“The Threesome” by Ewuradwoa Assaba Paintsil

On the first day of 2018, in the atmosphere of celebration and the entire cliché of a brand new year, I attempted to take a nap. Tom Cruise would have quickly called that ‘Mission Impossible’; the shop opposite my house was blaring music that could have pierced a hole in my eardrum!

 

My curiosity was aroused, particularly because all I kept hearing was ‘ding dong ding dong, wob3te one corner one corner’. It was either that or Ebony’s lament about her ‘sponsor’ peeving that ‘mi sisi y3 mi ya.’ Then she’d alternatively mix the flavour with ‘bu wumu dw3 dw3 dw3.’

 

So I asked my kid sister who was slightly more abreast with the happenings in the neighbourhood if she knew what was meriting such loud music. “Aunty XXX is having her annual New Year children’s party.” I literally would have needed a forklift to reunite my lower lip with my upper lip if I hadn’t exercise some self-control. Children’s Party! My heart skipped 2 beats!

 

Obviously my nap had been rendered impossible, not only because of the blaring music, but also because my mind was on a race cart. I opened my laptop to attempt an excursion into the laws governing the pure arts – music, movies, anything that fell under the scope of entertainment in Ghana. After a considerable scan, all I could find was a document titled “2005 Broadcasting Standards”, made by a group of experts, mostly field operators in the electronic media sector, under the hand of the National Media Commission (hereby referred to NMC), which itself is set up by the National Media Commission Act, 1993 (Act 449). 

 

The Preamble to the Guidelines provides that the outlined standards were to be applied by all broadcasting stations transmitting in Ghana. Section 3 which is titled ‘Good Taste and Decency’ states:
(b) ‘Obscene or vulgar language, expressions, and presentations should not be used.’
(c) The sanctity of marriage and family values should be promoted and strictly adhered to.
(e) The use of lewd or profane expressions, except in a specifically relevant context, should be avoided.
It then states in Section 13(c), ‘the provision covering good taste and decency, morality and social values, shall also apply to music, particularly lyrics and visual presentations.’

 

Notwithstanding the authoritative tone used in these standards, there was no trace of an imposition of liability for non-compliance to any of these standards. Rightly so, because law-making remains in the ambit of the Legislative arm of government or any entity given authority to do same.

 

The closest to a binding law I could find was Chapter 7 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) which is entitled “Offences against Public Morals.” Section 278 of Act 29 provides that whoever publicly and
wilfully commits any grossly indecent act is guilty of a misdemeanour. ‘Grossly indecent act’ is without definition in the Act. Section 280 also provides that whoever publishes or offers for sale any obscene book,
writing, or representation, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour. Section 281 further declares as a misdemeanour the distribution or trading, importation, exportation, advertisement or lending of any such obscene writings, drawings, prints, paintings, printed matter, pictures, posters, emblems, photographs, cinematograph films or any other obscene objects. These objects are under the purview of the Chairman of a Tribunal, according to Clause 2, upon an application made to him on behalf of the Commissioner of Police. He has the authority under same to order for these obscene materials to be destroyed.

 

The next closest check on media I found was the very recent Development and Classification Act, 2016 Act 935 which was passed on December 16, 2016. Section 20 provides that the all films that the Board considers to be pornographic shall not be approved for exhibition. Section 28(b) then provides that where a person exhibits a pornographic film, the Board shall seize the film and the equipment used for the exhibition without limiting criminal proceedings that may be instituted against the exhibitor and apply to the High Court for forfeiture to the State of both the film and the equipment. Subsection 2 again provides that a seizure is not a bar to any criminal proceedings that may be instituted against the exhibitor.

 

The NMC, in a press conference held in July 2016, alleged that it was taking steps to ensure that the airwaves were devoid of obscenities, and made known that two media monitoring centres had at the time been established to help track media performance and identify the gaps that required regulatory intervention. The Chairman, Mr. Gyan-Apenteng admitted the need for a mechanism for sanitizing the airwaves.

 

However, it takes 30 seconds of listening to the radio and 15seconds of watching Ghanaian television to realize the failure of the Commission to do as they promised! In 2017, the NMC made an order for the cessation of the broadcasting of pornographic content on Ice TV, Thunder TV and TV XYZ following a complaint made by James Oberko and Tommy Annan pursuant to Section 7(e) of the Broadcasting Guidelines (which provides that stations shall not broadcast actual sexual intercourse between human
beings). The mentioned stations at a settlement meeting apologized and committed to refraining from such acts. What was interesting was that like the gang-robber in a prisoner’s dilemma who was not ready to take one for the team, they drew the attention of the Commission to similarly obscene content which were making waves freely on other radio and TV platforms! They definitely weren’t going to go down alone!

 

There is the longstanding debate about law and morality and the extent to which the law should attempt to regulate matters in the individual’s life that have a moral flavour. Talk about LGBT rights! But really, the
very requirement for rules in any society is an indication of the desire for a certain ‘aura’ in that society. In a country that takes so much pride in its culture such that it deems it necessary to protect it (Article 26, 39, 270) in its supreme law (the Constitution, 1992), it is not ridiculous to argue that the traditional standards of modesty, decency and finesse be the guiding principles in determining what is allowed to be exhibited on the media. Of course, there will be those who will pull the Modernization Card and argue the subjectivity of the element of morality. What I wonder for such advocates is why they limit their argument to sexual matters. The fundamental principle underlying laws pertaining to the sale of goods, land matters, torts and any other aspect of law is that of fairness, which itself is a subjective matter of morality. Why not do away with all laws altogether then? And allow society to operate on the individual choices of all
men?

 

Until such advocates can satisfy my quandary with regards to those questions, I recommend Parliament indulge in a ferocious threesome – one between the media, morality and the law!