Outrage As FG Seeks Powers To Control Internet, Media Content

Lia moh

Coming on the heels of its recent suspension of Twitter operations in the country after it deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet on Nigerian Civil War, the federal government has taken its struggle to control internet content to the National Assembly.

Yesterday, the minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, urged lawmakers to grant the government powers to regulate internet content.
The federal government’s move has received strong criticism from stakeholders in the media industry who said the government was trying to constrict broadcast business as well as the media space.

The Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), International Press Centre (IPC) and other stakeholders said certain provision of the bill would grant too much powers to the NBC which would hurt the operations of the industry.

The minister insisted that it was the responsibility of the government to monitor broadcast content even on the internet.
This is just as stakeholders in the media industry kicked against moves aimed at empowering the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to regulate tariffs charged by Pay TV operators.

The stakeholders also urged the National Assembly to whittle powers of the NBC to unilaterally sanction broadcast stations, just as they demanded that the proviso of 30 days’ notice before the NBC can be sued to court (on actions it had taken) should be expunged from the proposed amendment.

The minister, who stated the government’s position at a public hearing on a bill to amend the National Broadcasting Act organised by the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, urged the lawmakers to amend the existing NBC law to include that it had power to regulate internet broadcast and all online media broadcast in the country.

While speaking on the categories of licences to be granted by the NBC, which include cable television services, direct satellite broadcast, direct to home, IPTV Radio, EPG and digital terrestrial television, radio and television stations owned, established or operated by the federal, state and local governments; broadcast signal distribution; online broadcast, community broadcasting and public service broadcasting, the minister noted that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in the list.

“I want to add here specifically that internet broadcasting and all online media should be included in this. This is because we have the responsibility to monitor content, including Twitter,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), International Press Centre (IPC), and other stakeholders at the public hearing have kicked against certain provisions seeking excessive powers for the NBC.

BON in its presentation before the public hearing urged the lawmakers to expunge a provision which stated that before NBC can be sued to any court, a 30-day notice must be issued to the commission.

BON’s legal representative, Ayo Ogundele, who canvassed the position, noted that the 30-day notice expected to be issued in the proposed amendment was enough to kill the business of broadcasting.

Ogundele suggested that the process of revoking a broadcasting license by the NBC should rather be subjected to legal intervention. This according to him will protect licensees from arbitrary revocation and further ensure stability in the industry.

BON further canvassed that the penalty for a delay in the renewal of the licence should only attract a fine in monetary terms and not revocation of the licence.
“We submit that the 30 days’ caveat should be removed and the law should allow direct legal access to sue NBC in courts. Also, we’ll like to suggest that the process of revocation should be subjected to legal intervention through a judicial process,” he said.

Also, the executive director of the International Press Centre (IPC), Mr Lanre Arogundade, in his presentation, corroborated the position canvassed by BON. He said the NBC, as currently constituted, operates as an institution that is an island onto itself.

“As it suits the whim and caprice of its director-general, it decides that an offence has been committed, decides on the punishment and goes ahead to apply the sanctions, which sometimes includes the shutdown of broadcast stations. In other words, NBC is often the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its case,” he said.

Arogundade also noted that allowing the NBC to regulate the tariff of Pay TV services represents a usurpation of the powers of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Act (FCCPC Act).

The IPC scribe explained that giving NBC the sole right over tariff issues could be interpreted as an ouster clause that arrogates to it arbitrary powers that cannot be challenged even in the court of law.

According to him, FCCPC already had adequate provisions to deal with the often contentious issue of competition and pricing in Nigeria.
“The FCCPC is indeed more technically equipped to handle the kind of matters being dabbled into here, being a specialised agency established for specific purposes.

“Fixing tariffs arbitrarily could lead to excessive pricing that has the potential of discouraging investment in the sector and the attendant job losses,” he said.
He, however, suggested that the NBC Act should provide for the right of appeal to the Board of the NBC where sanctions are applicable for alleged breaches.
“The NBC should play an administrative role when it comes to the matter of alleged breach of the code and imposition of sanctions. The NBC Act should only mandate the director general to refer such to the board,” Arogundade added.

NPAN Decries Exclusion From House Of Reps Public Hearing
Meanwhile, the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) has expressed concern over its exclusion from the public hearing on the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Amendment Bill by the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.

NPAN, in a statement signed by its president, Kabiru Yusuf, expressed surprise at learning of the public hearing scheduled for today (Thursday).

According to the statement, the hearing had initially been scheduled for yesterday, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, along with four other media-related bills.
NPAN, therefore, urged the leadership of the National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives to redress this anomaly.

According to the statement, with the public hearing now delayed by a day, the NPAN will endeavour to attend even without a formal invitation.
The association also enjoined all media workers, and their organisations, to pay attention to the public hearing which may have important consequences on the freedom of the press in particular and good governance in general.

“As a stakeholder in the Nigerian media space, we don’t understand why print media owners have not been invited to participate in the hearing.
“This is contrary to earlier practice when NPAN was invited to a public hearing on the same bill in the last Senate. This time around, we find it strange that we would get to know of this development by sheer happenstance,” the statement read.

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