Asking social media platforms to apply for NBC licence may be counterproductive – experts

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Asking social media platforms to apply for operational llicence may be counterproductive, some experts have warned. The Nigerian government has formally asked social media platforms to apply for registration in order to continue to operate within the country with a published advertorial this Thursday the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).

“The National Broadcasting Commission hereby directs every Online Broadcast Service provider and Social Media Platforms operating within the Nigerian State to apply and obtain broadcast Licence for their Service(s),” states the advertisement signed by  acting Director General of the broadcasting regulatory agency, Armstrong Idachaba.  

By the publication, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Whatsapp (owned by Facebook) and others are expected to register with the NBC or be deemed to be operating illegally.

But some experts and professional bodies including the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) have warned that the action may not only send the wrong signals in terms of freedom of expression but also impact negatively on investors’ confidence. The NBA said it finds no legal authority to support the federal government’s action on Twitter ban

Legal luminary, Abiodun J. Owonikoko Esq., SAN, has asked for caution on the part of government. He noted: “How can we ever hope to use registration and licensing in Nigeria to force these platforms into revising their business model that their home country statutes deliberately enacted for their operations and exponential growth?”

The regulator said its action is in line with the provision of the National Broadcasting Act CAP N11, Laws of the Federation 2004, section 2(1)(b)).

Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had last week following the ban on Twitter announced that government will be implementing regulatory measures for the social media sub-sector.  

Critics are claiming that the move is part of measures to gag the media. Government has denied this.  A bill to regulate social media at the National Assembly failed to fly over a year ago. Twitter ban has been condemned by many including the envoys of US, EU as negating the constitutional and universal provision for free expression.

NBC says it is acting within the law: “The Commission shall have responsibility of receiving, processing and considering applications for the establishment, ownership or operation of Radio & Television Stations including cable television services, Direct Satellite Broadcast (DSB), and ANY medium of Broadcasting.”

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But. Owonikoko argues that:“The recourse to forced municipal registration and licensing  of Twitter and other social media online platform domiciled overseas which is being mooted seems to be a knee jerk reaction .” Read his full cautionary notes below.

I took advantage of the COVID 19 lockdown in 2020 to enroll for an executive certificate course of Columbia University in the US focusing on Digital Business Strategies. The insight i gained from globally acclaimed faculties that took us on the 3-month course tells me that lack of exposure and depth might lie at the root of the response to Twitter challenge by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The recourse to forced municipal registration and licensing  of Twitter and other social media online platform domiciled overseas which is being mooted seems to be a knee jerk reaction . 

Please read this embedded write up particular section 230 of the US Communication statute which grants immunity and indemnity to such companies when they act as mere distributor of contents for subscribers as against being publishers.

Nigeria’s beef, so far as I can gather is with treatment of posted contents on the social media platforms. It is not about contents created by the platforms.

How can we ever hope to use registration and licensing in Nigeria to force these platforms into revising their business model that their home country statutes deliberately enacted for their operations and exponential growth?

Except for issues of taxation which each country has unquestionable prerogative to impose subject to reciprocal treaties and conventions, it seems to be an overreach for Nigeria to muscle through its myopic preference into changing business model of digital platform companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc . That is quite apart from the very unlikely chance that such intrusive legal framework will pass the test of undue prior restraint against right of Nigerians including corporate Nigerians (which Twitter will become if registered in Nigeria) to freedom of expression under section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(as amended) and other relevant supranational conventions that have been domesticated by the National Assembly.

 It sounds like pressing into service the wise refrain that better for one to be thought stupid while keeping silent than to speak needlessly only just so  that we the stupidity be conclusively confirmed . 

The issues involved are too complex to be addressed by deploying emotional and shallow muscle flexing. 


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