Media and obscenity Need for a regulatory body

Vijaya Chalise

Media theorists and psychologists conclude that people are highly vulnerable to media manipulation.

The need for defining and restricting indecency, obscenity, and vulgarity is being felt necessary in developing nations like Nepal having their own social and cultural values. By objecting to over-exposure to sexual content in TV channels, movies and advertisements, many media watchers feel that much of the content of a number of the media offends good taste and decency and are not, therefore, suitable for unrestricted publication or broadcast. Many people argue that the use of sexually provocative commercials should not be unrestricted as the majority of viewers, including children and adolescents in our society, could not judge what is obscene and what is not. In such a context social responsibility relating to social values and morals should be the guiding factor. A code of conduct for journalists and media persons is the first step towards ethical journalism. But, in Nepal, however, such codes are often violated.

In many programmes and advertisements, both the electronic and print media are seen over-exposing indecency, obscenity, and vulgarity. TV channels are trying hard to build their high rating of viewers by exhibiting vulgarity. Many of the life-size posters and hoardings of films and company products pasted and erected in and around the capital city look obscene. Most of them are of low-grade films that are openly shown in our movie theatres. More or less every poster and advertisement portrays almost nude bodies of sexy women even in products that do not call for such showing. The companies try to sell products through attractive images and catch-phrases. An effective body to monitor obscene advertising and the consumers act could be an answer to the problem.

Most people feel that there are many advertisements and posters which children and their parents could not see together. Take one example of a very attractive advertisement printed and transmitted frequently in our media these days. The advert of the air conditioners of a certain brand portrays an erotic type of abstract figure of coupling youths with physical contact. Under the air conditioner, the catch-phrase just below the figure provokes strong feelings of sexual desire on the viewers, “feelings……top to bottom”. Obviously, the advertisement seems artistic and perfect in the sense of advertisement art. But again, the question arises how appropriate this sort of visual, along with such provocative and suggestive wording, is in a society like ours?

Propaganda theorists used Freudian theory to develop interpretations of media influence. They assumed propaganda would be most effective if it could appeal directly to the id, the egocentric, pleasure-seeking part of mind, and stimulate it to overwhelm the ego, the rational mind. Media theorists and psychologists conclude that people are highly vulnerable to media manipulation; media stimuli and the id could trigger actions that the ego and the super ego become powerless.

The Indian government in March this year suspended the broadcasting rights of a private television channel Cine World, to lessen growing concerns by parents and women’s groups over obscene progra-mmes. Satellite movie channel Cine World had been offering English films sourced mainly from abroad. Earlier, the Indian broadcasting minister had warned that

the government would crack down on programming that offends the sensitivity of traditionally conservative viewers. Unfortunately, we have not seen such actions in Nepal. Besides, violence on television might have a lasting negative impact on children. Not long ago the publication of photographs of mutilated bodies of Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Quesay

raised concern about whether it breached international law or not. Publication of such mutilated bodies in Nepal’s print and broadcasting media is a common practice. Even

the government-controlled media frequently print and transmit such distasteful pictures and visuals.

In some of the SAARC countries, including Nepal and India, concern is growing over vulgarity in TV channels and they think the power to check it should be vested in a quasi-judicial authority, as in the US, the UK and many other western countries. Since people believe what they see and hear, the proposed body should also be empowered to curb commercials promising impossible results. For this, the obvious instrument is a high level Media Council, to look after the whole media sector including print, electronic and cyber. Such a body, partly or wholly drawn from the industry itself, will hear public complaints, protect them from undue pressure and attack, and find solutions to many of the problems and wrong practices bedevilling the Nepali media, including obscenity, apart from defending the freedom of the media. The government-appointed Press Council, mainly related to print media, cannot fulfil the role of an independent media watchdog institution.

Chalise is executive editor, Gorkhapatra