Friday, August 7, 2009

Broadcasting Liberalization in Nigeria: The Influence of New Media Technology

Nigeria has often been referred to as the "sleeping giant" in terms of the African Information Technology market. Nigeria possesses the continent's largest population 123 million people. It is easy to see that there is a massive potential consumer market and labor market within Nigeria. The reason Nigeria has yet to "wake up" is that the country was under strict military rule since gaining independence from the United Kingdom. Only recently has a civilian government been installed as the leadership.
The current civilian government has formulated an Information Technology plan and has been seeking and implementing needed financial aid to "kick start" its surge into the IT age. Nigeria is at the very early stages of IT development, but appears to be headed in the right direction. If the current civilian administration can remain a stable and effective political entity, their plan should work.
Two remarkable developments of the 1990s had immense implications for media liberalization in Nigeria. These are the deregulation of the broadcast media by the Federal government in 1992 and the annulment of the 12 June 1993 presidential election. The deregulation of the broadcast media brought to an end government’s monopoly of the broadcast media and the emergence of independent broadcasting stations. The annulment led to greater political awareness and the presence of a committed courageous press.
To be independent, the mass media needs to be free from state interference. Since the 1990s Nigeria television has entered a period of tremendous and continuous change, following the developments in television technology and implementing public policies favoring the liberalization of broadcasting systems, i.e., the introduction of commercial competition into the broadcasting sector, previously defined as public service or natural monopoly.
The liberalization of broadcasting is frequently identified with the liberalization and privatization of television and radio systems. With liberalization we refer to a policy that abolishes the monopoly of public service broadcasters in the field, liberalization also refer to the changes in the regulatory environment, and privatization refers to the entry of private broadcasters to the field, or even the privatization of a public owned broadcaster to a private owner. By and large, with liberalization we describe a period, which was associated with changes in broadcasting policy as well as a series of technological developments, which, either directly or indirectly, had an influence on policy choices towards broadcasting.
This paper article examines the interaction of these events, and focuses especially on the role of new media technology in the facilitation of media liberalization in Nigeria.

The regime of government censorship
The history of the information and communication media in Nigeria is closely related to Nigeria’s political history. Until very recently the Nigeria mass media operated under the authoritarian theory of mass communication. Foreign authoritarian (colonial) rule lasted for about a century. From 1861, following the cession of Lagos Island and its environs by Oba Dosunmu to the British Crown till 1960 when Nigeria was granted independence by Britain.
All three types of government (colonial, civilian and military) that have functioned in Nigeria have implemented policies that have actually restrained freedom of the press. Journalists have been harassed, detained, jailed, and repressive laws and decrees enacted. Comparatively, the British colonial administration may appear to have done the least harm, but it set in motion the kinds of repressive press laws existing in Nigeria today.
These pernicious laws and decrees against the media gave government officials legal backing to persecute, fine, detain and imprison journalists, and to proscribe media houses. For instance, the Offensive Publications (Proscription) Decree 35 1993, made it possible for the government to clamp down on six media houses across the nation. Even government owned media were not spared. This kind of suppression also took place after the 22 April 1990 failed coup d’état when over seven media houses were closed down.
Aside from government control of the media through laws, decrees and the courts, other means of control exist and obstruct freedom of expression. One such is what Uche (1989, p. 139) calls 'coopting': The government uses certain preferential treatments to 'buy' the most influential journalists in the country... appointing these influential critics in the media to top posts within the government. 'Coopting' of journalists ensures that they are reduced to being mere stooges of government officials.
Other measures of government control include denying journalists access to places and persons for information, refusing to give government advertisements and dubious labeling of documents containing valuable information.
The influence of the government is seen in the unflinching support government media organizations give the government of the day. Government officials do not hesitate to remove anyone in charge who fails to offer unquestioned support. An 'erring' official risks being sacked with 'immediate effect' or faces other punishments for such 'heinous' acts. For instance, within one year of the elected civilian government assuming office in 1990, no less than ten chief executive officers of state-owned broadcasting stations were sacked (Uche, 1989). Those who kept their jobs got the message - toe the line.
However, the story has not always been the same for other journalists especially as the government can easily enact laws and decrees. These laws and decrees can be made retroactive to give government officials legal backing to deal adversely with journalists. The Buhari regime did exactly this in 1984, with the famous Decree 4, which tested the resilience of Nigerian journalists. The decree was promulgated to protect public officers from publications that might be a source of embarrassment. The commencement of this decree was made retroactive by the Buhari government, which enabled it to send two Guardian journalists to jail for writing a story about ambassadorial postings.
