Engineer Abayomi Bolarinwa is a gentleman to the core. Easy-going and very approachable, he is perhaps one of the very few top government officials in the country who do not wear their offices like a piece of suit. He said he used to buy second-hand books under the bridge in Lagos before becoming the director-general of the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, and he still does today. To him, the office is a temporary thing. And that is why he is very ‘scarce’ in the media. To him, regulation is not done on the pages of newspapers. But he broke that ‘rule’ when BRANDPOWER’s Samuel Ajayi took him up on the state of the broadcasting industry in the country. It is Bolarinwa at his best. Feel him…
How long have you been superintending over National Broadcasting Commission now?
All about five years.
How has it been in those last five years now?
It’s been quite interesting, challenging but to God be the glory. It has been worth the trouble
When you were speaking generally yesterday, you said the work of regulation is not done on the pages of newspapers. But again the public still needs to know what and what you are doing.
When I said the work of regulation is not done on the pages of newspaper , it doesn’t mean the public should not know what we are doing. The regulation, in the first instance, is about protecting the public and when you talk about regulation in broadcasting, we are protecting the public against poor quality of signal, bad content in terms of language, in terms of overt sex, in terms of violence, in terms of cultural abuse, we talk about adverts that are false. So, the whole essence of regulation is the protection of the people.
If you say protection of the people, you have so many issues which I, myself as a reporter, have written on quite a number of times and that is the issue of language and content. It’s as if we are not improving in that regard…
Well, we are improving. But unfortunately in most cases the broadcaster as a gate keeper is not minding the gate properly. When you look at the professionals, you see their language is decent, professional, good, but when they now invite guests, how they now manage the guests leads to the kind of language you get. If you take the issue of bad, abusive, foul language you find that out especially when it comes to political issues. So, what we need to do which we are doing is capacity building. You cannot put a fresh graduate, no matter how his diction is, no matter how good the research is, to come and interview certain category people in this country. One, the interviewer is already at a disadvantage when you bring somebody with this tall, huge reputation in the society and then you bring somebody who has barely got his or her feet in the industry to interview or you put a group of politicians three or four of them together and you bring somebody without experience to anchor that programme. So, this capacity building, we are improving on it. If you cast your mind back to 2011 elections, when the campaign started initially, the issue was with the language but after the regulator had done one or two things to one or two stations, you see that the language changed. They started gate keeping, they started looking at adverts and political jingle: then we said no we cannot accept this; this cannot go on in your stations. But when it comes to live programs which are where we have the problem and then what regulation are we putting in place?
We now say, put in the profane machine. What a profane language machine does is to give you three or five seconds to listen before you go online which is live but gives you a delay of about three to five seconds to know if there is any foul language, you can deal with it within two, five seconds before you allow it otherwise it slips on air and you will be held responsible.
Then let’s come to diction, there is one thing NBC has been doing over the last ten years; which is training and this is very commendable. But you still see on air nowadays, on radio stations you see a trained broadcaster, so to say, mis-pronounce French words like restaurant, depot, and so on.
You said a trained broadcaster. If you say ‘trained broadcaster’, you assume that everybody you see behind the microphone or in front on camera is trained whereas it’s not true and that is why we keep on working on it and we keep on training. Now the truth about it is that the industry has grown so fast beyond the pool of trained personnel that are available so much more that a youth corps member; fresh from the university, once he or she has a good diction in certain direction, is quickly put on air as a presenter and as a broadcaster. But in the industry ; people must work for two, three years. Even when you talk about the English language, that is even fair. What about the Nigerian languages? When they pronounce names, cities, towns, and we keep on telling them if you are going to pronounce Abayomi Olaiya Bolarinwa, no matter where you come from in this country, once you go on air, you must find somebody from that geo-political area to pronounce and pronounce until you have become conversant with the pronunciation so that when you go on air; you don’t goof. But when people read news and will not come to rehearse that news. When people go on air without scripting, they go on air to improvise; they are definitely bound to make mistakes and we are working on that and I can assure you, it will take time. But we keep on with capacity building. We are talking to FRCN and NTA. NTA has a TV college, FRCN has a training school and we are working on it saying you must create a regular training; if it is every month or every three months for presenters and newscasters. And I can assure you, it is improving. It used to be very, very bad but because of regulation and the pressure and manpower, capacity building will keep on going on. And we will keep on doing that.
Now, it has once been said though, I could see that maybe it is not as it was in those days; that the NBC always finds it easier dealing with the private stations than government stations perhaps, because of the political considerations.
You have a child and you have an adult. Adult knows the norms of the society except he is a rascal he will not likely need more correction in certain things compared to the child that is just growing up. At the beginning, people should go back and look at the Act that established the NTA and FRCN. In fact, the role of the NBC today was given to NTA in its Act of 1976. So they had regulation, they had training and they had capacity building. In those days, you couldn’t be in NTA and after your youth service, you will spend two or three years as assistant presenter or assistant producer before you could handle the microphone or go on air. You will be a reporter for so long. So they had training.
