Nigerians are expressing deep concerns over the increasing adult content and lewd lyrics dominating the airwaves. SHAIBU HUSSEINI writes that while some blame the regulatory agencies for failing to sanction television and radio stations that flout existing rules, others hold parents responsible for not monitoring their children effectively.
There was a prolonged debate on the social media the other day, on the effect of pornography, violent films and some television programmes on the society. The debate was inspired by complaints lodged by a few discussants, who were apparently displeased with the negative character of most programmes and videos that were being aired on television and cable networks in Nigeria.
“We now watch pornography in broad daylight on some of these stations. They no longer respect the family belt time and don’t even care whether children are watching or not. If it is not open display of violence, bloodletting, it is show of nudity in the guise of showing us musical videos and open show of people kissing and smooching themselves on screen,” said a discussant.
Another discussant, an educationist said the situation is so bad that children and youths now acquire negative values from these programmes: “I conducted a survey among university students to find out where they learnt wearing their pants at bums level what they called, sagging, and where they learnt tattooing in very uncomfortable positions, and the finding showed that they learnt it from the films they watched on television,” he said.
Yet, another spoke of how children have become so violent because of what they see on television. The fellow cited the case of the young boy, who stowed in an aircraft from Benin to Lagos, as an example of a negative value that young people could pick from television.
Kehinde Abiodun, a cleric narrated what, he said, was a ‘true life story’ of an incident involving two brothers who gunned down their kid brother, after an attempt to re-enact scenes from a movie they had seen on television. He described the incident, which, he saidm happened in a state in the South West, as one of the many fall outs of violent and obscene content that have now characterized most broadcast stations.
“After watching the movie, a Yoruba movie, they decided to try out what they saw. The elder child reached for the father’s gun and his junior brother faced him reciting incantations, just as it was shown on television. Unlike in the film where the fellow who recited incantations disappeared, the young boy could not disappear and so the bullet that discharged accidentally hit him and he died on the spot,” the cleric narrated.
Several other examples were discussed as participants established a correlation between pornographic programmes that now dot the programme schedules of most television and cable stations and the erosion of positive values in the society.
The discussants not only affirmed that violence in films could lead to aggressive behaviour among teenagers, they also agreed that there was indeed a symbiotic relationship between violence and nudity in films and certain untoward behaviour of teenagers.
“It has the potential of engendering violence and other negative vices in the society,” remarked Dr. Ganiyu Akoshoro, a Mass Communication lecturer at the Lagos State University. “Studies have established a correlation between exposure to media content and the behaviour of children and youths just as these studies have also shown that these programmes that promote negative values are avenues through which acts of violence and immorality are acquired by young people,” Akashoro said.
An educationist, Ambrose Yongo, agrees with Akoshoro. “What has become particularly worrisome,” as he observed, “is that some of these films that are shown on television and cable stations do not even canvass the discouragement of the negative vices.” He also observed that they do not respect provisions in the broadcasting code, which demands adherence to general programming standards as well as adherence to good taste and decency and adherence to morality and social values.
“Our airwave is filthy,” he lamented. “All you hear on radio is lewd lyrics – shake your bum bum; or this one that is popular, All I want is your waist. All you see on most television stations is sex, sex and romance. Most times, it is sex for sex sake; smoking for smoking sake; gun totting for gun totting sake; having ladies wear skimpy and very revealing dresses, which our young girls later copy and so on and so forth. Most times, they are not even relevant to the stories being told and in most cases the producers handle these vices as if it is the right thing to do. They ignore the provisions of the broadcasting code and what we have is obscene, indecent, lewd and vulgar language on the airwaves.”
Like some of the discussants on social media and some informed observers who spoke to The Guardian, Yongo blamed the filthiness of the airwaves on the door step of practitioners, who feast on the perceived fantasies of the audience and then the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), two key government institutions set up to make motion picture operators to operate responsively and in line with developmental dictates.
“I will first blame the filmmakers, some of whom deliberately produce these kinds of content with a lot of violent messages. These messages are presented as if it is the norm. You see filmmakers feasting on the use of diabolical means to eliminate people. Why won’t people try it tomorrow? I think the filmmakers ought to be blamed and then we can face the regulatory agencies,” Yongo said.
Esther Nwabuikwu, a health worker thinks the NBC and the stations need to be held responsible for the rot. According to her, it is the responsibility of the NBC to effectively monitor the stations and ensure the compliance. She said, “how well has the NBC enforced its family belt rule and how effective have they been in monitoring our radio and television stations? I still see people kissing and smoking with reckless abandon on screen and I still hear lewd lyrics on radio every now and then.”
