By Andy Chukwu
The Federal Government has directed National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately come up with regulations for the broadcast of content on the Internet to ensure that those who provide broadcast services online do so with responsibility.
It also instructed the commission to immediately come up with fresh regulations that will promote the local broadcast industry and protect it from monopolistic tendencies and also ensure that all anti-competitive behaviours are deterred and sanctioned where they occur.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, who gave the directives when he received the report of NBC Reform Implementation Committee in Abuja, said he would immediately commence the process of forwarding an Executive Bill for consideration of the Federal Executive Council and further legislative action, adding that the bill will address the existing lacuna in the areas of regulation of Internet, the ongoing Digital Switch Over, Digital Access Fee, and insulation of the regulator from partisan politics.
He disclosed that in line with Mr. President’s directive, the commission would be mandated to amend the code through new regulations to reflect the upward review of fines from N500,000 to N5,000,000 for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency while wilful repeat of infractions on three occasions after levying fine on a station to attract suspension of license.
Mohammed said breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments would be upgraded to ‘’Class A’’ offence in the Broadcasting Code.
He observed that for the Nigerian broadcast industry to play its critical role of providing information for national development, there is an urgent need to come up with regulations that will address existing challenges.
“Over the years, there has been no love lost between the regulator and the Industry. Government believes that a trustworthy relationship is key to the development of the industry. As a way of establishing that collaboration between the industry and the regulator, and to ensure transparency, NBC Act will be amended to make provision for the appointment of a representative of the broadcasters union for both public and private broadcasters on the board of the commission.
“We will be taking action to ensure that the approval of broadcast licences aligns with the government’s efforts on the Ease of Doing Business”.
Mohammed noted that an important aspect of Mr. President’s approval for the reform of the NBC is in the area of the welfare of staff and directed the NBC to commence work on an enhanced welfare package for the staffers of the Commission, with a view to implementing such as soon as possible, that the regulations must not in any way gag the press or hinder their universal role of providing valuable information to the citizenry.
Earlier, while presenting the implementation framework for the NBC reform, Committee chairman and the Director, Broadcast Monitoring in NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, observed that some of the matter of the committee’s assignment generated a lot of media attention, especially about regulating the Internet became highly topical, adding that the committee found out in the course of its work that almost every country is rising to the challenge of hateful, abusive and harmful content on the social media.
“Our committee therefore recognizes that Nigerians have a right to expression, through all available platforms for media communication. We noted that it is vital that platform owners and producers of content exercise responsibility for the good of society. We must commend the federal government for the foresight of creating a media environment that promotes common good and growth of the country”.
Idachaba noted that since the creation of the NBC 27 years ago, no government has considered it necessary to appraise the operational functionality of the commission adding that the committee has proposed some immediate and short-term framework that will guide the Minister in implementing the needed Reform of the NBC.
“Among the issues we looked at are measures that will boost staff welfare and promote professionalism among the staff. Similarly we have proposed state of the art and efficient equipment that will make the NBC the envy of other similar regulatory agencies. There is no way this reform will be effective without the necessary legal statues. We have made some concrete provisions for an Executive Bill that will be reflective of the current era of Digitization and Internet of things”.