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New Broadcast Code: Assault on Market and Democracy

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By ‘Kanmi Ademiluyi

With the focus on survival due to the coronavirus pandemic, out comes a not-so-cleverly-disguised assault on the operations of an economy based on the efficacy of the market, but also a potential limitation on the plurality which anchors a democracy.

New Broadcast Code: Assault on Market and Democracy

As democrats and with the backdrop of the observation of the first celebration of the defining date of June 12 as Democracy Day, it is unsafe to allow the existential threat of COVID-19 to make us complacent about opaque threats to the country’s hard-won democracy, which is still a work in progress.

The threat to innovation, the consolidation of intellectual property rights as well as the operations of a market-propelled economic system by the 6th National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Code should not be allowed to distort the country’s political economy.

The ethos of the code released to the public by the NBC on May 27 is in direct contradistinction to the thrust of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to build a society that ensures those who produce and create sustainable jobs are given the pride of place, as opposed to the ethos which fetes those who deal in favours.

The latter is what the celebrated Afrobeat exponent, Fela Anikulpao-Kuti, decades ago, famously branded “Paddy, Paddy arrangements”.

The cronyism-fired arrangements described by Fela not only failed to deliver economic growth, but crucially stifled innovation and made the country uncompetitive with disastrous results.

The country is still paying the price for cronyism and incestuous market-distorting economic relationships till date.

Although in its opening gambit, the 6th NBC Code peddles a sanctimonious sermon: “To maintain and promote efficient market and conduct effective competition in the broadcast industry in Nigeria…”, looked at closely, it is anything but pro-competition.

For the evolution of modern market-oriented economies in democracies is underpinned by a robust defence of intellectual property rights as a propelling trajectory in innovation and content development.

This has been the source of the continued success of places like Hollywood, Bollywood and other media markets.

Dangerously, swathes of provisions in the code prohibit exclusivity, ominously compel content sub- licensing to competitors and empowers the NBC to determine sub-licensing fees in the event of a dispute.

These provisions will certainly inhibit investments in Nigeria’s potentially rich and relatively untapped local content production sector.

What is intended through the backdoor in the absence of open hearings in full public glare and with the inputs of all stakeholders is a brutal assault on intellectual property rights, the prospects of content development as well as diversity, which are vital ingredients in a market economy.

These stifling provisions are straight out of the Command Economy playbook. This is odd. Command economies exhausted the limits of their possibilities and imploded decades ago.

No wonder the promoters are in mortal terror of open public hearings, which will clearly expose the shenanigans and the real anti-competitive intent underneath the sanctimonious sermons. As stated by major stakeholders, the Code was finalised without input from them.

All of this is bizarre in an industry oiled by creativity in which whole financial instruments have been developed, whereby trading in intellectual property rights is taking place very much as a commodity.

Eroding proprietary rights by making exclusivity illegal and compelling [this is as draconian as is imaginable] sub-licensing of content and regulating price (remember the debacle of previous corruption-fuelled attempts at “price controls”?) will clearly stifle private enterprise with the sort of interference, which begins by distorting markets and eventually kills them off.

The contempt of the framework accepted internationally in intellectual property safeguards and commercial proprietary rights is mind-boggling.

The purported objective of the related provision is an enthronement of fair market competition, especially for new market entrants.

It compels rights owners to live foreign sporting events, for example, to offer such to broadcasters on different platforms at an agreed fee and in the event of a dispute, the NBC will determine what is to be paid. The Code also prohibits the bundling of Nigeria “in the same basket with other countries in the sale of football rights.”

Acquisition of sports broadcasting rights is a commercially-competitive process, with the prerogative of how to sell and to whom exclusively that of the rights owners.

Code’s sub-licensing proposal does not take cognizance of the fact a licensee, which has acquired the rights after paying competitive a rate, suffers an inability to differentiate its service from that of competitors— to whom it’s forced to sell at a regulated maximum price—and an erosion of the value of the rights because it cannot use them exclusively.

