Media-focused civil society organization, International Press Centre, IPC, and other advocacy groups have expressed opposition to the proposed regulation of tariff of pay television operators contained in the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, Act amendment.
IPC and other advocacy groups made their views known in Abuja on Wednesday at the public hearing of a bill to amend the NBC Act organised by the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values.
In his presentation titled “Independence of NBC/Depoliticised process of licensing, industry-sensitive pricing system, checking arbitrariness”, IPC’s Executive Director, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said fixing tariffs arbitrarily has the potential to discourage investments in the sector and bring about job losses.
He added that handing the NBC the sole right to determine pay television tariffs could be interpreted as an ouster clause that gives it arbitrary powers that are unchallengeable in the court of law.
Arogundade emphasised that the provisions must also not encourage the regulator to become a dictatorial entity with unrestrained powers and conduct, as doing so will negate democratic norms and values.
He also noted that unlike other regulatory bodies such as the National Communications Commission, NCC, the appointment of the Board, including the Director-General, is not subject to the confirmation of the National Assembly.
Arogundade pointed out that the conduct of the NBC over time marks it out as an extension of the office of the Minister of Information and Culture and rarely acts independently.
He stated that in recent times, the NBC has taken politically-motivated action against certain broadcast media platforms, adding that such actions make it imperative for reforms that will make the NBC truly independent.
He also described the process of licensing broadcast stations as politically compromised under the extant NBC Act.
“Fixing tariffs arbitrarily could lead to excessive pricing that has the potential of discouraging investment in the sector and the attendant job losses.
“Giving the NBC the sole right over tariff issues which cannot be interfered with could be interpreted as an ouster clause that arrogate to its arbitrary powers that cannot be challenged even in the court of law,” he stressed.
Arogundade noted that the proposal to regulate tariff in the NBC Act amendment bill represents a usurpation of the functions of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Act (FCCPC Act), which has adequate provisions to deal with the often contentious issue of competition and pricing in Nigeria.
He lamented that the NBC currently operates as an institution that is a law unto itself and on the whims of its Director-General, which make it decide that an offence has been committed, decide the punishment and go apply the sanctions, including shutdowns of broadcast stations.
This situation, he said, makes the NBC the accuser, prosecutor and judge in its own case.
To end this, Arogundade said the NBC Act should provide for the right of appeal to the Board of NBC, adding that the national broadcasting code should include hefty fines, suspension or withdrawal of licence if offence is confirmed after appeal.
Also lending his voice, the Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, Dr. Akin Akingbulu, said the most prominent gap in the NBC is its failure to provide for the independence of the regulatory body.
He said lack of independence manifests in many ways such as in skewed decision-making, inconsistencies in attention to regulatory functions, inability to protect the industry and strengthen its professionalism, inability to meet international standards and ultimately, failure to deliver on its mandate.
On his part, the Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, Dr. Akin Akingbulu, said the most prominent gap in the NBC Act is its failure to provide for the independence of the regulatory body.
He said the lack of independence manifests in many ways such as in skewed decision-making, inconsistencies in attention to regulatory functions, inability to protect the industry and strengthen its professionalism, inability to meet international standards and ultimately, failure to deliver on its mandate.
Also, making his presentation on behalf of Ataguba and Ataguba Solicitors, Mr. Emmanuel Ataguba said the intendment of this amendment to regulate and control prices in the interest of consumers of Digital Satellite Television Services is against the objective of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, which is to “protect and promote the interests and welfare of consumers by providing consumers with a wider variety of quality products (and services) at competitive prices”.
He pointed out that he does not consider that price regulation would beneﬁt consumers, stressing that in public services where government subsidies are involved, price regulation may be relevant.