One Saturday afternoon, Betty Birungi was disturbed when she walked into the living room and found her four and six-year-old daughters watching a love scene on one of the cartoon channels.
“The male and female characters, I presume boyfriend and girlfriend, were having a phone conversation about love. The boy told the girl she was the girl of his dreams and that he had always liked her. The discussion did not end there as the two advanced their dialogue on meeting during the later part of the day,” Birungi says.
On another occasion, Birungi was embarrassed when she found the girls watching a kissing scene between an action hero and a reformed female villain.
Unable to take it any longer, the mother of two restricted their viewing by blocking the inappropriate channels using the remote parental control option.
“By airing such content, these TV channels are brainwashing the minds of our children and before you know it, they will begin imitating the same actions at such an early age,” she says.
Birungi is just one out of the many parents complaining of the unsuitable material airing on some of the children TV channels and hopes concerned service providers take action.
Authorities speak out
On whether Uganda Communications Commissions (UCC) was aware of the inappropriate programmes showing on the different children channels, Godfrey Mutabazi, UCC’s executive director in a brief telephone interview stated, “The complaints have been brought to our notice and we directed DStv to stop airing the programmes immediately.”
UCC, a government regulatory body of the communications sector undertakes a range of functions including licensing, research and development, consumer empowerment and policy implementation.
Meanwhile, Fr Simon Lokodo, the minister of Ethics and Integrity says he is aware of the numerous complaints from pay television subscribers.
“I was informed of the inappropriate content last month after viewers sent me personal messages urging me to do something about this,” Fr Lokodo says.
He adds, “I was forced to call up the concerned parties including Mutabazi, who responded that he would expeditiously handle the matter. I’m also aware that a committee is being setup with the aim of screening material before it is aired on television. But personally, I condemn such channels for airing inappropriate content for children as it is eroding the morals of today’s children.”
In an email sent to Sunday Monitor, Tina Wamala, the public relations and communications at MultiChoice Uganda mentions that some of the animated television series including The Loud House and Hey Arnold! have been removed from the Africa feed. In addition, The Legend of Korra, another animated television series has also stopped airing and has no plans of doing so in future.
“They will no longer be available on our platforms,” Wamala stated in the email.
In addition, Wamala noted that MultiChoice had contacted the channel suppliers on the various recent complaints made against Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Nicktoons channels with regards to their programming.
“In Africa, as in all markets, we always seek to be respectful of local laws, cultures and sensitivities and, in some instances; this means we do show amended versions of the United States (US) original series. We constantly review feedback from our audiences to ensure that this is the case and this is a responsibility that we take extremely seriously,” the email continued.
Meanwhile, Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) Africa, comprising the world’s most popular entertainment brands including Nickelodeon revealed in an email forwarded by Wamala states, “We acknowledge the concerns expressed by customers. While we explore a variety of options, we will suspend the shows in question in Africa.
Although, Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) Africa and Nickelodeon Africa are committed to diversity and inclusiveness, VIMN also respects the varied cultures and regulatory codes of the markets in which we operate.”
Other unregulated distributors
Despite the move by respective authorities banning particular cartoon programmes, there are still unregulated distributors selling unsuitable children video content. For instance, many of the video libraries we visited in Kampala are still selling some of the banned cartoon series on DVDs.
Some of the dealers we reached out to denied knowledge of the ban.
Brian Kakeeto, a video library owner in Kampala, went further to mention that they would not stop selling the inappropriate DVDs as the business is their source of livelihood.
“This is where I earn my living. As long as they don’t come and arrest me, I will continue selling the material whenever a client comes to ask for it,” Kakeeto says.
He makes most of the sales during holidays when children are home.
“Most of the time these children come with their parents to buy particular series. If they don’t find what they want, they go to another video library,” he explains.
Isaac Kalembe, the Media and Public Relations Specialist at UCC says the organisation is involved in the monitoring process of all the stations airing on free-to-air television programmes.
“We have a room with numerous screens airing programmes of these stations. We have members of staff hired to watch every programme showing on each screen. In case, they notice any content that does not conform to our regulations, they inform the respective manager heads within the organisation and then appropriate action is taken,” Kalembe says.
Some of the stations available on the local television platforms include Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), Channel 44, Record TV, Urban television, among others.
Free-to-air channels do not need special equipment requiring subscription model in order to view broadcast content available on the local television platforms include Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), Channel 44, Record TV, Urban television, among others. Free-to-air channels do not need special equipment requiring subscription model in order to view broadcast content. Kalembe stresses that UCC has not received any complaints from viewers of any inappropriate children’s content airing on local stations.
Stay involved with what children watch
Most parents today work most hours of the week and hardly find time to spend with their children at home. Therefore, they hardly get to oversee their children’s activities including the programmes they watch on television.
“I work from Monday to Saturday to provide for my family. I have no time to supervise my 12-year-old daughter. She can always watch what she wants as long as it is not the Spanish telenovelas which always have love themes,” Robert Okello says.
The 35-year-old single father who subscribes to pay TV, says whenever he is away on long trips; he uses the parental guidance restrictions available from the service provide to block particular stations.
Other parents Sunday Monitor spoke to stated they regulate viewing hours by drawing a time table of when their children should watch television while others ensure that there is always an adult in a room where a child is watching television.
Why children watch TV?
A report titled “The effects of television on children and adolescents” conducted by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says the appeal of television to children is to escape from everyday life, the desire to get to know real life better. It gives them the chance to be in the know, going behind the scenes, learning about the world and people. On the emotional side, television offers security and reassurance through the familiar format and themes of many of its programmes.
Effects of TV viewing on children
The report further reveals that the average time a child of elementary school and high school age (6 to 16) devotes to TV from 12 to 24 hours a week. The former on average, spends a little more time viewing than high school students. Wherever TV becomes available for a number of hours a day, it dominates the leisure time of children.
The activities most readily sacrificed are those which satisfy the same needs as TV, but less effectively. For example, younger children will go less often to the cinema when they have TV in their homes; they will read fewer comic books, read less magazine fiction and will spend less time on radio. These activities meet about the same needs as television.
Also, when children begin at early age to watch television, they usually begin with children’s programmes such as puppets, animals, story-telling, songs, and so forth. Very soon, however, they discover adult programmes and come to prefer them mostly the violent type including crime.