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LET us take it undiluted straight from the horse’s mouth (August 3, 2017): “We are dealing with an anarchic situation in the Nigerian broadcasting airwaves, to be honest, and there is no responsible regulatory institution that can allow the problem to persist. We must find a way through the problem and we would!”
The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) under the astute leadership of Mallam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu as its Director-General has really stamped its feet on laudatory Nigerian programming on TV and 80 per cent local content on radio hence the massive exposure of indigenous musical talents, who hitherto were not given such ample opportunity for catalytic visibility. Last Wednesday, at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, at a robust and profound stakeholders’ meeting, on Transmitter Power in Nigerian Broadcasting, Kawu explicated the challenges and the illuminative way forward for broadcast threshold in the country. After his presentation at the event, I came out with a confirmatory feeling that, indeed, when consummate professionals man organizations, the vision, trajectory and possibilities are invaluably illimitable.
The synergetic consolidation that was reaffirmed on that collaborative occasion showed that in spite of the prevailing unethical conduct of most of the FM stations, especially the newly-established ones, between February 22, 2017, when the first stakeholders’ session took place in Abuja and the latest edition of the forum, not much advancement in compliance has been achieved.
Recalcitrant promoters of the erring stations do not deserve kid-gloves treatment from Mallam Kawu. The enunciated broadcast regulations and guidelines need to be strictly enforced. It seems to me that the past directors-general of the NBC pandered to the whims and caprices of the licensees.
Beyond the issue of security which these breaches could lead to, there is the clear and present danger of endless jamming in the airwaves because some of the operators go beyond their allocated frequency. This kind of irresponsibility can only take place in Nigeria.
The argument by licensees that their licences gave them the latitude to buy highly sophisticated and powerful transmitters is untenable. The same provisions they are exploiting now also defined the reach and content profiles of these organizations.
It is obvious that before the arrival of Kawu, a lot of irregularities had been institutionalized so much that now seems to be a fresh beginning, a new dawn. With Kawu’s managerial antecedents and multi-disciplinary pedigree, I have the conviction that it will no longer be “business as usual”. My belief is further rooted in his copious declarations at the gathering to wit: sooner than later, non-compliant station owners will know that a novel and stern Sheriff has arrived at NBC.
If we were serious in this country, all the past DGs of NBC should be made to explain the circumstances of their approval of “unlimited” licences to private radio operators such that the beneficiaries of the apparently sharp practices are now taking cover under their blanket licences! In the same breath, if the truth that these “clever” licensees overreached themselves by abusing the authorization given to them, they should have their operational instruments revoked and, possibly, have their transmitters confiscated amid other sanctions.
The NBC and its engineers should also share in the blame heaped on licensees for not thoroughly doing due diligence before approvals are given. The exoneration by Kawu that his engineers are usually outwitted, somewhat, by the operators shortly before licences are granted is not plausible. If prospective operators know that their systems and transmitters would be mandatorily inspected before any approval—even if provisional—is given, there would be little or no need for pre-shipment inspection of transmitters. As regards meddlesomeness by top-echelon politicians in the granting of licences, there should be technical ways of brushing off such buffoons who are ignorant of global best practices in the management of public utilities and other issues.
There appears to be pervasive ignorance about the goals and operational schedule of the NBC. It’s either most people are not aware of its existence or do not fathom the responsibilities associated with this regulatory body.
The commission believes that Nigerians must take control of these tools of persuasion: radio and TV. They go beyond channels of education, entertainment and information. These channels involve the manipulation of people’s minds. Therefore, there must be ground rules. The NBC must arouse enough awareness which will empower people to take charge, to be critically selective of the fare they consume. Once the commission attains the level where listeners or viewers can determine the conduct of operators and content portfolio, it would have hit the desired threshold.
While we wait for our people’s re-orientation, it is germane to find out how the commission checks irresponsibility in the electronic media, especially with the mushrooming of private radio and TV stations. “We have a monitoring system. There are zonal directors who take care of specific zones. Also, there are zonal headquarters in Lagos, Benin, Umuahia, Abuja, Maiduguri and Jos. Concerning those who breach our guidelines, we may fine them, reduce their broadcast hours and if they refuse to conform to expectations, we have the right to close them down. If all these do not work, we revoke their licences and seize not only their equipment, but seal up their premises. That is what the law says,” a former NBC helmsman said. For now, the commission employs moral suasion instead of resort to the punitive provisions of the decree establishing it because it believes it is the best approach. It is more salutary to get people to internalize the expected culture which has the potential of enduring sustenance. The long-term strategy is really persuasion. This is informed by the fact that what we had a situation of suppression by the state of the professional rights of broadcasters on one hand and docility on the part of viewers and listeners.
Besides radio and conventional TV, the NBC’s brief extends to pay-TV outlets. What role does the NBC play in the granting of licences to private radio and TV operators? The Nigerian constitution makes it clear that the power to approve the running or ownership of private wireless telegraphy companies vests in the head of state or the president of the country. The NBC’s job is to receive applications, consider them and forward recommendations. Or course it advises the Federal Government on the Mass Communication Policy with reference to broadcasting. It will help all operators to involve the NBC when they are making plans for installations—equipment purchase and evaluation of contracts, possibly. Such inclusion in the preparatory work eliminates areas of conflict and streamlines operations ultimately. The NBC has engineers who will assist free of charge in advising them.
It is prodigiously reassuring to note that the NBC has enough employees who monitor, on a 24-hour basis, the activities of all the broadcast media in Nigeria. These research assistants and other operatives make reports to the zonal directors. The NBC depends on the media and indeed Nigerians for the actualization of the Nigerian Broadcasting Code. The commission cannot do it alone. That is the challenge for one and all. Before his appointment, Kawu was the Chairman/CEO of the Abuja-based Word, Sound and Vision (WSV) Multimedia Limited, a holistic media establishment. He has 37 years’ broadcasting experience in all departments of the electronic media. Kawu served as the pioneer GM of Kwara State Television Service. A former Editor of Daily Trust Newspaper, the NBC chief sheriff holds a Bachelors degree in Mass Communication and a Masters degree in Political Science from Bayero University, Kano. Going by his scholarship, occupational profile, professionalism and widely-acclaimed media reputation, there is no doubt that “funky Mallam” Kawu will cleanse the Augean stables of our airwaves with the instrumentality of the NBC in the first stanza before his reappointment for a second tenure most likely, Insha Allah.