Fears over FG’s plan to license online radio, TV stations

As part of reforms in the broadcast industry, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the licensing of online radio and television stations in Nigeria.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed this yesterday in Abuja during a courtesy call on him by members of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON). According to the Minister, the President approved that WebTVs and radio stations, including foreign broadcasters beaming signals into Nigeria, be licensed to bring sanity into the industry.

“I just want to use this opportunity to inform you that Mr. President has actually already approved a review of the Broadcast Code that is going to take care of many of the issues you have already raised here. I have said it on many platforms that this administration is not going to gag the press. No! But we will appeal to the media to please self-regulate for the sake of this country and also for the sake of the industry itself.”

The Minister promised to carry along members of BON in the review of the Broadcasting Code and expressed the commitment of the present administration to free media.

Alhaji Mohammed also appealed to BON to partner with the government in the promotion of peaceful co-existence and cohesion in order to engender progress and national development.

“Today, if anybody listens to what is being said on some radio or television stations, you will think that this country is at war or that Christians actually cannot live with Muslims or that there is a dichotomy between the North and the South. I think we need to appeal to you to use your platforms for the unity and cohesion of the country,” he said.

In his response, the Acting Chairman of BON, Sir Godfrey Ohuabunwa said the re-appointment of the Minister was very deserving because he brought life and great innovation to the broadcast industry during the first tenure of the administration.

Reacting to the planned licensing of online TV and radio platforms, publisher of Luxury Reporters, Funke Osae-Brown, said the move might be another ploy to muzzle the media.

“They shouldn’t try to muzzle the media with all these regulations. It won’t work because technology has advanced beyond that; they should give media the free hand to operate. People consume different content online; it’s not all news content that has general appeal. In fact, entertainment platforms sell more than hardcore news TV or radio stations online. All the so-called regulations are subtle attempts to strangulate the media.”

To media practitioner, Prince Adeyemi Aseperi, there’s no way the Federal Government can license online TV and Radio stations.

“It is an old way of thinking! There are over 500 community radio license requests with NBC; they should approve those ones and create more jobs. Do they have the resources or technology to block online radio or TV stations broadcasting from outside Nigeria? The government should support community TV and radio stations that want to promote non-profit ventures.”

In his reaction, TV Producer and Content Creator, Sola Fajobi described the move as “far-reaching,” adding, “you cannot license or stop online broadcasting as you do not have control over it. The President and his team can only set up some laws that guide and restrict online broadcasting, but you cannot license what you don’t control.”

However, describing the move as a welcome development, public affairs analyst Prince Francis Chilaka, said: “It shows that the government in its Next Level Agenda is ready and willing to listen to the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. This is also a testimony to the fact that the government is not about suppressing the press, as we have been made to understand in the recent past. Steps like this are a pointer to opening up foreign and local investment opportunities, job creation and empowerment. I hope that such gesture will be extended to other sectors of the economy.”

For PR/media practitioner Temitope Ajayi, the policy is coming four years late.

“Good it has finally happened; the online space needs to be sanitised and brought under regulations. The major cause of the security problem and anger we have in the country today is the explosion of online content without censorship. This will help deal with charlatans, who just create unwholesome broadcast content on the Internet. Radio Biafra and such incendiary Web-broadcast sites have accentuated hate and division in Nigeria in the last four years.”

Veteran journalists Femi Akintunde-Johnson, who also reacted to the development said: “I support any reasonable degree of regulation in any area of public communication enterprise; it could be self-regulatory, guild-driven, institutional regulatory structures, etc. 

Nigeria has woken up to the need for some form of licensing in the use of online radio and television, five years after South Africa started, I think.”

He continued: “One is, however, not sure if our government plans to use the same prism with which it deals with terrestrial broadcasting to moderate activities of online broadcasting; that will both be retrogressive and adversarial. It will drive online entrepreneurs in this line of work to the fringes, encouraging guerilla tactics, and such beat-the-oppressive-system mentality, which will find great traction with the mass of disgruntled Nigerians all over the world. The government will not only become unpopular but will have to invest heavily in jamming and monitoring devices and manpower.”

He, however, added: “I suspect that licensing will encourage the possibility of rights owners of music and visuals to collect royalties through the CMOs, from online broadcasters. It is worth reiterating to government that this is not a cash cow or an opportunity to beat vocal voices into a preferred line; it will backfire spectacularly.”

MD/CEO of Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS), Chief Uche Nworah, believes the plan is in order for the regulator and the Federal Government to update the broadcasting code to meet current needs and practices.

“However, the expectation is that any such review should be in consultation with the practitioners. I’m not aware that any such round table meetings between BON and the regulator (NBC) have taken place. The broadcasting industry like every other industry has experienced lots of disruptions, this will continue, so, the plan to license online radio and television stations is well in order.”

On the importance of regulation in the media industry, Nworah explains: “Part of the challenge is that some people have set up online radio and TV and some of them have gone a bit overboard with extremist contents, which sometimes undermine national security leading to the painting of everyone black in the industry. Again, we will see how the new licensing regime affects existing broadcasting organisations, who have in line with global trends, extended their content to own online platforms. For example, we stream all our content (radio and TV) live via our website absradiotv.com and on our Youtube channel (ABSTelevisionAwka), does this mean that we will require licenses for these our online platforms? We will see,” he said.

Director, International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, said the move was a welcome development as “any effort by the federal government to widen the media landscape in the country means that citizens have access to the plurality of information from all sources. However, that does not mean that the process of issuance of a broadcasting license should not be reformed because one of the challenges we have is that under the present law, it is the president that has the final authority in the issuance of the license despite the existence of the NBC.”

He urged the federal government to issue the licenses based on merit and not be subjected to undue partisanship considerations.

Assistant Director, Public Affairs, National Broadcasting Commission, Ekanem Antia, applauded Lai Mohammed, saying Nigeria is not the first country to introduce the license scheme. “This is not to gag the public but it will bring some sanity to the system,” he said.