Stakeholders want NBC vested with license approval powers, kick against tariff control




Some stakeholders in the media industry on Wednesday said that Presidential powers to approve broadcasting license in the country should be removed and vested in the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC)

The stakeholders spoke at a public hearing organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation and Ethics and Values in Abuja.

The participants argued that the office of the president can too busy with other state matters which will delay approval of licenses for media practitioners.

The stakeholders also opposed the idea to empower the NBC to control price of digital satellite television service providers.
They said that prices should be determined by forces according to the principles of open market.

The bill also seeks to regulate broadcasting in Nigeria, provide for all monies received by the commission be paid into the federation account in accordance with Constitution and encourage liberal openness and competition in the industry.

The Executive Director, Institute for Media and Society, Nigeria, Dr Akin Akingbulu, said that the regulator should be separate from other public entities.

Akingbulu said that the regulator should be protected from political, economic interference and other interests.

He argued that the NBC should have full regulatory powers, including the power to grant and renew licences and sanction licencees.

“Section 2 of the Act prescribes the powers of the NBC, but snatches away one of the most important powers of a broadcasting regulator: the power of authorisation of broadcasting licences.

“It only receives and processes applications, the approval segment of the licensing process is done between the Ministry of Information and the Presidency where it is finalised.

“This makes the regulator a post office and its technical/professional decisions subject to political considerations. In the absence of set timelines, the process keeps applicants waiting for long periods,’’ he said.

In his presentation, the Executive Director, International Press Centre (IPC) Mr. Lanre Arogundade said controlling tariffs arbitrarily could lead to excessive pricing.

According to him, that has the potential of discouraging investment in the sector and the attendant job losses.

Arogundade said that the regulation of the broadcast sector must entail independence for the regulator and ensure regulations does not constitutes hurdle to media freedom, survival and sustainability of the broadcast sector.

He explained that vesting the NBC the sole right over tariff issues which cannot be interfered with, could be interpreted as an ouster clause that arrogates to it arbitrary powers that cannot be challenged even in the court of law.

He said that the provisions of the legislation that provides guidelines for the regulator must not negate the principles and philosophy of an independent broadcast media.

Arogundade said that the provisions must also not encourage the regulator to become a dictator whose powers and conduct cannot be questioned.

He said that like other regulatory institutions, the appointment of NBC Board, including the Director General, should be subjected to the confirmation of the National Assembly.

“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 arrogates to it arbitrary powers that cannot be challenged even in the court of law,’’ he said.

A competition and consumer practitioner protection law expert, Mr Emmanuel Ataguba said that the bill seeks to regulate and review tariff being charged by the digital datellite delevision services.

According to him, the proposed amendment would confer on the commission exclusive power to regulate prices, tariffs, subscriptions charged by digital satellite television service providers.

“We fathom that the intendment of this amendment is to regulate and control prices in the interest of consumers of digital satellite television services.

“We however, submit that the amendment goes against the objective of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act to “protect and promote the interests and welfare of consumers by providing consumers with wider variety of quality products (and services) at competitive prices,’ he said.

Ataguba said that though the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act does not define competitive prices, it is right to say that competitive prices are prices determined by market forces.
“Digital satellite television services are entertainment services where pricing involves complex calculations of input and output, market analysis, consumer surveys etc.

“For instance, if subscription fees are too high, subscribers would unsubscribe or not subscribe at all in the first place.

“If subscription fees are too low the service providers cannot cover their expenses and may have to quit or cut corners to make ends meet.

“As a result the consumer loses out on the quantity, quality and variety of services available,’’ he said.