Media  

Nigeria, not the first to regulate online TV, radio operation

[FILES] Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

The news of Federal Government’s plan to license online TV and radio stations last Friday has generated mixed feeling among Nigerians. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had stated in Abuja that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the licensing of WebTVs and radio stations, including foreign broadcasters sending signals into the country.

The minister stated, “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.”

Though many have condemned the move, saying it’s an attempt to gag the public and that nowhere in the world was such a thing done, others have applauded it, arguing that it will bring some sanity to the system.

Acting Chairman of Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Sir Godfrey Ohuabunwa, said that though the details of the regulation were not out yet, the move by the government is not to gag the media as speculated.

He noted, “there is another side to the story, as you are aware, every broadcaster is licensed but CNN and Netflix are not licensed and they are making a lot of money from Nigeria. The challenge with this is that in Technology, barriers can be broken. I think what the FG intends is to manage the new media, though some politicians take advantage of the new media to gag the press, there are also some mischievous people who set up an omnibus online TV with no address just to cause mayhem.”

Also, Kenya, Egypt, and Morocco all give license to online stations; to know their operational address and intentions. In the UK, one is also required to seek for license to run an Internet radio or TV that plays commercial music and movies. It helps in tracking those that will pay royalties to COSON and AVRS.

Last year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) evaluated a consultation process to regulate online video streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hotstar, when industry stakeholders requested that a pricing and economic framework be developed for video streaming platforms.

The Guardian findings show that most countries have been very liberal in their regulation of video streaming, with the exception of China, where companies have to comply with local licensing requirements and certain telecom service permits.

For example, in South Africa, the first step to operating an online TV or radio is to obtain the required licences. Just like an individual needs to be licensed to drive, starting an Internet radio station equally requires a request for a broadcast licence from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

The Guardian’s checks revealed that most times, licensing is not about paying fees yearly or about ‘gagging’ the media, it is about knowing those behind the stations and the intention of the public communication.

Stakeholders had expressed concern that certain broadcasters were airing same content through Internet channels as through direct-to-home (DTH) platforms and cable operators.

General Manager, Purity FM, Awka, Gregory Idiakosa asked, “how would they be regulated? Of course, it’s a welcome development! But it might end up a mad jungle and a ticket to the desecration of all known standards. Did anybody need license to do either of those before now? What’s the new difference?”

For National President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chris Isiguzo, said, “From my discussion with NBC, it’s another category of licensing, it’s not new. We are not opposed to the process because it has become necessary to appreciably regulate activities of online media operators. By the time they are licensed, they will be brought under some sort of control, which is in itself good for the system. It’s definitely not a bad initiative.”

Director, International Press Centre, Lanre Arogundade, said the move was a welcome development, as “any effort by 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.”

President, Guild of Professional Nigerian Bloggers, Chris Kehinde Nwandu, said, “online radio and television is the in thing across the globe now and Nigeria should not be an exception to this growing global trend. I just hope it’ll not be open to abuse since regulation of such online platforms because at times it may be difficult to regulate and times open to abuses.”

According to a 2016 report by the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA), a Hong-Kong based media organization for the Asia-Pacific region, regulators across the region have been facing the challenge on how to regulate, at a local level, international content services which may not have any physical presence in their jurisdiction. They are also looking at how to regulate the same content made available over multiple platforms, each with its own rules.

According to the National Broadcasting Commission Code (6th edition 2016), chapter 11:15:1 to 11:15:5 of the NBC Code “An Internet radio or television broadcaster streaming signals from Nigeria shall be licensed by the Commission. All regulations governing news, programmes, advertising, and sponsorship shall apply to this category of broadcasting.

“The local content for this category of licence shall be 60 percent. All conditions governing other categories of the broadcast licence shall apply to this category of broadcasting. All subscription Internet radio and television that seek subscribers in Nigeria shall be licensed by the Commission.”

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