*Board says minister acted alone
The Board of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has said that the new Nigeria Broadcasting Code (NB Code) recently announced by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is illegal and cannot be utilised in regulating broadcasting in Nigeria.
However, relying on the new code, the NBC Thursday fined the Nigeria Info 99.3FM, Lagos, N5 million for airing views determined as hate speech on one of its programmes, “Morning Cross Fire”, which was aired on August 10, 2020, between 8.30am and 9.00am.
Addressing a press conference Thursday in Abuja over the purported amendment of the code, the chairman of NBC board, Ika Aliyu Bilbis, along with his colleagues, said that the only NB Code, which the board and other stakeholders recognised and which they shall work with in the setting of operating policies and standards for the NBC, was the 6th edition of the NB Code, which was launched in 2019 in Kano.
The NBC board also stated that 55 institutions and stakeholders: Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), Independent Broadcast Association of Nigeria (IBAN), private media outfits, broadcasters, notable media Intellectuals, communication experts, including Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, in different letters to the board, had also vehemently rejected the new code.
‘’The Board of the NBC wishes to make it quite clear that as long as it is in place, the only NB Code that we recognise and which we shall work with in the setting of operating policies and standards for the NBC is the 6th edition of the NB Code, which was launched in 2019 in Kano. Any other purported review has no board endorsement and therefore cannot be utilised in regulating broadcasting in Nigeria.
‘’The danger of allowing the unilateral amendment of the NB Code to stand is that investors in the industry will lose confidence in the stability the broadcast ecosystem has enjoyed till date before the advent of the current Minister of Information.
‘’Our President and his team have worked so hard to galvanise local and foreign investment in Nigeria. Allowing obnoxious policies to take root in our Investment Culture will spell doom for creativity, enterprise, diversity and the general development of broadcasting in Nigeria’’, the NBC’s board stated.
Reviewing the recent negative developments concerning the purported amendment of the NB Code, the board explained that the wellbeing of the broadcast media had direct relevance to the stability of democracy.
Explaining that the NBC Act empowers the Commission to establish and disseminate a Nigeria Broadcasting Code (NB Code) which sets standards for the quality and content of broadcast materials, the board accused the minister of Information and Culture of unilaterally carrying out the review without input of other stakeholders.
According to the board, ‘’Code review is undertaken every four years and involves the staff of the NBC, former DG’s, retired Directors of the Commission and all other relevant stakeholders in broadcasting.
‘’These include Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON), Independent Broadcast Association of Nigeria (IBAN), Private Media outfits, Broadcasters, notable media Intellectuals, Communication experts, Digiteam and the Academia.’’
They stated that following the 2019 national elections, some members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) made observations to the Honourable Minister of Information at a FEC meeting about the divisive broadcasts engaged in by some broadcast media before, during and after the elections and the need to strengthen the operations of the NBC to avert such future occurrence.
This ‘’noble observation’’ of the President, according to the board, was ‘’unfortunately misunderstood’’ by the Minister of Information who instead of studying and following the law, relevant rules and regulations, and direct the appropriate authorities as stipulated by the Law to act on, erroneously embarked on the review alone.
‘’From the history, traditions and the convention of the NBC, no Honourable Minister of Information has ever interfered in any NB Code review.
‘’After the 2019 presentation of the 6th code (which is the present one), the Hon. Minister has acted alone with just a handful of his loyalists who have written a new NB Code that has created uproar in the industry, threatening to destroy investments and lead to job losses.
‘’The Honourable Minister has constantly dropped the name of President Muhammadu Buhari as having approved his own version of the code review. The NB Code is a regulatory framework put together jointly by stakeholders to guide their operations in the industry’’, the board explained.
Accusing the minister of dropping the name of President Buhari for his unlawful action, the board stated that the President is a ‘’stickler for due process’’ and he always insists on organisations doing the right thing.
The board added, ‘’The Honourable Minister’s version of the revised NB Code does not meet any known criteria of due process and inclusiveness of stakeholders.
‘’The Director overseeing the office of the DG of the NBC has equally made insinuations that the Board endorsed the amendments culminating in its ‘public presentation’ on 26th March, 2020 at the L’eola Hotel in Lagos. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
‘’The “public presentation” was actually attended by serving directors in the NBC, one former DG of the NBC, a member representing the Ministry of Information and only four (4) selected stakeholders. When compared with over sixty (60) stakeholders that attended the 2019 presentation in Kano, there is a wide gap in industry representation.’’
The board further argued that there were very serious and disturbing amendments which have been unilaterally carried out by the Minister, which has attracted very critical comments with threats of litigation from concerned organisations and individuals.
The board said that the very controversial portions of the purported amended code certainly aims at destroying hard work and enterprises and aims at taking people’s freedom and intellectual property and depriving hard working entrepreneurs to empower new entrants who have not cut their teeth.