATION AND EXHIBITION REGULATORY COMMISSION BILL FOR CLASSIFICATION OF FILMS, VIDEO, WORKS, MUSICAL VIDEOS AMD VIDEO GAMES AND FOR RELATED MATTERS (HB. 514); AND

A BILL FOR AN ACT TO AMEND THE NIGERIA PRESS COUNCIL ACT, CAP N.128 LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2004 TO REMOVE BOTTLENECKS AFFECTING ITS PERFORMANCE AND MAKE THE COUNCIL IN TUNE WITH CURRENT REALITIES IN REGULATING THE PRESS, AND FOR RELATED MATTERS (HB.330)

However, the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria who are the major beneficiaries of the regulations of the National Broadcasting Commission was conspicuously missing at the public hearing.

This came just as the International Press Centre (IPC), as well as Civil Society Organisations, rejected proposed tariff regulations for satellite television in the new National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act amendment bill.

Their views were expressed during their presentation during the public hearing of the bill to amend the NBC Act

In his presentation titled, ‘Independence of NBC/depoliticised process of licensing, industry-sensitive pricing system, promotion of inclusivity and checking arbitrariness’, the Executive Director of IPC, Comrade Lanre Arogundade said fixing tariffs arbitrarily could lead to excessive pricing that has the potential of discouraging investment in the sector and the attendant job losses.

He added that giving NBC the sole right over tariff issues that cannot be interfered with could be interpreted as an ouster clause that arrogates to it arbitrary powers that cannot be challenged even in the court of law.

Arogundade emphasised that the provisions must also not encourage the regulator to become a dictatorial behemoth whose powers and conduct cannot be questioned as such would negate democratic norms and values.

The Executive Director noted that unlike other regulatory institutions such as the National Communications Commission (NCC), the appointment of the Board, including the Director-General, is not subject to the confirmation of the National Assembly.

Arogundade pointed out that the conduct of the NBC overtime presented it as an extension of the office of the Minister of Information and Culture which rarely acts independently.

He stressed that in recent times the NBC has taken actions against certain broadcast media that are believed to be politically motivated, adding that the time is, therefore, overripe to make NBC truly independent.

Arogundade noted that the process of licensing broadcast stations is politically compromised, as under the present NBC Act.

According to him, fixing tariffs arbitrarily could lead to excessive pricing that has the potential of discouraging investment in the sector and the attendant job losses.”

“Giving the NBC the sole right over tariff issues which cannot be interfered with could be interpreted as an ouster clause that arrogates to its arbitrary powers that cannot be challenged even in the court of law.”

Also, in his presentation on behalf of Ataguba and Ataguba solicitors, Mr Emmanuel Ataguba, said the intendment of this amendment to regulate and control prices in the interest of consumers of Digital Satellite Television Services is against the objective of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act which is to “protect and promote the interests and welfare of consumers by providing consumers with a wider variety of quality products (and services) at competitive prices.”

He pointed out that he does not consider that price regulation would benefit consumers, stressing that in public services where government subsidies are involved, price regulation may be relevant.

On his part, the Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, Dr Akin Akingbulu, said the most prominent gap in the NBC Act today is its failure to provide for the independence of the regulatory body.

He said lack of independence manifests in many ways such as in skewed decision-making, inconsistencies in attention to regulatory functions, inability to protect the industry and strengthen its professionalism, inability to meet international standards and, ultimately, failure to deliver on its mandate.

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FG insists on regulation of social media, seeks legislative backing

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