They were very remarkable and unprecedented changes in the broadcast media. Events started to unfold in 1979. With impending civil rule, the Federal Government decreed the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN). This decentralized radio broadcasting and restructured the nation’s broadcasting industry. The decree was however violated by the Civilian Government that came into power as it set up several stations in different states of the federation. The broadcast media became an active political tool which Uche (1989) described as 'The affinity between broadcasting and politics is like the birth of Siamese twins'.
In addition, the process of massive economic restructuring that was inevitable in the 1980s produced the policies of deregulation. These policies had far reaching effects on the broadcast media in the years to follow. In 1992, the National Broadcasting Commission was established thereby deregulating the broadcast media and bringing to an end government monopoly of the broadcast media. The NBC is empowered to issue, renew or revoke broadcast licenses, among other functions. By 1997, NBC had licensed nine independent private television stations, two private radio stations, two direct broadcast satellite and 40 re-transmission stations.
It is correct to say that in Nigeria today there is no other opposition against government in power other than the independent media. Each government drafts and influences the manifestos of political parties; these political parties therefore cannot constitute genuine opposition to government. Moreover, the government can ban any political aspirant or party at will. The emergences and success of Independent media in forming a formidable pressure to the government has largely been associated with political and technological social changes.
The role of technology and politics
Different technologies such as satellites, cable and telecommunications systems can no longer be seen as separate technologies, but rather as different parts of an increasingly complex and converging whole. The growing convergence of technologies had implications that extended beyond technology.
First, new technologies necessitated the formulation of policies to manage and exploit them. Secondly, it became obvious that regulatory changes in one sector had a ripple effect on the other sectors: policies towards cable impacted on policies towards, and the structures of, terrestrial broadcasting. For example, cable and satellite services could replace terrestrial broadcasting systems and, if nothing else, this meant that the scarcity of terrestrial television could no longer be used as an obsolete justification for maintaining strict state regulation of broadcasting. Thirdly, pressures to liberate television (directly or indirectly through the liberalization of new media) ultimately led to the creation of a global market in television.
Under a liberalized regime, television companies are free to pursue the dictates of the market both domestically and internationally and they too become tradable commodities in themselves. This can often lead to a greater concentration of media power, which, in turn, requires the attention of domestic and international regulators. In the broadcasting sector in Nigeria, the most obvious manifestation of that change was the transformation of the monopolistic Nigeria broadcasting corporations (NBC) from being sole broadcasters to being only one amongst many in a more competitive broadcasting market.
In hard contrast to the approach of US broadcasting, which had been developed within a competitive framework with private, commercially funded companies running the broadcasting services; Nigeria like most other African Countries mostly favored some form of state control over broadcasting. This not only helped them in avoiding the chaos in the airwaves that was characteristic of an unregulated system, but also answered the concerns of most African Government administrations relating to the power of broadcasting.
However, in reality, there is no simple explanation for the complex processes of change; each and every country dealt with the issues and the pressures for change in different ways. What united them was the sense that the issues and pressures were common to all. These included: uncertainty over the direction of future technological change in respect of the ‘new media’; the spiraling costs of program production and administration at a time of pressure on license fees; the emerging demand for the liberalization of previous monopolies, particularly in the field of telecommunications; growing political and economic pressure for the re-conceptualization of broadcasting as a marketplace rather than as a cultural entity; and concern over the effect of inward and outward investment on broadcasting and communications systems (Dyson and Humphreys 1986; McQuail and Siune 1986; De Bens and Knoche 1987; Noam 1991; Thompson 1995; Tunstall and Machin1999; Papathanassopoulos 2002).
Liberalization of broadcasting or ‘regulatory reform’ (Wheeler 1997: 193) suggests the relaxation of the rules governing the state-controlled broadcasting monopoly system. But liberalization is more than the simple removal or relaxation of certain rules and regulations. It is central to the broader neo-liberal strategy for modernizing the economy by privatization and engendering an ‘enterprise culture’ around the globe. It is also seen as a device to reduce alleged bureaucratic inefficiency and financial profligacy in public enterprises (such as public broadcasting organizations).
