Stakeholders have described new laws and guidelines introduced by the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) as restrictive, archaic, and detrimental to the creative industry.
Alhaji Abdullahi Suleiman, a creative expert spoke on behalf of the stakeholders in a statement on Thursday in Lagos.
Suleiman, who raised this concern, said that regulation should be to balance the interests of various stakeholders, such as consumers, investors, businesses, and society as a whole.
He said that regulations should be evidence-based, transparent, proportionate, targeted, and responsive to changing circumstances, avoiding unnecessary burdens and unintended consequences.
“For example, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is an instance of well-crafted regulation that strikes a balance between protecting consumer privacy and enabling businesses to operate effectively.
“GDPR sets clear guidelines for data protection and privacy while ensuring that businesses can still use consumer data for legitimate purposes.
“However, ambiguous or non-stakeholder inclusive regulation can hinder innovation and economic growth,” Suleiman said.
According to him, in Nigeria, a rapidly growing economy, entrepreneurs and small businesses play vital roles in driving economic expansion and creating jobs.
He added that excessive regulation could make it challenging for them to operate, stifling innovation and limiting growth potential.
According to him, burdensome licensing requirements and bureaucratic obstacles can deter new businesses from entering the market, leading to reduced competition and fewer consumer opportunities.
Suleiman said that a classic example of over-regulation is the repealed “cabotage law” in Nigeria, which mandated that only Nigerian-flagged vessels could engage in coastal trade within the country.
“This law led to a lack of competition, resulting in higher costs and inefficiencies within the shipping industry.
“ARCON’s mandate for using only Nigerian models in advertisements shown within the country can limit the global appeal of Nigerian brands and hinder their ability to compete on the international stage.
“Nigerian brands operate in several countries, if regulators of other markets tow the same line as ARCON, it will greatly affect our indigenous brands’ opportunities in other parts of the world,” he said.
Suleiman added that ARCON now required skit makers to obtain approval for all advertising material before publication or face penalties.
According to him, this regulation resembles the previously repealed Nigerian film censorship law, which demands that every film be approved by the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) before release.
He added: “This law created delays and discouraged filmmakers from producing content in Nigeria.
“Responsible online advertising should be an inclusive project involving government, online platforms, advertisers, agencies, and various online communities.”
According to him, one example of a successful multi-stakeholder approach to regulation is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the global domain name system through collaboration with governments, businesses, and civil society organisations.
“ARCON’s Standard of Practice, published in October 2021 grants itself the power to decide commissions, pitch fees, and payment terms for private organisations within the advertising industry, as well as their clients.
“It also claims the authority to establish a tribunal to pass judgment on defaulters.
“These provisions appear to overstep the constitutional freedom of legal business entities to enter into contractual agreements and suggest a dictatorial approach that undermines the nation’s constitution.
“ARCON positions the need to eradicate Capital flight as its basis for the very prohibitory laws, however ARCON has not been able to substantiate its claims, as it does not have the actual figure of advertising spend in Nigeria.
“ARCON cannot even ascertain the contribution of every naira spent in advertising to the Nation’s GDP,” Suleiman said.
According to him, if ARCON can provide data on how advertising spend contributes to the Nigerian GDP, this will be a good place to start in the development of the advertising industry.
He said that advertisers, which were SMEs, local conglomerates, and multinational organisations, significantly contributed to Nigeria’s economy.
He said that they deserved an enabling environment that allowed them to operate without undue intimidation and unnecessary restrictions.
He said that ARCON should prioritise creating an environment that would foster creativity and innovation, supported by education, technology, and fair regulations, rather than implementing regressive and unproductive systems.
Suleiman said that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the United Kingdom is an independent regulator that promoted responsible advertising through collaboration with advertisers, agencies, and media owners.
“It provides clear guidance and resources to help businesses comply with advertising standards while ensuring that creativity and innovation can flourish.
“ARCON should consider adopting a similar approach to facilitate growth and development within Nigeria’s advertising ndustry,” he said.
To foster a thriving advertising ecosystem in Nigeria, Suleiman said that ARCON should consider consultation and collaboration, transparency and accountability, flexibility and adaptability, education and capacity building as well as encouraging diversity and inclusivity.
“Regulations should be responsive to the rapidly evolving advertising landscape, particularly in the digital space.
“ARCON should monitor global best practices and emerging trends to ensure that its guidelines remain relevant and supportive of innovation.
“ARCON should provide resources and training programmes to help advertisers, agencies, and other stakeholders understand and comply with advertising regulations.
“By helping industry players develop the necessary skills and knowledge, ARCON can promote a culture of responsible advertising and self-regulation,” he said.
The creative expert recommended that ARCON should streamline approval processes to avoid bureaucratic bottlenecks and support the timely release of advertising content.
“ARCON should implement efficient and user-friendly approval processes for advertising material.
“This can include online submission systems, clear turnaround times, and dedicated support for small businesses and content creators,” he said.
Suleiman added that ARCON needed to balance regulation and freedom of contract, promote a culture of self-regulation within the advertising industry by encouraging the development of voluntary codes of conduct and industry-led initiatives.
“This approach can complement formal regulation and empower industry players to take responsibility for upholding advertising standards and protecting consumers’ interests.
” ARCON should actively participate in international forums and collaborate with other advertising regulators to learn from best practices and ensure that Nigeria’s regulatory framework aligns with global standards.
“This engagement will help ARCON to stay abreast of emerging trends and challenges in the advertising industry and inform its regulatory approach.
“ARCON should regularly assess the impact and effectiveness of its regulations, seeking feedback from stakeholders and adjusting its approach as needed.
“This ongoing evaluation process will help ensure that regulatory measures remain fit for purpose, fostering a dynamic and responsive advertising industry in Nigeria,” he said.
According to him, by implementing these recommendations, ARCON can create a balanced regulatory environment that promotes responsible advertising while respecting the needs of businesses and other stakeholders.
Suleiman said that this approach would help to cultivate a thriving advertising ecosystem in Nigeria, driving innovation, economic growth, and job creation.
He said that it would also foster a diverse and inclusive creative industry that would reflect the country’s rich cultural heritage and its commitment to the common good.