The Code similarly ignores the fact that granting of sub-licensing rights is not guaranteed, leaving a licensee with the burden of having to negotiate for sub-licensing rights for which the owner— knowing a re-sale is in the offing— will demand a substantially heftier sum. It is not just broadcasters of live foreign sports content that will be affected by the bid to institute a command economy process. It is also a doomsday scenario for general entertainment platforms such as Filmhouse Cinema, Africa Magic, Netflix, Irokotv and prospective entrants. With this framework, no investor in his/her right mind will waste money and energy developing content to then donate to those who deal in favours.

If implemented, the code will bring an end to pay TV in Nigeria. The multiplier effect will manifest in job losses and leaner tax revenues.

Out of obscurity over three or so decades, a vibrant creative industry has developed in Nigeria, a tribute to the country’s commercial attributes and can-do attitude.

The industry has shown that economic diversification can be translated into more than shibboleths and vacuous sloganeering.

The industry has shown the way and made us all proud. Any readjusting of a winning model must, at least, be preceded by multi-stakeholder consultations and public hearings.

The latter, vitally, will see the consumers making input and helping to build a consensus for the benefit of all.

This will prevent the rent-seekers who have continued to swing a wrecking ball at the economy, seeing the creative industry as just another gravy train to hop on. It will be tragic if that happens.

Ademiluyi, an economist and journalist, wrote from Oshogbo.

 

 


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New Broadcast Code Unworkable and Unenforceable- Okoroji

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Chief Tony Okoroji, chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), has joined the stakeholders in the creative and broadcast industries calling for a revisit of the recently amended 6th edition of the National Broadcasting Code.

New Broadcast Code Unworkable and Unenforceable- Okoroji

Chief Tony Okoroji, chairman, COSON

Okoroji made the call while speaking on both News Scope with Patrick Doyle, Silverbird Television’s flagship public affairs programme; and The Morning Show on Arise News.

According to Okoroji, the code’s stated objective of increasing Nigerians’ participation in the creation and dissemination of broadcast content, is commendable.

However, he stated that the amendments to code have been drafted in a way that makes them unworkable and unenforceable, as they carry the potential for unending litigation and risk for significant divestment from the creative space.

The COSON chief said the drafters of the code may have acted ultra vires, as they appear to be minded to place a subsidiary legislation above the constitution, which implies an attempt to usurp the powers of the National Assembly to make laws.

He noted that some provisions of the code may be unconstitutional, notably those on content exclusivity, advertising and payment of royalties for musical works and sound recordings.

He observed that the drafters seek to treat the rights of parties in to a contract to agree on their terms with indifference.

Okoroji, a reputed intellectual property expert, expressed concern that the NBC did not take input from many key stakeholders, who will be impacted by the code, before or during the amendment process, which he said took place when movement was restricted by the COVID-19 lockdown.

Others who have called for a revisit of the code include Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi, former chairman, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), who said many issues the code seeks to address are already adequately covered by the APCON Code. He called on the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to reconstitute the APCON Council, which can better deal with the issues related to advertising.

Also, Mr. Chris Ehindero, an independent movie producer, said the code will kill investments in the creative space at a time the industry is about to start enjoying investments in big productions. Similarly, Mr. Richard Akinnola, a renowned journalist and Director, Media Law Centre, said the code cannot withstand legal scrutiny.

The Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria (IBAN) has also asked the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to suspend the implementation of the amended 6th broadcasting code.

On The Morning Show on Arise News, Okoroji said that he suspects that the hold that MultiChoice has on the English Premiership is driving some of the provisions in the revised code.

He suggested that some Nigerian broadcasting stations should pull their resources together and challenge MultiChoice rather than going it alone.

He complained about the recent penchant of Nigerians to attack Nigerian companies with foreign origins, saying that such may lead to serious divestment in Nigeria and massive loss of jobs held by Nigerians.

“MultiChoice may have originated from South Africa, but Multichoice Nigeria is a Nigerian company. The Chairman of the company, Mr. Adewumi Ogunsanya, is a Nigerian; the CEO, Mr. John Ugbe, is a Nigerian.