(Cuts in) The Eugenia Abus of this world…
Yes; and they were well trained as compared to people who just come in, bring in people who are fresh they are bound to make mistakes. And like I said, there are certain aspects of the regulation we don’t do on pages of newspapers. I’m not going to say NTA has been fined and then go and tell the private people: oh yes; I have fined NTA yesterday but the records are there.
Is it possible for NBC to set certain standard and regulation that before this person can go on air, he or she must have spent at least eighteen to twenty-four months under-studying professionals in your the stations before he or she can be put them on air?
That will be tough because you are likely to kill creativity. You find young people who are dedicated to their jobs although fresh from the university but are eager and willing to learn and will do everything to make sure their presentations are the best. Now if you do this, that means such people that are dedicated, that are hardworking, that are willing to learn and within one year, they have become very good are shut out. So, when you make this regulation, you are cutting them off. But if you take a look at Nigeria Broadcasting Code, it is very clear who can be a manager of program, who can be a manager of news and who can even be engineer or director of engineering. The number of years in the profession, cognate experience; not just that he or she has graduated for so, so number of years.
Now I’m going to take you back to 2002 in Minna. There was this broadcasting code reviewed, you remember, that generated a lot of furore about claims of miracles that could not empirically verified. That such should not be put on air…
I remember. Code is part of regulation and that aspect of the code is still in existence and we have been proved right. I told you at the beginning of this interview that regulation is for the protection of the people. Look at what happened last year in South Africa. One of Nigeria churches was banned from airing any program on TV in South Africa. What happened was that, there were claims that people where healed from HIV and name it, and then some people went to stop taking their drugs. There were patients with tuberculosis patients and with HIV, and then stopped taking their drugs and then effected members of their family; especially the woman with tuberculosis. So the South African government; not the regulator; then banned the airing of the program on TV in South Africa. Please go back and find out. We are not saying there is no miracle, everyday is miracle that you sleep and wake up is a miracle but we also know that if a man has been blind from birth, he cannot identify colour. So if you now say a man that has been blind from birth now has regained his sight and then say what colour is the tie on me and he can clearly identify the colour of the tie; that is cannot be true. Please when you sleep and wake up tomorrow morning; tell whether you can identify the things you see in the first few minutes that you open your eyes. So, somebody that has been blind from birth suddenly opens his eyes and identifies the colour of your shirt. We are saying there are miracles but the ways miracles are projected smacks of fraud. There are people that are gullible in our society. The economy of our people is bad; money for medic-care is difficult to come by. So any easy, short-cut to get it, people will flock to it. So we must be careful of what we introduce, expose them to. So what we are saying is that do you crusade but if a man has HIV, a doctor must have diagnosed that has HIV. If he now claims that he is cured let him go back to the doctor, let him examine him and let the doctor give him a claim bill of health. Then come back on air a said Mr. A was cured and this is the doctor. If possible go back and interview the doctor. The doctor is a recognised medical personnel who can say you have this or you don’t have this. Now if the doctor who signed and said you had this, one year, two years after says you don’t have it then it is proved that you have been cured. And in any decent society, that is acceptable. But it is like herbal medicine sellers who bring a drug and say it cures all ailments. We are not going to allow that go on air. Or herbal remedy drug seller who comes on air and doesn’t give you dosage on how to properly use what he is selling to you. We all know Western medicine will tell you take this drug this way. If symptoms persist after three days, go to your doctor or if you have re-actions, stop using it. These things are not there for the herbal medicines. We cannot allow it on air. Remember regulation is about protecting the people. We have to protect the people and that is why this has been put in place. We cannot stop preaching on air, we have not stopped people talking about miracles; all we are saying is let us see a proof, let the people have a verifiable proof that this miracle actually happened. Miracle is not magic. Thank you.
Before I round up this, you mentioned South Africa and even some citizens of Western world are in Nigeria and they see these things. Do these things negatively affect the brand of Nigeria?
It does. When you take the package of our Nollywood, when you take this sort of miracle to anywhere in the west coast of Africa, the first thing they talk about is Nollywood and they talk about Nigeria and voodoo and there were certain places where there was crisis and people went after Nigerians.
Is it that bad?
It is that bad. So, even Nollywood, we keep on talking to them.
Most of their films are broadcast on television stations now…
Yes. We are working on that with Nigerian Films and Video Censors Board; we are working actively on that saying that films must be adapted for television. Whatever you are producing for home view and video you must have a broadcast version. If you produce a movie today, you have club version and you have broadcast version. So we are steadily going on that because what we do is there is going to be regulation on that; we throw it the public, we throw it to the stakeholders so that we work on it together and create win, win situation for everybody because the public deserves to be protected.
Finally, who is Engineer Yomi Bolarinwa?
Engineer Yomi Bolarinwa is a broadcast engineer, started working in the days of WNTV. He has worked in NTA, also worked as an engineer in National Broadcasting Commission, NBC. Today, by the grace of God, he is the director general of National Broadcasting Commission.