Thursday, 17 May 2012

Ghana’s Manhood TV Shame

I love TV3 for its sassiness and zip; in the 1990s, the station was the first to let in fresh air unto Ghana’s rather arid television arena which had been dominated by GTV, which had been the only television station in the country since the inception of television in 1965. There have been many TV stations since TV3 broke the mould but even then its reputation as the station of choice for Ghana’s youth is perhaps unchallenged. Other TV stations have carved out their own niches but across the expanse of news and entertainment TV3 does its best to hold the competition at bay thanks to programmes like Music Music, Mentor, Ghana’s Most Beautiful and other Live and “reality” shows.

However, the station has been in the news lately for absolutely the worst possible reasons and it will take a lot of remedial action to restore it to its previous position of affection and acclaim. The issue at stake is the deliberate and provocative exposure of the genitals of a guest on one of its programmes. Public shock and outrage have been lessened only slightly by the suspension of the programme by the station but in the main, the harm has already been done.

It is easy to see this incident as a single isolated silly occurrence but it highlights a situation that is threatening to become even more rampant in the future. The underlying issue is the importation of a celebrity culture from Europe and the US which most people believe sits badly alongside our own cultural mores and ethics.  Personally, I am loath to blame other cultures for our own waywardness when it occurs but on this occasion I also think that the celebration of celebrity for its own sake is a model that has no value except for those media houses that hope to profit from notoriety and nuisance.

Fame is not new in this country and we have always had famous people who are celebrated for their achievements in various fields, but in the West, a new phenomenon arose and intensified in the last 40 years due to the influence of telecommunications and therefore of ideas around the world. This is the celebration of the celebrity, which is defined as someone who is famous for being famous. People who do ordinary things such as broadcasting, acting, music or playing sport are elevated into stardom by the media for the purposes selling newspapers or advertising time on radio and television.

The glamorisation of such individuals began in Hollywood where film studios deliberately transformed their actors into public icons and encouraged them to behave rather badly to attract public attention. This was a way to get people into cinema halls. The public via the media were made to be interested in the private lives of these individuals especially in their sexual indiscretions.  With time the celebrity disease spread from Hollywood to all points East, West, South and North. It has arrived in Ghana with a vengeance, and our media and the entertainment industries have set about the task of creating and setting up our own celebrities.

The process I am describing is not the same as celebrating people of achievement and there are some programmes that are doing that admirably. What I am describing is simply setting people up by convincing them that the public is interested in the details of their private lives. The worst of the genre is the Delay Show on which a musician known as Wanluv da Kubolor showed what the media calls “his manhood”, which to be fair, was a piece of human flesh hanging rather sheepishly in his groin. I feel sorry for the man because he is the latest victim of the relentless egotism of Ms. Deloris Afia Frimpong Manso, who is the only “hero” of the show. I had never watched the Delay Show but following the incident I have watched a few episodes on youtube and I am yet to be convinced that it adds anything to our store of knowledge, information or happiness.

I have read a statement issued by Ms. Frimpong Manso’s office in which she blames the media for providing misleading information, to wit, that the outrageous part of the show was not aired on television. That misses the point. Why was it necessary to ask the musician to show whether or not he was wearing underpants, which the programme host calls “a supporter”. What on earth does Wanluv’s “supporter” mean to the television viewer apart from the sheer nuisance value?

However, the blame for this episode goes much deeper than Delay and Mr. Da Kubolor; it is a systemic failure to draw the lines and limits - what is allowed when and how - in our media landscape. To start with, it comes as a surprise even to some of us that there is no broadcasting law in this country. This means that there is no limitation on what any radio or television station might decide to broadcast at any time of day, week, month of the year. This is unusual in broadcasting environments because normally, there are strict guidelines on scheduling which take account of say, when children might be watching or listening.

There is a place for risqué and unusual content in broadcasting as well as satisfying niche and special interest audiences, but that should be done through scheduling that takes care of sensitivities and vulnerabilities. For example, the Delay Show which goes out on Saturday afternoon cannot be anything but mainstream and family-oriented content. Indeed, in Ghana’s specific cultural context, the audience for Saturday afternoon television may be mostly children who don’t have to attend funerals and other social commitments. 

The other problem is the apparent lack of control over programmes put on radio and television by individuals and organisations that have bought the airtime. It appears that anybody can buy the airtime and put on anything of their choice irrespective of whatever “code of conduct” they may have signed up to and must be expected to respect. If our broadcasting institutions want to live up to their vision and mission statements which are loftily declared they cannot simply leave their content to people who may not live up to the standard to which they are committed.

I would want to believe that all of us, including our broadcasting organisations have learnt lessons from what we should probably describe as an unfortunate mishap, although most people are justifiably convinced that the programme host and her guest staged the event, which was premeditated. More importantly, it is important that policy makers go beyond the expression of outrage and ensure that we have the right legal framework in place to regulate, without censoring, broadcasting content.

I have heard an argument put out that the musician’s groin was blurred during the broadcast, but we need to impress on everyone that the public outrage is not related to how Mr. Wanluv’s manhood looked or was presented but to the clear disrespect shown to viewers as well as the preparedness to court unnecessary nuisance just to make the programme and its makers more “popular”. Ghana’s media image is not a healthy one at the moment; a public showing of genitalia, whether clearly shown or not, cannot be good for anyone. Not even for Delay.

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