In Nigeria, the National Press Council regulates the press, while the National Broadcasting Commission oversees the broadcast media. Comparing them is a salutary exercise. Nigeria's Freedom of Information Bill – which will provide access to information for journalists – is currently being debated by the Nigerian House. If and when the FoI Bill is signed into law, the organisation that already has systems in place will benefit most from the free flow of information. And yes, that would be the NBC. By REMMY NWEKE.
Since the current media revolution in Nigeria – let’s say in the past half decade, if not more – nothing much has been heard of the Nigerian Press Council. Recently, there has been lots of comment and opinion about the NPC, much of it alluding to the fact that new blood needs to be injected into the council. The younger generations of practicing journalists do not even know about the existence NPC. There are fears that the NPC, as constituted, does not understand what has hit it in terms of the media revolution, which has mostly been ignited by the avalanche of social media.
Ordinarily, the NPC is very much in darkness and it is tempting to equate its processes with those of the mysterious National Electronic Power Authority. Despite the fact that former president Olusegun Obasanjo dared to commence a reform, resulting in Nepa now being known by the more dramatic name Power Holding Company of Nigeria, the syndrome of mismanagement lives on. For most of the Nigerian populace, including the growing media outlets, the ill health of Nepa has gone beyond being a syndrome to an endemic disease. The utility's attitude is to hold on to power – and then feed you back with outrageous bills.
For its part, the NPC suffers similar mismanagement. The NPC is led by chairman Alhaji Inuwa Lamido and executive secretary Mudashiru ’Bayo Atoyebi. The agency is saddled with the responsibility to promote high professional standards for the Nigerian press. It was established by the Nigerian Press Council Act No. 85 of 1992 (amended in the Nigerian Press Council Act No. 60 of 1999). Its vision is to create a culture of ethical press in Nigeria, driven through research and documentation of contemporary press development, training and workshop for journalists and accreditation of programmes in tertiary institutions.
However, many people in journalism in the last decade have not been inducted into the happenings of the NPC.
This concern is crucial, especially when taking into account the rising power of new media technologies, including social networks. With hundreds of media outlets registered with the NPC since God knows when, they need to be shown the route to modernity – which is new media. Another bothersome aspect of the NPC's operations, is that it has no newsletter through which to communicate with its membership, supposedly drawn from the Nigeria Union of Journalists.
It has been alleged that the NPC's leadership has become embroiled in political wranglings. This is against the backdrop of an imbroglio of interests between NPC and the likes of the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the Nigerian Guild of Editors and Nigeria Union of Journalists.
As matter of fact, rather than in-fighting, critics claim there is an avalanche of needs the NPC must address:
- a media census should be conducted and the viability of existing media evaluated;
- a contemporary template for the NPC to lead the Nigerian media into the current era of possibilities should be drawn up;
- updating of NPC technology and access to bandwidth, as well as its website;
- improving its management; and
- pressing for the much-vaunted Freedom of Information Bill to be passed.
The Bill was approved by the Nigerian Senate in 2006, but still needs to be approved by the House and signed into law by the president. As stated on its website: “The Freedom of Information Bill..., if passed into law, will give every Nigerian a legal right of access to information, records, and documents held by government bodies and private bodies carrying out public functions.” As the website goes on to explain, currently, “Nigeria has no law which guarantees citizens access to public records and information. On the contrary, many Nigerian laws have secrecy clauses prohibiting the disclosure of information, e.g. the Official Secrets Act, the Criminal Code, the Penal Code, etc.”
To make the Bill a reality, as well as to make good use of it once it becomes law, the NPC first needs to get its house in order. Nigeria's National Broadcasting Commission, may well be better placed to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Bill.
The NBC was formed seven years before the enactment of the NPC, in 1992. Its management of the broadcast industry in Nigeria has earned it trust, with progress recorded so far. It is also a parastatal of the Federal Government of Nigeria, and authorised to regulate the broadcasting industry by Act No. 38 of 1992 (as amended by Act No. 55 of 1999) based on the recommendations of the committee on national mass communications policy relying on a decree of 24 August 1992, which amendment was adopted as Acts of the National Assembly numbers 38 and 55 in line with present democratic tenets.
The leadership of NBC was pioneered by its first director-general, Tom Adaba, alongside a 10-man board, with Peter Enahoro as chairman and Bright Igbako as secretary. By July 1999, the second director-general, Mallam Nasir Danladi Bako, was appointed. He resigned in November 2002 and was succeeded by Silas Babajiya Yisa. Mudashiru ’Bayo Atoyebi came in next and held the post in an acting capacity between August 2006 and March 2007 prior to his current position at NPC.
In March 2007 Yomi Bolarinwa was named acting director-general of the NBC and his appointment was confirmed by former president Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, on 17 February 2009. He is chief executive officer of the 10-member commission’s board, presided over by Alhaji Ibrahim Najume. Each member has five-year tenure, and is usually appointed by the president, while the NBC maintains about 25 offices across the nation.
It has 301 employees shared across all the offices and Abuja to assist in the management of the broadcast industry as well as ensuring people's right to quality broadcasting. Now, all these facts and figures may seem rather dry – but that's the point; it's not very interesting when something is orderly and on track, and it forms a stark contrast to the disorganisation of the NPC.
The NBC could be said to have done very well in terms of planning activities for the members of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, and fulfilling its mandate, which includes counselling the federal government on the implementation of the national mass communication policy, with particular reference to broadcasting, as well as licensing cable, direct-to-home and all terrestrial radio and television services. Additionally, the NBC is charged with undertaking research and development in the broadcast industry, upholding the principles of equity and fairness in broadcasting and establishing and disseminating a national broadcasting code, while also setting standards with regards to the content and quality of broadcast material.
For the NBC, managing the new opportunities afforded by the Freedom Of Information Bill may not be a difficult task, given the infrastructure and manpower on ground. But for the NPC, the real work is yet to commence. FAM
Photo: A man reads a newspaper at a vendor's stand in Obalende district in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, December 2, 2009. Nigerian newspapers on Wednesday published a call from a group of public figures for President Umaru Yar'Adua to quit or prove he is fit enough to govern, deepening debate over the leadership of the oil producing nation. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye.
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