APCON, underfunding and the struggle to regulate advertising

 

Goddie Ofose

The non-existence of a constituted council of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) is not the only challenge the advertising regulatory authority is facing, but also underfunding is a big problem as the council is incapacitated due to the fact that the Federal Ministry of Information always dither in releasing its statutory allocation of N18 million.

Though the N18 million given the council has been described by some stakeholders as negligible, the council only received N7.8million, which is 43 per cent of the allocation.

According to investigations, the council’s funding, which has not been enough over the years, was worst during Labaran Maku’s tenure as a minister, while late Prof. Dora Akunyili performed better in funding the council than most ministers who had headed the ministry.

The poor funding of the council in recent years has contributed to its poor monitoring and enforcement duties. Mr. Udeme Ufot, former APCON’s chairman, lent credence to this when he was at the helm of affairs as chairman in 2015. He said: “We want to invest in facilities that will aid monitoring because the council has lost so much money as a result of lack of this equipment”.

During the Senate Committee on Information’s visit to APCON recently, the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of APCON, Alhaji Garba Bello Kankarofi, cried out to the lawmakers, pleading with them to intervene before the council is rendered ineffective.

The registrar said, among other things, that the council is underfunded and that is the main reason why they cannot carry out their duties efficiently.  “If an employee is not properly motivated in the course of carrying out hazardous job like that of vetting advertising, it is obvious that he may not give his best” , he added.

He also stated that, APCON is planning to send a bill to the national assembly soon, detailing their numerous challenges over the years that have not received the required attention of the lawmakers. “We will be glad if the national assembly considers our proposal and make it a law, because advertising is critical to the growth of any economy that wants to be recognised globally”, Kankarofi said.

While responding, a member of the committee, Senator Dino Melaye, urged APCON to articulate its ideas and send it to the national assembly, saying that most government’s parastatals are suffering because they don’t know the right way to channel their challenges. “Some of them still believe in the fiat given to the office of the secretary general of the federation during the military administrations that every financial issue should go through the office of budget and planning as the right channel. So, they send their challenges through that channel and think that things will work for them. Unfortunately, this does not work in a democratic setting”, he added.

According to Maleye, the national assembly has the power to make a law from a proposal emanating from any government’s pararastals, adding that if the general house seems to be busy to handle the issue, it would then be forwarded to the appropriate committee to work on it.  According to him, a statement from the office of the secretary of the federation is not a law, and for a staff to do well in a place like Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), such a staff’s moral must be boosted.

While expressing optimism that the national assembly will do the needful on their proposal, Kankarofi disclosed that, “The job of APCON is to regulate all forms of advertising communications that are exposed to the public through the mass media. The purpose of such regulation is to ensure that consumers and the larger public do not get negatively influenced or impacted by these advertisements. Advertising is meant to promote or to sell products, services or ideas. Especially, for profit making businesses, advertising is meant to motivate and mobilise a large number of consumers, which translate to profit for the person advertising the product and services. So, there is an underlying intention to use advertising to promote profit.

“There is also a possibility that the drive for profit could make somebody use advertising sometimes in a way that does not protect the consumer, who is the target of the advertising or the society at large, that may not be the target of the advertising but are invariably exposed to the advertising communications.

“Now, the scope of these regulation responsibilities enlarges as the media landscape enlarges. Once upon a time, there were just a couple of media that advertising can be exposed in; but today, you probably will not be able to properly delineate the scope or the range of platforms which advertisers may use. So, our responsibility here is to continue to monitor the range of media through which advertising is being communicated and to ensure that whichever medium that is used by any advertiser we are able to track it and ensure that the right things are being communicated through any of these media at any point in time.  This cannot be achieved without adequate fund”.

As a result of underfunding, practitioners have continued to get away with several infractions. Chapter Three of the special provision in APCON advertising code, which touches on  advertising alcoholic beverages, has been constantly breached by the manufacturers.

For instance, Article 32, which talks about radio and television threshold, says “Advertisements for alcoholic beverages shall not be exposed in children’s, religious and sports progammes”.

APCON cannot claim that it is unaware of the Guinness Stout advertisement pay TV network in the afternoon.

For the threshold, APCON code says no advertisement of alcoholic beverages should be aired between 6am to 8pm on radio and 6am to 9pm on television. However, manufacturers have been breaching the code in print, outdoor, radio and television blatantly without checks.

According to sources in APCON, the council is incapable of taking action because it lacks fund to invest in modern media monitoring facilities. For now, APCON is struggling to regulate advertising in the country. For how long the struggle would continue nobody knows. But, it is heartwarming that the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, visited APCON House sometime ago to discuss issues, while the Senate Committee on Information also followed suit with an oversight function visit recently. These are indications that government considers advertising as one of the sectors to drive the growth of the nation’s economy.

 

From the foregoing, it is apt to surmise that the ineffectual state of the council would be ameliorated if government ensures its budgetary allocation is fully released and on time, too, as well as addressing the protracted issue of constituting the APCON council, whose nonexistence is causing melancholic feelings among stakeholders.