By Richard Oduma
In the court of public opinion, it is common knowledge that one can’t be a judge in his own case. Due to the possibility of vindicating oneself of all wrong in every decision and becoming a demi-god. Peer reviews and independent checks help to curb people’s excesses, especially if their actions are capable of harming the public.
The famous nineteenth-century English historian, Lord Acton (1834–1902) is credited with the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is the basis for enacting checks and balances on all human systems.
First and foremost, it’ll be like authoring confusion if two bodies are established to monitor one sector. It has never been done and it’ll certainly create a chaotic situation if the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission and Society of Nigerian Broadcasters are all authorised to regulate the media sector. Worse still, it’ll be disastrous for the broadcasters and media community to regulate themselves. The result will not just be chaos but utter confusion, avoidable industrial disputes and a series of litigations because of cases of encroachment into the duties of multiple regulators.
To argue that NBC should only be responsible for issuing licences and giving guidelines to media houses while the SNB should focus on the conduct of members and the quality of work is like saying the government should build schools, and employ teachers and then allow the teachers to supervise themselves. NBC is not just a licensing organisation for broadcasters but also a quality control mechanism for professional broadcasting and media practice in Nigeria. That covers all media organisations.
It should be noted that NBC is empowered by law to establish a Broadcast Institute, the same as what the Society of Nigerian Broadcasters bill is canvassing. It will be against the existing laws if the SNB bill scales through. Broadcasters and media practitioners should rather rally around NBC to enable it to achieve the mandate it was established to fulfill including the establishment of the Broadcasters Institute rather than bringing parallel organisations whose duties are certainly going to conflict with and contradict the good work the NBC has already been doing.
Arguing in favour of self-regulation and calling for the amendment of the NBC Act seems to have a sinister motive. Any attempt to take the government out of regulating the media will lead to abuses as it is difficult to be a judge in one’s case. It is misleading to say the NBC has not shown any hope of regulating the media in Nigeria. It is on record that several media houses have been sanctioned for violating the Nigerian broadcast code. Expecting the NBC to be involved in in-house disciplinary actions against erring staff members is asking for too much.
Staff mentoring and professional competency assessment should be done by the Nigerian Union of Journalists and Guild of Editors and not necessarily through another body to avoid conflicts.
While those arguing in favour of self-regulation of the media are drawing parallels between doctors and engineers and lawyers, it must be noted that the rigorous training and practice of medicine and engineering are different from journalism.
The media must be censored to avoid a repeat of what happened in Rwanda and to avoid cases where enemies of the State will undermine national security with sensational reportage and utterances. Well-meaning Nigerians should therefore show patriotism by supporting the NBC rather than sponsoring rogue bills that will rather harm the country.
Oduma (Ph.D) is a public affairs analyst and writes from Abuja.