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Media houses should keep violence out of screens

By Levi Obonyo
Friday, October 16th, 2020
Media personnel at work. Photo/Courtesy
In summary

How much violence do we wish to countenance in the Kenyan media? None actually, going by the regulatory frameworks in place. Kenyan media is one of the more heavily regulated anywhere.

For those in journalism there is the Media Council of Kenya Act that spells out what and how safe reporting can be done.

Then there is the Kenya Information and Communication Act that also provides a set of guidelines particularly for broadcasters.

The Kenya Film Classification Board is tasked with the responsibility of rating the kind of programmes that can safely go on air while observing the watershed principle spelt out in the Broadcasting Code for Free to Air media.

Yet there are still other pieces of legislation and guidelines that speak to what one can do or not do on air.

Yet even with all these there is still amazing amount of violence that is making its way to the media, particularly on television.

The medium of television has the capacity to dramatically and visually present a scene in its glaring goriness with such long lasting impact on the viewers.

Much of this is seeping through to the media through the cover of culture.

Not too long ago, a programme ran on television depicting a rural family set up.

The lady of the house goes about her chores for hours on end and finally makes dinner, which she keeps aside to wait for her husband to return.

The husband returns, a panga in his hands, and settles under a mango tree in the compound.

The lady serves him food. The panga he had been carrying is lying by his side as he eats and chats with the wife.

But something goes wrong and he dramatically reaches for his panga to chase the wife.

The camera cuts off as he raises the panga towards the wife who was running away. It is violent.

Yet in another show, some men visit a witchdoctor. The witchdoctor, in the process of executing his task dashes to and from with a white cock in hand.

The bird is certainly terrified. Then the witchdoctor snaps the neck of the cock and drains the blood in a bowl. It is a traumatising scene.

One of the major local stations runs a cultural programme. In this particular episode the programme features one of the Maasai community cultural rights of passage. Blood is at the heart of the ceremony.  The elders wrestle a bull to the ground.

They slaughter it using its own skin to trap the blood flowing from the dying animal. It is a harrowing experience for the animal as it breathes its last, all in the glaring lenses of the camera.

The blood flowing from the animal is trapped in its own skin that has been stretched out for that purpose. The elders then come with cups to scoop the blood and drink it. 

The narrator goes on excitedly about the African culture and its beauty. But the viewer at home is traumatised by what they have just seen happen to the bull. The contradiction is not lost to them.

Your struggle to figure out the beauty the narrator is seeing when all you see around is brutality to the animal and a culture that is trapped in an age long gone by.

Violence in the media, whether directed at fellow humans or animals still remains violence and is part of what the regulatory frameworks are meant to deal with.

The rite of passage programme passed on as beautiful African culture was broadcast in the early hours of the day when children were certainly watching.

This brutality may have not appeared so to the community involved but that does not change the fact that it was violent, that it was traumatising to children and viewers who were not members of the community.

This is part of what regulating agencies are meant to rate to facilitate safe viewership hours. Viewers must be protected more effectively.  — The writer is Dean , School of Communication, Daystar University

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