By Foluso Coker
As the disquiet surrounding the 6th National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Code is showing no sign of receding locally and internationally, fresh controversy is brewing in the broadcast regulatory agency.
Late last month, the NBC announced amendments to its broadcasting code, provoking significant disapproval from industry stakeholders.
Sources within the commission, however, disclosed that the controversy arising from the amendments to the code may be overshadowed by a new issue related to the expected release of funds for the start-stop Digital Switchover (DSO) project of the Federal Government.
The new issue, said sources, is about the release by the Federal Government of N15billion from a total of N56 billion meant for the DSO.
The DSO project has remained without progress, as it has been beset by a variety of problems, notably the controversial approval of the payment of N2.5billion for the DSO by the federal authorities.
Prior to that, the NBC had paid N1.7billion as a seed grant to a signal distributor.
The NBC made the payment under the leadership of its former Director-General, Emeka Mbah, who is facing fraud allegations brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The payment of the N2.5billion, said sources, was allegedly in contravention of the provisions of the Federal Government Whitepaper on the DSO.
NBC sources stated that the controversy surrounding the previous payments may be repeated when the expected N15billion is released.
They explained that the acting D-G, Professor Armstrong Idachaba, is anxious to be appointed in a substantive capacity and may be intimidated by the powers-that-be.
“The acting D-G appears unable to object to the directives from the authorities, even if what they are doing is at variance with the NBC Act which prohibits interference.
“Consequently it is feared that the funds expected to be released for the DSO funds could be another subject of controversy just like the amounts previously released,” said a source.
The latest instalment of controversy involving the NBC is around the new regulatory framework it released to the public three weeks ago.
The framework tagged the 6th Broadcast Code, has attracted disapproval from many industry players.
Notably, it seeks to criminalise exclusivity of broadcast content, mandate broadcasters with exclusive rights to sub-license rivals and empower the NBC to legislate sub-licensing fees if a dispute arises between rights holders and prospective sub-licensees.
NBC sources said the authorities’ disregard for the NBC Board is what led to the code, which has been widely described as draconian and an attempt, according to a commentator, to institute “Soviet-style command economy”.
A top NBC source alleged that the code was finalised in 2016 and submitted to the supervising ministry which stopped its release, and then inputs, reportedly from a failed pay television service provider, strangely surfaced in form of amendments, thus currently causing anger in the industry.
In 2017, said the source, the code had been sent back to the Board with the controversial amendments, but it was rejected by the Board, which proceeded to excise the provisions allegedly sneaked into it.
The Board was said to have been prevented from releasing the code by the powers-that-be.
Last year, it was learnt that the Board approved the release of the code in its original form. However, in a new twist, the powers-that-be stopped the release, and then the controversial amendments in the form of inputs from the former pay television operator re-inserted.
The fear in the NBC at this time is that the about to be approved N15billion may stoke new controversy even as Nigeria’s digital migration continues to be a mirage.
* Coker is an Abuja based public affairs analyst.
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