African film industry: Nigerian television sets precedence

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African producers have hoped beyond hope since time immemorial that their governments will seriously implement a quota system for national productions. Although some sort of quotas already exist in legislations – especially for movie theatres – they are rarely applied.

In subjecting Nigerian primetime hours (7pm – 10 pm) to a quota system, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has pioneered a sensitive cause in the African audiovisual industry. For Nigerian producers, it is a golden access to the television industry. Highly monopolized by foreign productions, the television industry in Africa has all too often failed to fairly represent the continent’s own producers. But in Nigeria where film production reigns (1771 films produced in 2008), the public is amply served with local productions.

This makes the choice of primetime hours (19h-22h) tactical, based on the fact that it is a time when “the family unit is likely to watch television together.” In a public notice distributed to professionals in the audiovisual industry, the NBC indicates that it favours programmes that have respect for families “who deserve high-quality programs.” Hence, programmes with sexual content, nudity, violence, blood, smoking, drug or alcohol consumption will be sanctioned by NBC. Moreover, the belittling of the female gender, abuse of language (or attitude) and the use of exorcism and occult or paranormal practices advocating a certain level of reality are also liable to sanctions, unless they are backed by strong editorial justification.

The world’s second biggest film producer

To meet this criteria – it should be noted that the Nigerian film industry mainly focuses on witchcraft, love affairs and money — the Nigerian broadcasting has established an impressive sanctioning procedure. First is a fine of 500 000 naira (over € 2650 or $3700), payable within 14 days. Second; a one million-naira fine (over € 5020 or $7000) including the broadcasting of an hour-long informational message imposed by NBC during family prime-time hours. Third sanction is the reduction of a channel’s broadcast time on daily basis should it (the channel) accumulate offences. Finally, any further violation of the decree will be tantamount to an outright suspension of the channel’s broadcasting license.

According to a 2009 study by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), Nigeria came second in film production in the year 2006. With a number of 872 films produced that year (1091 for Bollywood films and 485 films made in Hollywood), the regulation of the Nigerian film industry is of the essence. Indeed, if producers in neighbouring countries closely monitor the profits of the Nigerian film industry — over $ 250 million –, the same can neither be said for the poor image quality nor the mass piracy these works fall prey to. By promoting the inclusion of Nigerian production on national television during primetime hours, the NBC hopes to set precedence for local producers who are much too often bypassed by the television industry.

The Nigerian audiovisual environment is very rich: Besides the Federal channel NTA, which has been in existence since 1959, each of the thirty-six states of the federation has its own television channel. In promoting national television production through quality works directed towards Nigerian families, the NBC (mandated since 1992 by the Federal Government of Nigeria to regulate radio, television and satellite broadcasts) is seeking to deal with their moral obligations. According to them the responsibility to inform, educate and entertain should not be done at the expense of the general Nigerian interest, national cohesion or the diverse societal, cultural, economic, political and religious set-ups. The reason behind the NBC demands is simply because they know all too well that TV stations have openly “neglected” this provision over time.

Many Africans hope that this decree will promote the emergence of good quality audiovisual productions and encourage African countries to introduce quotas to encourage their various local productions.

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