Liberalization is a response to the imperatives of increasing international competition and the globalization of television markets as well as a political prescription motivated by partisan and commercial interests (Dyson and Humphreys 1990: 231–3). One source of the critique for regulatory change came from the academic world (Burgelman 1986; Curran 1986). Another came from the business world, whose favored solution was to reduce or eliminate regulatory activity and simply let the marketplace dictate the level and the nature of services (Veljanovski 1990; Humphreys1996: 161–4). The idea to reduce or eliminate regulatory activity came from the USA (Tunstall 1986), but proponents of a neo-liberal ideology in Western Europe also articulated such a view. They also pointed out forcefully that consumers would be protected only if they were allowed to make their own choices, according to their needs and requirements, rather than have their choices dictated to them by regulations. In this respect, the attraction of the USA as a point of reference became quite important; it was a model to be copied in the development of new policies (Tunstall and Palmer 1991) and particularly in respect of ‘new’ media such as cable television (Negrine 1985). By and large, as Wheeler (1997: 192) notes, there was
A general consensus between politicians, policy makers and the media industry that liberalization would benefit both the national and the international economy... [While] the technological revolution meant that major transformations within the distribution of communications were available for business and domestic use.’

Waves of TV liberalization: impact of new media technology
In these changing circumstances, new commercial broadcasters came into existence. For example, in 2000 the number of channels in Nigeria exceeded 150 compared to 40 in 1994 and less than 5 in 1989. Moreover, all most all of the 150 channels were private. Some took advantage of the new technologies by broadcasting through satellite or cable. Others took advantage of a more liberal approach to broadcasting, which allowed for the development of terrestrial television systems.
But all, one way or another, took advantage of the more liberal set of rules that were now governing the audio-visual landscape: rules, for example, that allowed commercial broadcasters to carry just entertainment or merely to broadcast large quantities of imported material. And so what had initially been a fairly closed, state-controlled system characterized by a small number of public broadcasters now became a large competitive environment, and this had a knock-on effect on the nature of the public broad-casters, on funding systems, on cultures, and so on.
Technology does not have a life of its own, but accumulates new users and new uses that are always mediated through contexts, which impart additional meanings and significances to it. Against the technological optimism that drives many global interpretations today should be set the actual historical experience of previous technological innovations -- from print to railroads to the telegraph and radio -- that more properly may be seen to have altered balances and acquired social forms and relations that were "new" primarily in relation to the technology. In the industrialization of the West, these altered balances included the rise of managerial classes, the relocation and separation of processing goods and processing services, realignments of boundaries between home and work, all of which were quite uneven in their "impacts" and developments (Knopt, 1995). Technology has a social life because it enters social life and alters the balances of values and practices built into technology in ways that at any one time are mixed, even paradoxical.
This revolution is, indeed, paradoxical. It features broad convergences of different types of data in to a single (ultimately digital) type, of messages into a single stream, of work and leisure into a communication activities that also foster increasing divergence and diversity of interests depending on information that is made or allowed to flow (Ithiel da Sola, 1990). Facilitating the flow of financial information, transactions, and tracking that add up to "electronic commerce" also facilitates the flow of cultural (including political) content around barriers previously erected. Media are "acculturated" both by new uses and by censoring external and monopolizing, or at least restricting, internal communication. In terms of media, some of these conundrum resolve as a major shift of communications regimes in the country from mass to post-mass media, from cultural and social forms favored by single-sender communication regimes to cultural and social forms facilitated by multiple senders and choosy receivers. The technological-media shift is between models of communication and the sorts of communications those models favor.
An appraisal of information technology revolution in Nigeria
The media scene into which Nigeria is are maturing is changing. If the signature communicative relationship of the mass media revolution in the Nigeria was reception, under a regime of one-to-many senders to receivers or mass audiences for state monopoly broadcasters, the counterpart of post-mass media is more interactive communication in which the senders multiply and the social distance between senders and receivers diminishes by a confluence of an increasingly up-market populace with down-market technologies. New media -- including the availability of telephones, multi-channel television and the Internet -- share a general characteristic, they level the communication playing field between sender/producer and recipient/consumer of messages. Convergence is happening on the street and in homes. Moreover, messages cross boundaries between media and thereby find new audiences, new circulation to additional social networks. The sharing of digital signals trust and complicity, not so much in the content of the messages, which are incomplete in themselves, but in circulating them even before individual consumption of their contents.
