Can NBC Re-invent Broadcasting In Nigeria?, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

…the NBC must regulate the broadcast space, but it must however do so professionally and in concert with stakeholders, while ensuring the buy-in of citizens. Given the manner by which the Kawu-led NBC has acquitted itself with issues in the industry, there are obvious signs that the re-invention of broadcasting in Nigeria may well be on the way.

In its over 25 years of operations, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has never been under the radar, as it is today. Recently the Commission got broadcast stations scampering helter-skelter when it revoked 54 dormant broadcasting licences after they had exceeded their two-year grace period, without coming into operation. Those in operation are facing possible sanctions over their debt overhang to the federal government to the tune of five billion naira. In the past, these issues were discussed in hushed voices and swept under the carpet due to political expediency.

That is history now, according to the NBC Director-General, Is’haq Modibbo Kawu in a recent interview: “There are those who used political connections with the top-most political leadership in Nigeria in the past to get illegal and undue favours that ran contrary to the NBC Act and the Nigeria Broadcasting Code. It’s a different period in our country; nobody will go up to the Villa and get some black market deal anymore”. At an interactive session with journalists recently, Kawu reiterated his determination to reverse the ugly trend of the past and put the NBC on its lawful path of monitoring standards and regulating the industry.

This has since set the tone for a new dawn in the NBC envisaged by Kawu, himself an accomplished journalist and broadcaster per excellence. Perhaps, Kawu stands out as the most versatile Director-General ever to head the NBC. The former Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Word, Sound and Vision (WSV) Multimedia Limited who was top of his class at the prestigious department of Mass Communications in Bayero University Kano is a complete media executive whose professional experience cuts across print, radio and television. From his days as a pioneer staff of Radio Kwara, pioneer general manager of Kwara State Television Authority and editor of Daily Trust newspaper and later chairman of the Editorial Boards of Daily Trust and Blueprint, Kawu has left no one in doubt that he is excellence personified. Kawu’s undying romance with broadcasting, which led him to Radio Nigeria, Radio France International, Radio Netherlands and BBC World Service, where he experienced the best in broadcast standards, has indeed prepared him for his new role at NBC. Nothing less is expected!

With the digital switch over, emphasis on local content, involvement of private individuals and improvement in production techniques, these junk from foreign lands could be supplanted.

It is therefore no surprise that Kawu is making efforts to bring back the days of compliance with broadcast standards and put the impunity and lawlessness of the recent past behind it and match on with the new thinking that has long been in the offing. The digital switch over, which started in Jos, the headquarters of television in Nigeria and later in Abuja, is a defining threshold for broadcasting in Nigeria. Already, thousands of set-top boxes and over 300 call centres are active and in use. This might be a new dawn for NBC, but the task of regulating an industry with over 793 radio and television stations is Herculean. Because of the liberalisation of the broadcast environment, radio stations are proliferating and even non-state actors now have a space in it. In the notorious category are the terrorist group, Boko Haram and a secessionist group like IPOB; as they also ‘import’ and transmit content without due clearance by NBC.

The culture of profiling, labeling, name calling etc. which became the order of the day in the run-up to the 2015 election is yet to abate. The route to the Rwandan genocide that claimed the lives of 800 people was paved with hate speech, innuendos and labeling on radio programmes, where some ethnic groups were called names to justify their large scale murder.

The biggest challenge in the broadcast industry, especially television, revolves around content. Our television is full of junk from foreign countries. These pose serious threats to local content production. With the digital switch over, emphasis on local content, involvement of private individuals and improvement in production techniques, these junk from foreign lands could be supplanted.

The Commission should play its supervisory role creditably, intervene and stop the imposition of the will and wish of the minority who control the levers of power on the people to the detriment of the majority of citizens who elected them to power.

And there is the crisis of political slants in broadcast reportage, which the federal government-owned stations are guilty of. News reporting is and should not read like a protocol list of government functionaries. The Commission should get the FG-owned stations to purge themselves of the protocol pyramid that emphasises more on reports of the president down to his political appointees than on strong news materials that the people want to view and hear. The same thing needs to apply at the states level where government owned stations utilise almost 90 percent of the broadcast space on government information, leaving only 10 percent to other issues of concern to the people. The Commission should play its supervisory role creditably, intervene and stop the imposition of the will and wish of the minority who control the levers of power on the people to the detriment of the majority of citizens who elected them to power.

By all means and for the sake of the nation’s security, unity and cohesion, the NBC must regulate the broadcast space, but it must however do so professionally and in concert with stakeholders, while ensuring the buy-in of citizens. Given the manner by which the Kawu-led NBC has acquitted itself with issues in the industry, there are obvious signs that the re-invention of broadcasting in Nigeria may well be on the way.

zainabsule@yahoo.com, www.zainabokino.blogspot.com

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