Broadcasting Code Amendment: NBC kicks, accuses Lai Mohammed of acting alone

The crisis between the management and Board of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, worsened on Thursday with the board distancing itself from the 6th review edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

The board which insisted that its inputs were not sought or collated to make up the amendment also alleged that the minister singlehandedly spearheaded the new amendment, describing it as strange in the history of the nation’s broadcast industry.

Chairman of the NBC board, Ikra Bilbis, said Lai Mohammed amended the country’s broadcasting code “unilaterally.”

He said the procedures for the review which were undertaken every four years involving staff of the NBC, former DGs, retired Directors and all other relevant stakeholders in broadcasting was flouted.

“The minister’s version of the revised code does not meet any known criteria of due process and inclusiveness of stakeholders,” he said.

According to him, the minister sidelined the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, Independent Broadcast Association of Nigeria, private media outfits, broadcasters, notable media intellectuals, communication experts, digit team and the academia and singlehandedly carried out the review.

Bilbis said the current amended edition 6th edition was presented to the public in 2019 at an elaborate ceremony in Kano which attracted a broad section of various stakeholders.

The controversial amended code was launched in Lagos on August 4 despite opposition by stakeholders in the industry.

One of the amendments to the code is the increase of hate speech fine from N500,000 to N5 million and the provision for sub-licensing of all broadcast contents among others.

In June, Armstrong Idachaba, NBC acting director-general (DG), disowned a call for position papers by the board of the commission on the amendments.

Bilbis said he received over 50 position papers for the sixth amendment of the code but none of the input was considered.

He explained that following the 2019 national elections, some members of the Federal Executive Council made observations to Mohammed 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.

He said: “This noble observation of Mr. President was unfortunately misunderstood by the Hon. Minister of Information.

“Instead of studying and following the law, relevant rules and regulations, and direct the appropriate authorities as stipulated by the law to act on, he erroneously embarked on the review alone.

“As a board, we have received and taken our time to compile the responses of numerous stakeholders which include our Nobel Laureate, activists, legal practitioners, broadcasters, investors, BON, Content Creators, Copyright experts and professional organisations. Most of them have adduced reasonable reasons against the proposed amendment.

“The NBC was set up by law and there is an Act that guides its operations. The Honourable Minister therefore cannot usurp the powers of the board as clearly stated in the Act. Any such action by the Honourable Minister is illegal.

“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 within 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.”

Bilbis said the board was not informed of the launch and that out of 60 stakeholders, the minister picked only four to be present.

“You may all recall that by 26th march 2020, (the day of the ‘Public Presentation’ in Lagos), the federal government had already announced a COVID-19 lockdown of Lagos, Ogun states and the FCT,” he said.

“It was therefore not a sincere effort to present such an important ‘review document’ which affects people’s investments and livelihoods under such a situation.”

The board chairman said the amendment will destroy investments and lead to job losses, adding that the minister has failed to show the approval of “his own version” by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Be that as it may, the NBC has slammed a N5million fine on Lagos based Nigeria Info 99.3FM for ‘unprofessional conduct’ over a comment on an interview programme granted a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr Obadiah Mailaifa.

Mailaifa was granted the interview session on the station’s  popular programme, Morning CrossFire, on Monday, where he laid unsubstantiated allegation on a particular governor (whose name wasn’t mentioned) of northern extraction as a commander of Boko Haram – the terrorist group responsible for the killing and destruction going on in the north east.

He claimed to have gotten the information directly from some of the repentant bandits and some of their high commanders to be precise, through an intelligence networks he had access to.

The former CBN chief also said the terror groups were “moving ammunition, moving money, and distributing them across different parts of the country” during the nationwide lockdown imposed by Coronavirus pandemic.

The interview and public reaction attracted the attention of the Department of State Security (DSS) who invited him for question on Wednesday at Jos, Plateau State. The interrogation lasted six hours before his eventual release.

His comment sparked reactions from Nigerians, giving the serious nature of insecurity and lost of lives and properties in southern Kaduna of recent. It was based on the sensitive nature of his comment the radio organisation was sanctioned.

Part of the statement by the NBC management reads: “In line with the amendment of the 6th edition of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, Nigeria Info 99.3FM Lagos, has been fined the sum of N5,000,000.00 (Five Million Naira), only.

“The station provided its platform for the guest, Dr. Mailafia Obadiah, to promote unverifiable and inciting views that could encourage or incite to crime and lead to public disorder.”

“They told us that one of the northern governors is the commander of Boko Haram in Nigeria,” Mailaifa said in the interview.

“Boko Haram and the bandits are one and the same. They have a sophisticated network. During this lockdown their planes were moving up and down as if there was no lockdown.”

NBC said the claims were mere allegations, devoid of facts and fined the Lagos-based radio station 5 million for violating some sections of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code.

“The National Broadcasting Commission has noted with grave concern, the unprofessional conduct of Nigeria Info 99.3FM, Lagos, in the handling of the Programme, “Morning Cross Fire”, aired on August 10, 2020, between 8.30am and 9.00am,” NBC said.

NBC said the fine on Nigeria Info will “serve as a deterrent to all other broadcast stations in Nigeria who are quick to provide a platform for subversive rhetoric and the expositions of spurious and unverifiable claims, to desist from such.

“The Commission wishes to put it on record that it will not hesitate to suspend the Broadcast Licence of broadcast stations that continue to breach the Code.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information and Culture has received the report of the Audience Measurement Task Team, with a pledge to implement it in order to reverse the declining fortunes of Broadcast Advertising in Nigeria.

“Based on the feedback that I have received and the eloquent speech just read out by your Chairman, I am convinced that the report that you are submitting today will go a long way in helping us to achieve our objective, which is to solve the Audience Measurement issue in

Nigeria, once and for all,” the Minister, Lai Mohammed said on Thursday while receiving the report virtually in his office in Abuja.

Segun Adeyemi, Special Assistant to The President (Media) Office of The Minister of Information and Culture, who made this known in a statement, quoted Mohammed to have said that the absence of a world-class Audience Measurement System has resulted in under-investment in the Broadcast Advertising sector and stunted its growth, unlike the Nigerian film, music and fashion industries which have grown significantly over the past decade.

 “As I have said on many occasions, the value of Nigeria’s Broadcast Advertising Market is not proportional to the country’s population, when compared to the Top 3 Markets in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite having a population more than three times that of South Africa, Nigeria’s Television Advertising Revenue in 2016 was US$309 million, compared to that of South Africa, which was US$1.3 billion,” the Minister said.

He said with the submission of the report, the immediate task before the government is to bring the under-performing the Nigerian Broadcast Advertising Market to what it should be, which is two to three times its current size.

The Minister said this could result in additional US$400 million of revenue in the industry within the next three years, adding: “The key to achieving that objective is the faithful implementation of the report you are submitting today.”

”Let me assure you that we will study the report and implement the recommendations, especially the 5-Step Agenda, with the same vigour and commitment that you have employed in putting it together.”

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