Nwabuikwu thus surmised that the NBC must spend the same resources it is spending on digitalization on riding the airwaves of filthy content. “It’s open porn on television these days. We never used to experience this before especially when we had just NTA. But with commercialisation and privatisation, it is almost everything goes on air,” she said.
But the NBC says it has been effective in ensuring compliance with provisions of the broadcasting codes. Although officials of the Commission acknowledged that there might indeed be cases of violation of certain provisions of the code, the Commission has not failed to sanction any station that violates any of the provisions of the code.
According to NBC’s Director-General, Mr. Emeka Mba, the penalties range from asking them to pay fines to suspension of their operating license. “The compliance level has been high. We have even within the limits of our resources increased our monitoring activities. We will continue to do more in this direction and we implore viewers to also report cases of abuse,”’ he said, in a recent interview.
A cable station operator, who would not want to be named, disagreed that the situation has gone beyond control. He argued that cable stations have tried to restrict viewership of programmes that are considered indecent. Besides, he said that such programmes that are considered indecent are only “aired at the time allowed for it.” He argues further: “What we are providing is service and no one wants to jeopardise his business by flouting relevant rules. The law says such programmes should be broadcast after 10pm, and in the case of cable stations, which are by subscription, we went a step further by providing a code with which you can restrict your wards from watching such programmes. So, if you don’t give them the code, they don’t watch the programmes. So, we play by the rules but parents have a role to play, which is why we usually request parental guidance.”
Rather than just blame the NBC and the stations, Yongo and Akashoro put the blame more on the NFVCB, whom they said has also not effectively checked the negative character of most films that are shown on television and cable stations.
Although they did not absolve the NBC, whom they said ought to ensure the enforcement of the broadcasting code, especially the provision on adherence to family belt timing, they maintained that the act establishing the NFVCB mandates them not to allow any film without a Censors Certificate to be exhibited in whatever form.
Similarly, the act in Part VII empowers the Film Censors Committee not approve a film which in its opinion depicts any matter which is indecent, obscene or likely to be injurious to morality and undesirable in the public interest. In other words, if that provision of the act is enforced, it will check what an analyst described as, ‘undisciplined communication’ that has been known to instigate some societal problems.
Filmmakers and television producers, who provide broadcast content, have not been absolved of blames. Temitope Bayode, a cultural enthusiast, blames a lot of the content providers for deliberately painting some of these negative vices as if they are a norm. She noted that the manner the vices are presented makes the film or content appear as ready manual for children and youths, who are very impressionistic. She said: “If you show a scene where a boy meets a girl and in the next minute they are kissing and cuddling and eventually get on the bed, you are indirectly suggesting that it’s normal for people to do that on a first date. The next time a boy meets a girl in real life, he would want to try it; whereas they are supposed to meet, get to know each other, begin courtship and are not supposed to be found kissing until they get married. This is not what you find in our home movies and it’s not encouraging and to know that we have a censors board in place.” Bayode, however, says that the situation calls for a lot of responsiveness on the part of the filmmakers.
While not absolving his colleagues completely of any blame, notable filmmaker, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen opined that no trained and responsible filmmaker sets out to shoot movies that will turn out indecent. Imaseun maintained that, “being responsive to the sensibilities of the audience comes with the training as a filmmaker.” He continued: “If you check, those who produce such indecent contents are in the minority. In fact, if there is a word lower than minority, I would have used it. But they are truly in the minority and are not professionals. They are an inconsequential number that the Censors Board can effectively deal with.”
Although Imaseun admitted that what is mostly presented on screen, “is a reflection of what is going on in the society,” he argued that the task of clearing the filth on the airwaves rests more with government and the regulatory agencies and the owners of the stations and the parents who buy the content. “My business is to make films; it is another person’s duty to classify the film and another to accept the film to show or buy. Mine is to make the films and obey whatever code that is on ground,” he said.
But Mrs. Pamela Udoka, a theatre artiste and psychologist, would not blame government alone for the rot. But she did blame the Censorship authorities for not enlightening the public enough on the classification symbols. “I am aware that those symbols exist but apart from the one that is ’18,’ which is for mature audience, I don’t know what the other symbols stand for. So, if I see an ‘X’ marked on a film, I won’t know what it means. So, a lot of that enlightenment has to be carried out,” she said.
The other classification symbols provided by the NFVCB include G- for General Exhibition, RE- for Restricted Exhibition and NC- Not Recommended for Children. “People need to be knowledgeable about these symbols so that when they see on it on screen, they will know who is to view such a programme,” Udoka said.