Technology for producing and sending messages has become as available to consumers as technologies for receiving at the same time those capacities to produce are rising with education. Consequently, technology enables participation, and technologies that reduce the social and cognitive distance between sending and receiving -- as do telephones, cassette recorders, the Internet -- increase the number of senders, producers, selectors, and brokers of cultural "content". The pattern already set in motion in the practices and habits developed to level the asymmetrical relations of mass media and make consuming them more reciprocal is extended with the advent of multi-channel satellite TV.
On the receiving end, there is now choice where there was little before, a change that foregrounds choice itself as part of media consumption. On the sending end, there are pressures and opportunities to create or to broker others’ creation of content and to open the field both to international standard broadcasting.
The participation in interpretation that previously occurred in coffee houses and reception rooms now extends to what is broadcast, directly in the form of call-in shows that can interact with viewers and, perhaps more importantly (because it is part of the draw) indirectly in loosening of formats to include live, on-air discussion and debate in which something other than the solemnities of state and religion can be witnessed. In other words, media that used to feature ritual representations of authority now feature both practices and representations of interaction that are familiar, that have been honed through a generation of television and radio consumption in more ordinary social settings, that actively feature participation, and that represent (show) it.
A current trend is the Television on the Internet model, which features seeking over reception, levels senders and receivers, circumvents authority or is self-authorizing, and interactive in practice.
The uniqueness of the convergence between the TV and the Internet model is the choice and participation, which it brings to the field. On the level of underlying technology, convergence between electronic media - telephone, broadcasting, cable, and data - is already well underway worldwide and actively pursued by companies in these separate businesses expanding into others. In Nigeria, for instance, private stations not only offer television but also Internet service (the downlink portion only, for the moment); telephone companies are getting into the cable business, and there are similar convergences of mobile phone companies with satellite broadcasting and Internet services.
Beyond technological convergence in the carriers, is a more sociological convergence of senders and receivers into an interactive community. With more communicative models toward the Internet standard that is interactive, decentralized, and puts up very little more barrier to send than to receive.
The importance of media liberalization in this respect is, first, to provide creative outlets and, second, to provide opportunities to see alternative selves. This underlies a real break with tradition that did not come with censorship; censorship reduced rather than enhanced occasions and possibilities of communication. The social-structural significance of censorship, or of anxieties over "cultural pollution," is to cast boundaries and rights to adjudicate them as distinctions of self and other. Against such measures, the down-market trend in communications technologies to become more accessible and the up-market trend in the spread of mass education to a rising population intersect in the growth of creative outlets and expanding opportunities to see, and vicariously to try. The realistic possibility of imagining alternatives to the relatively few tracks and fateful choices that mark traditional societies breaks down in fostering possibilities to imagine alternative futures that include alternatives not just at home but also alternatives to home.
This is not to suggest, for instance, that Nigerian society shrinks in an era of globalization. The example of Diasporas suggests how Nigeria or any other African society can expand overseas in limited, selective ways. Modern communications of all sorts -- jet travel, satellite television, international telephoning -- widen the range of selection and of alternative selves from the settler migrants characteristic of the industrial period to the less conclusive labor migration and looser possibilities of the still-emerging post-industrial world dominated by service economies and information services in which jobs are mobile, too.
The significance of the Internet as a model for New Media is to bring new people into a public sphere ("on-line”), which builds values and experiences of those who build this space. This is a space of new identities, some made newly public through the medium, some newly empowered through the skills that construct and use it, some experimented with outside traditional confines. In this context, Internet "chat" is said to be extremely popular, with its opportunities for role-playing as well as for communication that is otherwise restricted, such as by gender differences, in "real life." More consequentially, a range of potential political successors is emerging with savvy in and commitment to new media models, such as for industrial development.

Current Realities, Future Promises
If liberalization has been the force that weakened public broadcasters, it is also the force that will ensure that commercial channels of the future will have to contend with more competitors. Since the late 1990s, Nigeria television has entered a new wave of changes, again led by technological developments. The advent of digital television has brought a second wave of liberalization of the already restructured television environment, regardless of the side effects of the first wave in the 1980s. In fact, the number of television channels in Nigeria doubled every three years and this trend has not ended yet, because of the arrival of digital transmission. Not only have new channels entered the Nigerian television universe, with a number of new channels preparing their launch; television consumption is also expected to increase. Although the growth of digital television appears be lower in 2002 than previously expected due to the problems faced by most digital satellite platforms, especially in Nigeria, the long-term picture remains largely unaffected, with at least half of the Nigerian TV households expected to be watching digital TV by 2010. However, the result of this new liberalization is that television is putting aside its free character and is moving into a medium where its viewers will be classified according to their purchasing power.
