By Rotimi Ijikanmi
Abuja – The Federal Government on Tuesday directed the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to immediately come up with fresh regulations that would promote local broadcast industry and protect it from monopolistic tendencies.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, gave the directive in Abuja when he received the report of the NBC Reform Implementation Committee chaired by Prof. Armstrong Idachaba.
The minister said the regulations should cover advertising tariffs and production, to ensure that all anti-competitive behaviours are deterred and sanctioned where they occur.
He also directed the commission to come up with regulations for the broadcast of content on the Internet and the web.
Mohammed said the regulations should ensure that those who provide broadcast services on the internet do so with responsibility.
He, however, cautioned that the regulations must not in any way gag the press or hinder their universal role of providing valuable information to the citizenry.
The minister said that in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive, the commission should amend its Code to reflect review of fines from N500,000 to N5 million for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency.
He said willful repeat of the infractions on three occasions after levying fine on a station would attract suspension of license.
The commission was also directed to upgrade breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments to ”Class A” offence in the Broadcasting Code.
The minister said flowing from the committee’s report, he would commence the process of forwarding an Executive Bill for consideration of the Federal Executive Council and further legislative action.
“The Bill will address the existing lacuna in the areas of the regulation of the Internet, the ongoing Digital Switch Over, Digital Access Fee, and insulation of the regulator from partisan politics.
“An important aspect of Mr President’s approval for the reform of the NBC is in the area of the welfare of staff.
“I will, therefore, be directing 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.
“In this age of technology and the internet, a responsible and respectable broadcast industry regulator must be properly equipped.
“We shall therefore, commence the process for the acquisition of modern broadcast equipment for the Commission for the purpose of monitoring and enforcement.
“Similarly, government shall commence the process of beefing up the material, training and manpower needs of the Commission,’’ he said.
Mohammed said the NBC Act would also 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.
He said such appointment would establish collaboration between the industry and the regulator and ensure transparency,
The minister said specific actions would be taken to ensure that the approval of broadcast licences align with the government’s efforts on the Ease of Doing Business.
He thanked members of the committee for the “satisfactory report’’ they presented stressing that its implementation would revolutionise the NBC in several ways.
While presenting the report to the minister, Idachaba said since the committee’s inauguration on Oct. 10, some of the assignments given to it, particularly internet regulation, had generated media attention.
He hailed the minister for his conviction and resilience “to undertake and deliver a task once he is convinced it is in national interest’’.
Idachaba commended the Federal Government for the foresight of creating a media environment that would propel the common good and growth of the country.
He disclosed that since the creation of NBC 27 years ago, it was the first time a government was appraising the operational functionality of the institution.
Idachaba said the committee proposed in the report, immediate and short term frameworks that would guide the implementation of needed reform of the NBC.
Other members of the committee are Sir Godfrey Ohuabunwa, Mr J.K. Ehicheoya, Hajia Binta Bello, Mr Ibrahim Jimoh, Mr Kingsley Ndubuisi and the secretary, Mr Joe Mutah.