However, Udoka thinks that parents have to take the blame for not effectively monitoring what their children watch on television. Although she noted that some stations (she named two Lagos-based stations and a cable station) have become, “notorious for unleashing indecent programmes on their viewers,” Udoka was of the view that such stations need only to be sanctioned; but she seriously holds that parents have a lot to contribute in reducing the damaging content of some of these unwholesome content on the youths. “I don’t think I want to completely blame the television and cable stations. They are in business to provide service; and if you ask me, I would say that some of them have tried to comply with the family belt timing because it is only at late nights that we see some of these programmes that you mentioned. Besides, some of these stations, like the cable station I have at home, have a code I will input if I don’t want to allow my children access to any programme on television. So, it is me as the parent now that have the responsibility of ensuring that they don’t watch these programmes after the family belt period; and it is also my duty to ensure that they don’t get to ever know the code that will allow theme access to some of the indecent programmes on the cable stations,” Udoka said, adding that parents must restrict the amount of time their children spend watching television, especially late night programmes. “Most of what they see before going to bed sticks. The longer they spend in front of the set, the easier it will be to manifest some of the actions they see in the films they have watched,” she said.
Officials of the NFVCB, however, say that they are not unaware of the responsibility of the board to classify all video works in the country, including films and television programmes that are shown on cable and television stations. The Board’s Head of Corporate Affairs, Yunusa Tanko Abdullahi, says that the Board has been doing its best to regulate that aspect of the industry but that it has been constrained by the unstructured nature of the industry, which, “allows for a lot of illegal and clandestine activities.” Abdullahi said, “Yes, of course, it is the responsibility of the NFVCB, by the provision of its ACT of 1993 and regulations of 2008 to classify all video works in the country.” According to him, Part VII 33 (1) of the ACT requires the board not to allow any person to exhibit or cause or allow to be exhibited, a film without a Censorship Certificate issued by the Board for such exhibition. It is this provision, as Abdullahi further stated, that compels all broadcasting stations in the country to seek clarifications and demand censorship certificates from owners of movies before putting them on air. “They will claim that they are ignorant of the provision of the Act or even a similar provision in the Broadcasting Code; but ignorance is no excuse in law,” he said.
Although Abdullahi noted that some content providers also affix fake labels on the unwholesome content to deceive and confuse operators of the broadcast stations, the Censors image maker stated that it was the responsibility of the stations to “check with the NFVCB before they put such a programme classified as 18 or not fit for broadcast on air.” The NFVCB, he says, “frown at such practices and therefore seek the collaboration of the various stakeholders to rid the society of films of unwholesome content.”
However, Abdullahi acknowledged that the challenges of resources and personnel have not allowed the Board to effectively carry out its operations. He stated that a lot of resources are required to, “effectively police the airwaves.” Nevertheless, the Censors image-maker said the board was working with the various stakeholders to stem the tide.
“Like I said, we also have a challenge of resources and personnel. The country is big and the industry is growing; so we need to match the growing trend that requires a lot of resources to deal with the problem; but we are not relenting. The New Year will be much better as there are plans to rework and tweak some of our regulations for effectiveness. We also plan to engage the relevant stakeholders, especially owners of broadcast stations, and continue with our public enlightenment activities,” he said.
For now, stakeholders are of the view that unless very decisive steps are taken by government, the regulatory agencies, including the NBC and the NFVCB, and all the relevant stakeholders to stop stations from polluting the airwaves, television and cable stations would become more like agents of immorality than agents for socialization and edutainment that they ought to be. There is even a suggestion that parents must provide guidance where needed; while the relevant agencies should enforce regulations concerning the portrayal of nudity and violence in films. There is also a call for the agencies to device measures to discourage production of violent and indecent films.
What the Broadcasting Code stipulates
Section 1.5 c.
* Programmes unsuitable for children and youths shall not be scheduled before the watershed time of 10pm.
Section 3.1.1 and 3.1.2
* All programmes shall adhere to the general principles of legality, decency and truthfulness, in addition to the specific guidelines for the genre.
* Materials likely to incite or encourage the commission of a crime or lead to public disorder shall not be broadcast.
Section 3.7.1 and 3.7.3
* X-rated programmers and all forms of pornography shall NOT be broadcast.
* Programmed belts shall be strictly respected, especially the children and family belts.
Broadcasting is highly susceptible to imitation especially by children. Therefore the portrayal of violence, cruelty, pain and horror that has the potential of causing moral or psychological harm shall not be broadcast before the watershed time belt of 10pm.
What the NFVCB Act stipulates
Part VII 33 (1) of the ACT says, “As from the commencement of this ACT, no person shall exhibit, cause or allow to be exhibited a film without a censorship certificate issued by the Board for such exhibition.”
Part VII of the censorship ACT says, “The film censors committee shall not approve a film which in its opinion depicts any matter which is; (a) indecent, obscene or likely to be injurious to morality; and (c) undesirable in the public interest.”
(c) Shaibu Husseini