The process of public users coming on-line has barely begun in the Nigeria. Barriers to access are high in practical terms. Predominance of English on the Internet and costs of telecommunications, as well as political censorship or exclusion of the Internet, make it expensive, elitist, and underlie some of the lowest rates of Internet use in the world (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The on-line world in Sept 1998 (Data: World Bank Indicators)
With Less than one percent of the world that is on-line in the Africa, Nigeria makes up about 60% of the 1%. Elitism is part of its significance in three ways. First, Internet use in Nigeria is currently concentrated in the big cities. The crucial variable is not cultural policy but infrastructure investment in telecommunications.
Second, the numbers are growing rapidly, suggesting a "submerged" elite coming to light as Internet users. Projections from limited data currently available show the same divergence in rates of growth as in overall numbers, and the dependence on a mix of the physical and social availability of access to the Internet.
Third, as already indicated, Internet use is concentrated within the provider community, and among those most like it socially and educationally. Put differently, it is a medium that puts their values and views into action, the values and views of a professional bourgeoisie with transnational capabilities and local roots, commitments to both, and capable of moving between them.
If the Internet is the leading edge, then television, which has more than a generation head start, is the lagging one. It is by far the most ubiquitous medium here, as elsewhere, and continues its role as a training ground for the skills of mediated communication. As television evolves through multi-channel formats with more diverse local and regional content mixed with international content toward the even more participatory and interactive model of the Internet, the significance of television and of other media is likely to be as a pre-adaptation for post-mass media technologies generally. Current technology ties the Internet more closely to telecommunications and to print and to new technologies than to broadcasting.
As the technologies are converging the larger social significance of these technologies and media is to have created a context and fostered habits that transfer quickly to post-mass media. The Internet may be something new, and a public sphere of new people, but it is drawn into pre-understandings already developed through experience with other media and in other social relations of media consumption. In this sense, television and newspapers create the context and telecommunications provides the channel for the model technology toward which convergence is bringing them.
Contrary media trends and cultural affects reflecting newer roles for conceptions of citizens and demonstrate this broader convergence. Technology and its adepts thus undermine an information regime of privileged arbiters of public discourse, and did so with cultural skill as well.

Conclusion: a fateful conjuncture
The media future that can be adduced begins with more channels and alternative channels for messages, more variety and wider participation, more interactive as opposed to receptive formats, more exposure of and to differences within the country, more opportunities to envision and vicariously to experience alternative selves. The point of departure between censorship and liberalization is a broad transfer of interpretive habits and practices forged on mass media into constructive practices of new, post-mass media. The television revolution has arguably predated a population, made up-market through a generation-long rise in mass education, with sets of skills and dispositions to rebalance the asymmetries of the mass media regime through down-market technologies of new media.
The first results are a startling increase in agency for those positioned in this frame. They include journalists, particularly in the transnational media, purveyors of the technology, Diaspora professionals, and particularly the creativity in each of these sectors and in government. Citizenship, in the sense of acting in the public sphere, becomes more active in these contexts of expanding and expanding access to mediated communication that rebalance sender-receiver relationships into something more like the reciprocities of everyday communication.
A base, there is a fateful convergence that is technological, as different types of data (still and moving pictures, music, voice, numbers) converge into a single (digital) type independent of channel and designed to find its own paths. It is also social, as activities particularly of identity mongering are absorbed into communication. The trend in decentralized communication and "distributed" (as opposed to centralized) responsibility intersects a two-generation rise in mass education that is breaking traditional monopolies on access to information and, more importantly, on rights to interpret.
Enabling these cultural changes are structural changes in communications regimes that follow from the communication and information technology moving down-market at the same time that regional populations are moving up-market. This conjunction frames the passage of more and more indigenous forms of regional culture into mediated communication. This, in turn, opens up possibilities for exploring alternative selves that, in some ways, is already a trend of the times. That is, the larger problem of culture in this equation is to shift from replication of uniformities to organization of diversity. This may be the major challenge of the next generation.

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