Once upon a time, Ghanaian newsstands had some decency

Only two weeks ago, two media practitioners, James Berko and veteran ace broadcaster, Tommy Annan-Forson delivered a petition to the National Media Commission to plead the regulatory body to check the broadcast of pornographic content by three TV stations; IceTV, TV XYZ and Thunder TV.

Petition submission
James Berko and Tommy Annan Forson submitting the petition to NMC

The NMC yesterday delivered a verdict on the petition. The regulatory body upheld the petition and ordered the fingered television stations to stop the broadcast of the adult content with immediate effect. The media houses, in a politically correct manner, duly apologized for the unethical broadcast of provocative content and assured Ghanaians that they would not air the content again.

Superficially it looks like another victory for morality and ethical broadcast. But essentially, absolutely nothing has been achieved with this ruling.

 

The NMC is a lame horse

The mandate of the NMC is vested in Article 166 of the 1992 constitution. The body is mandated to ensure “the highest journalistic standards” and have the power to call media houses to order. However, they do not have any punitive authority. They cannot suspend or revoke the license of a media house or broadcaster. And they cannot do anything disciplinary if the cautioned body chooses not to heed the NMC’s advice. Basically, the constitution created a watchdog and gave it no teeth. The media content law which was supposed to empower the body was struck down by the Supreme upon a suit by the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA).

Again, and here is the interesting one, the NMC cannot unilaterally call a media house to order in terms of the broadcast of offensive content because “offensive material” is inherently subjective. Hence until a member of the public reports that they are offended by some content being broadcast, the NMC, by itself cannot take any action even though there are standards.

Chairman of NMC Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng
Chairman of NMC Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng

Explaining the dynamic of their authority on StarrFM’s morning show, the Chairman of the NMC, Mr Kwasi Gyan Apenteng said that, “Many of these things are subjective… You need somebody to be offended, not that there are no standards… but it [the process] works when someone is offended and brings a petition so that we have… a complainant. That is how the process works best.”

 

But what really are we preventing?

Certainly, there must be a reason for all the hankering about indecency. Is it about sparing the eyes of the conservative older generation what was abominable in their heyday or preserving the purity of the younger generation?  The former is inconsequential; surely the latter should be the purpose.

Kids are now exposed to unprecedented nudity

But are we achieving that? If our objective is that we don’t want kids to see nudity, then we are on a wild goose chase. Here’s why. If a child does not school at home but rather makes any length of journey to school each day, they are more than likely to see side boobs, cleavages, bare chests, bare backs, nipple tips, long legs, thighs, camel toes, raw backsides; not on one person. Children see the composite form of a naked human body each day, even at church where one would think some form decency should exist.

Throw in television, newsstands, the internet, social media, magazines; and you would realise that sadly the 21st century child’s world revolves around nudity. So who are we kidding if we complain about a show aired an hour past midnight, but ignore the various forms of nudity being paraded in broad daylight?

15 years ago, when I used to buy Child’s Eye and Junior Graphic from the news stand, the erotic papers were always placed behind the news stall. The sellers only fetched them specifically for the people who wanted to buy them. I couldn’t even get a peak if I wanted to.

Once upon a time, Ghanaian newsstands had some decency

Five years passed and the salesman begin to creep the papers onto the front stand. They hid it such that only a thigh and a half-bottom could be seen by passer-by. Another five years on and they began to hang them in plain sight but in very few quantities. Today, many newsstands openly display pornographic material without any thought for the hundreds of children and teens who flock past each day.

Where was the NMC to check this? Where were the moralists when society actually needed them?

 

The Media is a Reflection of Society

This is a fact. The media is only a mirror of who we have become. When this story was posted on CitiFM’s Facebook page, the feedback would’ve broken the petitioners’ hearts. If they thought they were doing society any form of favour, clearly many did not see it that way. The mass view was clear – the petitioners were only playing the ostrich with the issue of nudity.

“The government is not our nanny”: outright rejection of the petition

Have you been to a beach lately? Or any social occasion? Did you endeavor to cover any child’s eyes? No? Not with all the nudity around? There are several incidents of dry humping at parties. I once witnessed a brazen couple openly have intercourse on a beach. And this is not uncommon!

We have failed as a society to check indecency. We did not react when the newsstands were filled with pornography. We did not react when Ghallywood/Ghallygold movies were filled with sex scenes. We did not react vehemently enough when Socrates Safo produced Hot Fork. Some television stations actually aired it! We did not react when wanton directors in Kumasi produced Ghana’s first pornographic movie. We did not react when online leak websites sprang up and began publishing nudes and leaked sex tapes. Lord Paper became an overnight star when he released his “Awurama” video. Where were the moralists! Where was the NMC!

It wouldn’t cross the mind of a Saudi Arabian broadcaster to air a show with a kissing scene. They would not even dare! So the fact some our television stations can broadcast adult content shows that the problem is not with the broadcasters. The problem is the society. 

What’s the way forward?

Petitions to regulatory bodies are certainly not the answer. This problem, if it can be referred to as such, is much bigger than a Ghanaian one. It’s human one; a global challenge. This is a problem rooted in democracy; the Law has granted humans the right to express and we are witnessing expression in forms that does not include words.

With free expression came a global platform to accommodate the expression – social media and the internet. I believe the digital sphere is the crux of this Gordian challenge of nudity and decency. The internet and social media offers people what they want to see not what is being shown. Hence these platforms should be the first to be checked if we have any hope of removing decency. But then again, this is a solution that would not hold because we are so attached to our tweets and status updates that any form of a regulation of social media would cause social meltdown. We rejected the police’s move to block social media for reasons of security, who would be mad enough to suggest that we regulate the space for the sheer purpose of maintaining decency?

In sum, there’s no way forward for the absolute removal of nudity. The only path, of course, remains the acceptance of nudity and the education thereof, of children on how best to deal with it. Our efforts to prevent it would be akin to quenching hellfire with sprinkler.

This NMC ruling is too little too late. We have welcomed nudity as a society. No law existing law can fight it. Indecency like I said is a human problem now; not a Ghanaian problem. We need to choose between freedom of speech and morality. For as long as there is freedom of expression, our traditions and indigenous culture would always be prone to degradation.

Or we can put pressure on Parliament to expedite work on the Broadcast Bill and pass the bill into law. This will empower the NMC and grant it the disciplinary powers to carry out its constitutional mandate of “ensuring the highest journalistic standards”. The men at the helm of the NMC wish to make an impact and as the Chairman said on StarrFM, “Society has to give the commission the needed tools to do its work.” The biggest tool society can give he commission is the overdue Broadcast Law.

Or better still we should find another term for “indecency”. Because decency, as we once understood it, is presently simply non-existent.

Source: Goddy Nana Mens / NewsGhana.com.gh

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