The recent workshop on Regulatory Reforms and the Digital Ecosystem organized by Alexis Xavier gave Engineers’ Forum an opportunity to meet with Mr Emeka Mba, a former Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission who presented a paper titled “Future of Contents: Impact of Convegence and Regulations on New Business Models”. Mr Mba is the current CEO of Questech Media Consulting based in Lagos. He shared his thoughts on the state of the regulatory reforms and activities in the sector.
Sir, it’s a pleasure to have this interview with you. Firstly, do you think that the telecommunications, media, and technology (TMT) regulations at the moment are suitable for the systems we have currently, in Nigeria, based on your practical experiences?
Mr. Mba: I do not believe that the regulations in place are clearly sufficient or robust enough to deal with digital disruption because these advances are not peculiar to this industry alone. It is happening across different sectors like financial technology, insurance, health, agriculture, amongst others. I believe that most of what is happening as I was saying today, is that a lot of our laws and policies do not have a diagnostic tool, or a prescriptive tool, they just simply say they are going to do XYZ without necessarily having a systematic way of being able to measure impact or define what the problem is. I mean if you go to a hospital, the first thing the doctor would ask you is ‘how are you feeling?’ ‘What are your symptoms?’ So, our policies, laws, and regulations, must adopt that same kind of mindset to say, look, knowing that this is ‘digital’, and knowing the way that the digital evolution occurs, its tendencies, and dynamics, is the first step. The second step is being able to diagnose properly, define what the issues are, and separate the issues, because without definition you cannot even attempt to make any kind of meaningful regulations in any field and especially in the TMT field – they must be able to measure impact. This would help them to understand what is happening, what they intend to do, and what effects it would have on the market place.
Do you think that it is possible to address these issues and have these modifications done to the process of policy making?
Mr. Mba: Those suggestions highlighted, obviously varies from sector to sector but with specific regards to the TMT sector, I think that there is still a long way to go to be able to address these issues, but I am confident that we have the people and the resources and it is just to have an awakening of sorts within the players in the sector, that would help us achieve that.
What would you say is the fate of journalism and broadcast media in the face of these technological disruptions and how can policies or regulations help to pad the effects it has and would still bring?
Mr. Mba: Journalism and broadcasting media have a special role to play going forward. A lot of people have this notion that the existence of social media, and the instant access we have to information and so on has made journalism irrelevant, I think not. I actually believe that the social relevance of broadcasting would grow and as more media is pervasive, people would realize how important it is. People have always seen the importance of media from a point of government providing information, now the narrative has changed, and the citizens are now also providing information, deciding what they want, and pushing out information as well. Traditionally, when you have had that one-way traffic for a long time, where it was government who owned media, or a few people who had political connection, that owned media and relayed government sanctioned information, an era where anyone from any part of the country or State can put out information that would have as much impact, has brought about some realization of the significance of information, and how much good it can do, but in the face of fake new – how much harm it can also do. Now there is an awareness of how critical information and news is to development, and so I do not think journalism would die, instead it would become relevant. In any case, the issue is with the people currently in the journalism sector, they would have to address the existential issues around their practice. The way journalism is practiced in Nigeria at the moment, does not give room for much comfort, because what is obtained currently, is that they do not carry out a lot of investigation or sourcing for information, they just come out with news and also cases of informal sources of news have become much more valuable to a greater number of people. There is need to be a re-invention of journalism in this age of digital disruption but I think journalism and broadcasting would be much relevant from a social perspective.
Do you believe that we have the structures or leeway in place here in Nigeria, to implement new policies and regulations that are more befitting of the digital age we are in, possibly propagated by some of the participants who attended this workshop?
Mr. Mba: The existence of a structure is important to sustainable development, clearly, but I do not think the structure itself would come about by some sort of magic, instead it can come about by the activities of some players in the industry and how government set the rules. The onus is on the industry people to interrogate or to engage government more, in terms of telling them how they feel they should regulate, in the light of the issues we talked about during the workshop, in relation to digital disruption or how to distinguish between what we refer to as ‘the citizens’ and ‘the consumers’ while bearing in mind the distinguishing features of the two, because they are fundamentally not the same thing. That is why I think that the more we move into a private sector oriented market place, the more important a regulation is because policy-making becomes more critical as it is policies that drive investments – bad policies kills investments and so on – we have already seen this happen. We need more smart mix of policies and regulators working together but also having industry people pushing back when they think that certain regulations do not make sense or would be injurious to their business and to do that with the mindset that distinguishes between what is public good and private good. I think those conversations have to take place.
During the workshop, you posed a debate on infrastructure and content in relation to which is more important. What side are you on?
Mr. Mba: In a market like Nigeria where we have severe infrastructural deficits, I think we do not have the luxury to focus on just content, to be honest we find a lot of people, who in order to push content for example, make a lot of investments in infrastructure. Yes to some extent, in investing in infrastructure the barriers are coming down because of digital, so it is opening a lot of opportunities but still, there needs to be some form of investment in infrastructure even if you are not making use of a typical broadcast mast, you might have to make use of servers, connectivity, cloud farms, and so on.
Which one among the five drivers that principally drive any sector (consumer behavior, macroeconomy, technology changes, industry, and regulations), do you consider as more important?
Mr. Mba: Big-headed government policies have more impact obviously. Yes, we have consumer issues but I think macroeconomy forces are incredibly powerful in an economy such as ours, where power is still too much centralized in the sense that, one government policy can overnight cripple your business. So, macroeconomic influences or factors are still very tough and very key, and I think we need to push to ensure that government knows that better policy-making is good for everyone.
What is your message for the attendees of this workshop, what is the one thing you want them to take out of these two-days?
Mr. Mba: I think the number one take away should be that they have an understanding of the huge relationship between policy, regulations, and growth, in any sector. As industry people they must be aware that they have a voice and therefore can help in determining the direction of a policy and not to sit back and think that the government would always have the best intentions, because the best intention in the market place might not be the same thing and this can result in some disastrous consequences like driving up inflation and loss of jobs, even though the aim was of good intent. That is why there is a need for study, enlightened intervention, and a need for more stakeholder involvement in deciding what to do. Simply put, those who are more affected by government policies and regulations need to be more engaging with government.
What action specifically, few months post-event, do you want to see implemented, thanks to this workshop?
Mr. Mba: I do not think I am in a position to do that, but I think from our own stand-point, we want to engage more with regulators especially in the Telecommunications, Media, and Technology sector with the Broadcasting Commission, NCC, and Federal Competition and Consumer Protection (FCCP) agency because these people are very important to not just sectoral regulations but now that we have the new FCCP Act, how that impacts into every sector is key. We need to do more engagements from our part, with these agencies.