“Thousands of Nigerians make their living through MultiChoice. What do we gain by hounding the company?


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Pay-as-You-Go not Applicable to Pay TV – FCCPC

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Mr. Babatunde Irukera,chief executive, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), has stated that the pay-as-you-go billing model in telecommunications is not necessarily applicable to pay television.

Pay-as-You-Go not Applicable to Pay TV – FCCPC

Irukera said this on Friday while appearing on Sunrise Daily, Channels Television’s flagship public affairs programme.

Responding to a question on the subject, Irukera said many pay television subscribers confuse the operations of telecommunications with those of the pay television industry.

He explained that it what obtains in telecoms is not necessarily applicable in pay television, as broadcast content must have been paid for and customers only pay for access unlike in telecommunications where the subscriber only pays when the timer starts.

He added that that what consumers mean to ask for is actually pay-per-view and went further to differentiate the two terms.

“My challenge with what sometimes is the discussion around pay-as-you-go in pay TV is that there is a disconnection and we’ve been through this.

“We have conducted some investigations and we have done some surveys in different parts of the world.

“The pay-as-you-go model in telecommunications is not necessarily applicable and so we confuse it sometimes with pay-per-view.

“Pay-per-view is not that you pay for what you view from the point of when you turn your television on.

“It is primarily that there are certain programmes, maybe a boxing match, a soccer match or some movies that are still in the cinemas that some of the pay TV operators have bought and you can literally request instead of going to a stadium or going to a cinema to watch, you can watch it in your home and pay for that view.

“That is pay-per-view, but we confuse it with pay-as-you-go.

“What people are asking for in pay-as-you-go is when you turn on your television and you are watching, you pay. When you turn off your television and you are not watching, you don’t pay.

“It is difficult because the content has been created, what you are paying for is access.

“How you use the access is entirely discretionary and up to you.

“Unlike the telephone where the clock starts and the airtime goes down, you have paid for content,” he said.

The agitation for the implementation of pay-as-you-go in Nigeria is a loud one. An Ad-hoc Committee of the House of Representatives is currently investigating the non-implementation of pay-as-you-go by pay television service providers.

In a presentation to the committee on June 30, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, minister, Information and Culture, said the adoption of pay-as-you-go will allow consumers to select channels for themselves, pay daily, weekly or bi-monthly for packages.

 

 


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StarTimes Hikes Subscription Prices, Introduces New Channels

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StarTimes, leading pay- tv operator, on Friday marginally adjusted its subscription prices taking effect from August 1 just as the company deepened its content offering with new channels.

StarTimes Hikes Subscription Prices, Introduces New Channels

With the price increase, basic bouquet now goes for N1,700 as against N1,300 monthly to enjoy close to 80 channels; Classic Bouquet subscribers will pay N2,500 as against N1,900 monthly with close to 100 channels while Nova bouquet remains unchanged at N900 with over 43 channels.

At a virtual press conference on Friday, Viki Liu, brand and marketing executive of StarTimes, said for dish users: smart bouquet subscribers will pay N2,200 as against N1,900 monthly; Super Bouquet subscribers will pay N4,200 as against N3,800 monthly while Nova bouquet remains unchanged at N900.

She stated that StarTimes was not known for incessant price increase, recalling how the firm slashed prices on two occasions in 2017 and 2018 in its drive to make digital TV available to every home.

So far the company has expanded the scope of its offerings, introducing 15 new channels in the last six months as well as the pay as you go which enables subscribers to daily or weekly.

The price increase was said to have been effected in other African countries since the first quarter of this year.

The new pricing took effect in Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Guinea and Madagascar from March 1st, while it took effect in Rwanda and Zambia on June 1st 2020.

The company said the recent increment in the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 5 % to 7.5 % as well as the foreign exchange rate had impacted on the cost of operation.

“All of our foreign content is bought in dollars and to continually serve our subscribers the best content, the subscription price has to be reviewed upwards.

“Dollar was about N360 in 2017; today, it’s above N450 in the parallel market. Unfortunately, certain external factors are beyond our control; we are forced to adjust to realities before us,” Liu added.


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