Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Sanctions and the vilification of NBC, By Muktar Tahir

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Let our memories be refreshed that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) was set up on August 24, 1992, by Decree 38 of 1992 later amended as an act of the National Assembly by Act 55 of 1999 and now known as National Broadcasting Commission Laws of the Federation 2004, CAP N11 to among other responsibilities, regulate and control the broadcasting industry in Nigeria.

The commission in its advisory capacity to the federal government regularly adopts scientific research methods to gather data, analyze trends in line with the dynamism of the industry and advise the government accordingly. It is also the responsibility of the commission to receive, process and considers applications for the establishment, ownership, or operation of radio and television stations, including cable television services, satellite broadcast, and any other medium of broadcasting; radio and television stations owned, established, or operated by the federal, state and local government; and stations run under private ownership.

The commission recommends these applications after due consideration, through the Minister of Information to the President, for the grant of radio and television licenses.

However, almost anytime the commission goes out to carry out its statutory responsibilities, it meets the walloping of Nigerians. Let me be specific: any time a broadcast channel engages in a broadcast that would endanger the peace, unity, or morality of the country and NBC issues a sanction, Nigerians, especially the ones on social media, takes the commission to the cleaners, citing freedom of expression. They sometimes compromise even in developed countries where freedom of expression is not taken with kid’s gloves, if an expression, in this case, a broadcast, could incite violence or be injurious to national values.

In recent times, many cases abound. There was a letter NBC sent to Channels TV asking fo an explanation on why it interviewed the spokesman of a proscribed organisation; the ban on Jay FM 101.9 Jos for playing songs such as Falz’s ‘This is Nigeria’, Wande Coal’s ‘Iskaba’ and Olamide’s ‘See Mary, See Jesus’; and the N9m fines imposed on Channels TV, AIT and Arise TV [N3m each] over their coverage of the #EndSARS protests.

There was the  N5m fine imposed on Nigeria Info 99.3 FM for airing an interview with a former deputy governor of the Central Bank, Dr Obadiah Mailafia. There was a letter to broadcast stations in Nigeria requiring them to downplay the worsening security situation in Nigeria, particularly, the threats of Boko Haram and banditry, which many thought was improper. There was the indefinite suspension of AIT and RayPower in June 2019 for not abiding by Cap N11 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

There are so many other cases in recent times. And, as said earlier, most Nigerians rarely take into consideration the fact that NBC’s sanctions are often back by law and the sanctions are normally according to its Act, not arbitrary sanctions.

However, on the venom Nigerians usually dish out any time NBC reacts, I partly put the blame on the commission. The people have not understood the workings of the statutory roles of the commission and it barely sensitises them to understand. Ideally, the commission ought to devise various means to make people understand the provisions of its Act, policies, and the entirety of its functions. Doing so would refine and boost its image in the eyes of the citizens.

Apart from the mud it gets into any time it issues sanctions, NBC has been performing robustly in discharging its constitutional responsibilities, which contribute to the advancement of the country’s unity, progress, and development.

It is noteworthy that some 20 years ago, the Nigerian content accounted for less than 30% of what was being shown on our local stations in the name of music and movies. Not that we could not produce enough to fill the gap, so many things were also hampering these productions. NBC went to work and got broadcast stations to do more, both terrestrial and cable stations. Today, we have Africa Magic stations which started as one potpourri of local movies but now we have African Magic Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Urban, Showcase and so on DSTV. Apart from this, NBC got the cable TV giants to bring many Nigerians stations on their platform. You can watch AIT, Channels, MiTV, LTV, Silverbird, NTA and so on in any part of the country as long as you have any DSTV decoder and no matter your subscription plan.

All these are made possible by the efforts of NBC. Can the same mother want to kill the same children she raised? Perhaps, the younger generation of Nigerians needs to know where NBC is coming from. They will know that even if the government of the day is not living up to expectations, it is one agency that will never joke with the interests of the Nigerian television viewing public.

I cannot also forget the dexterous implementation of the nation’s switch from analogue to digital broadcasting, otherwise known as the Digital Switch Over (DSO), by the commission as mandated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). I can attest to the fact that the success of Nigeria’s DSO programme has made the NBC a reference point for several African nations currently contending with the teething stages of their own DSO projects. Consequently,  industry experts agree that the reinvigorated NBC has now placed Nigeria in the world map as the nation with the fastest analog-to-digital broadcasting transition record.

But the vilification it receives following every sanction it issues often puts these robust policies and top-notch achievements to nought. Sensitisation is the only key.

I trust the steadfastness of the incumbent Director-General, Balarabe Shehu Ilelah. The veteran broadcaster can get the narrative changed.

Mr Tahir wrote from Abuja

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