Why distribution regulation must remain a part of the NFVCB’S mandate

AMONG the listed items for the Federal Government to consider as its outstanding debts to the Nigerian creative industry; motion picture sector especially, is the request to disrobe the National Films and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) of its present mandate to regulate the distribution business of motion pictures. The authors of the demand list, did not for reason/s stated, consider it necessary to say what becomes of this important function. But it can safely be assumed that they will either want a new body to be responsible for it, or worse, that the distribution of films and other forms of motion picture are left as a free-for-all. Either of these options will spell disaster in capital not just for the industry but the whole country as well.

I am invariably seen as inflexible and authoritarian on some issues which with the benefits of hindsight I had given considerable thoughts to and I know are more beneficial to the practitioners and the industry in its entirety! I am not for example, particularly enamoured with, or convinced of the need for Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPPICON), and have stated my strong views about it several times. First, I do not know of any precedent for it in any country of my acquaintance. Besides, there is the overall issue of the freedom of expression guaranteed by the extant constitution.

For anyone or group to now ask for a legislation to moderate or abridge the freedom of others who for a reason or multiple of it do not feel inclined to belong to their association but nonetheless desire to express themselves through a film, video or any other form of motion picture seems to me a contradiction of the same freedom of expression already granted by the constitution to any individual or group. It is also my firm belief that whatever form of controls the practitioners need or desire can easily be achieved through their present various guilds and associations. Finally, to legislate an association to which anyone willing to make a film or movie must belong will automatically render the need for a Censors Board either unnecessary or ineffective!

The need for a Censors Board by a country for films and all forms of motion picture is a component part of that country’s citizens’ right to freedom of expression and the protection of others from anything offensive in a film, video or any other form of motion pictures by an individual or group. It is one of the many manifestations of the aphorism of an individual rights stopping where those of the others begin.

Nigeria as a Commonwealth country and membership of many other notable global bodies cannot do without a Censors Board, but a Censors Board, particularly in Nigeria as the only DTH in the world cannot function effectively without the mandate to regulate or control the distribution of motion pictures! This is so because the distribution regulation is not a separate function but an important enabler for the Censors Board to enforce its classification and censorship decisions! A Censors Board without the mandate to regulate or control the activities of the distributors will only be classifying and censoring films and videos which the distributors for economic reasons will either not obey or obey selectively only when it suits them. This is the Cruz of the matter! Those canvassing that the NFVCB be relieved of its distribution mandate are either acting out of ignorance or mischief or both! It is akin to removing the issuance of driving license from the Road Safety Corp functions. What makes the motorists dread the FRSC, is the knowledge of their legal mandate to seize their driving licenses for any driving infraction and therefore deprive them of the legal right to drive.

This is precisely why the NFVCB must continue to have the mandate to regulate distribution, if it is to be able to effectively enforce its censorship and classification decisions. Any additional body to regulate distribution will not be to the advantage of the industry or the country. First, we will be multiplying rather than reducing bureaucracy, and with the level of corruptions in the polity, it is doubtful if the body regulating distribution will ever agree with the decisions of the Censors Board. The clamour in the industry now is for new anti piracy laws but our statute books are already replete with these laws! It is easy enough to catch pirates. What has proven elusive is to successfully prosecute them.

At the seminar of ANCOP and the FIAPF at the PROTEA Hotel in Ikeja last year, it was made clear that all the Nigeria industry, like others in the world requires to effectively police piracy is to enforce its laws on distribution. Without it, we will all be dancing round the issues. At the release of a film or music or video, two separate and distinct owners emerge; the Intellectual Property Owner, IPO and Intellectual Property Distribution Owners; IPDO. In Nigeria, there is at present no Distributor in the real sense of it, so when a film, music or video is released, it becomes almost legally impossible to differentiate who the two owners are.

There is also no enforceable distribution contract, which ideally must not only specify the duration but also the price and territory covered by the distribution contract. These are the issues covered in detail by the provisions of the New Distribution Framework, NDF of the Censors Board. I am of the opinion that the industry should constructively engage the Board to agree the full implementation of the policy but not to ask for its discontinuation or mount a campaign to relieve the Board of the distribution mandate just because of its perceived lethargy to successfully conclude the NDF implementation. That is like one spiting one face by cutting off one nose!

—By ‘Yinka Ogundaisi

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