“But mummy I don't want to eat this food, it will make me fat!” she said firmly. That was my little cousin of only five years. My auntie turned to look at me in horror; I smiled and tapped her back. “Don't worry Auntie, she only wants be a fashion model, at least she still wants to eat.”
“Goodness, where on earth did you get this idea from?”
“Oh! mummy,” my cousin began dramatically “don't you watch TV…”
There is no doubt that the media plays a tremendous role in today's society and the presence of a radio or television in almost every Ghanaian home attests to this fact. My little cousin always says she wants to be Miss Ghana and she picked up this idea that she has to be on a diet to get there.
MEDIA (singular medium) are the print (newspaper, magazines, etc.) and electronic (radio and television) communication devices used for advertising, while MASS MEDIA is the term used to denote, as a class, that section of the media specifically conceived and designed to reach a very large audience (typically at least as large as the whole population of a nation state).
Now, about 99% of businesses need one form of communication or the other to sell their products and services; this means that they have to convince and influence the choices of consumers. To succeed in doing that means one has to use the media for advertising.
In Ghana and perhaps other parts of Africa, television, radio and newspapers are the most popular means of reaching out to the public. The average Ghanaian home has a television, radio and constant supply of newspapers. In all, we are told about 70% of Ghanaians own either a television or radio set. It is common to see people standing in front of Television shops watching programs.
This means that young people have a wider access to the media as much as adults; especially in a continent where parental control (PG) is not strictly enforced. Advertisers recognize these opportunities and we see floods of different kinds of adverts and programs on television, in the print media and on radio.
Currently we have four major free to air and one local pay per view TV station in the country. Backing these up is one international satellite network and a myriad of other les popular and un-regularised satellite channels. I have lost count of the number of radio stations in Ghana now, but they are definitely a lot. And the more the stations, the more the competition; and competition means fighting for a larger viewer and listener-ship base which leads to more commercials and profits.
The end result of this drive has been lots of foreign soap operas and movies on our screens which are not suitable for our young ones. Do you remember THE BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL? This was a soap opera that depicted a woman who dated both a son and a father.
Not too long ago, TV3 put on the screens, a Telenovela: 'Wanna the Virgin' in which a young girl fell in love with a married man. Most unfortunately, these series are so gripping that children are glued to the TV sets as much as their parents are.
A couple of months ago, GTV, 'STATION OF THE NATION' hit the public with a British series called the “FOOTBALLERS WIVES” and a part of the plot wove around a homosexual! Incredible but true.
Most of these series are shown at primetime when young people are most active. Let me take you back to TV3's first series “ACAPULCO BAY”, this was one of the most gripping soap operas that saw many Ghanaians addicted to their TV sets to the point that people started using the name 'Acapulco' as brand name for their products.
This was a time when people would carry their sets to other areas when they experience power outages. In fact somebody had his house burnt down because of this soap opera. The striking feature about Acapulco bay was the fashionable clothes the actors wore and this was a source of interest for our young ladies in those times.
In more recent times, Ghanaians have become used to these programs to the extent of idolizing these actors.
Adverts are a major means of profit making for media people; as such, using young people in alcoholic, sexually implied adverts and the like appears acceptable to these companies. Today, alcoholic beverages like Guinness, Pusher, Star beer etc are advertised using young people.
Using young people for liquor ads means that the targeted consumers include them, irrespective of health implications. You may well argue that people above the age of 18years are free to take part in any adverts of their choice but the danger of encouraging a youthful population to drink is not a positive influence on the nation, I dare say.
The latest on our screens now is the 'Pusher' hard liquor. Their ads constitute young adults displaying lots of energy.
Research has shown that
Three out of four teens say 'TV shows and movies make it seem normal for teenagers to have sex.' As long as we keep showing films, sitcom and soap operas both local and foreign that depicts unmarried people living together as if they were married, pre marital sex would always seem normal to young people.
Young teens (ages 13-15) rank entertainment media as the top source of information about sexuality and sexual health
Four out of ten teenagers say they have gotten ideas for how to talk to their boyfriends and girlfriends about sexual issues from the entertainment media.
Studies show that repeated exposure to media with sexual content may influence teens to have sex earlier.
Video games are typical examples of depiction of violence; have you ever heard of 'VICE CITY?' this is a video game that allows the player to use the hero to commit any crime. I was most surprised when I chanced on it on my computer. Guess what? My little brother had installed it on my computer and was obviously enjoying killing, bullying, crossing traffic and stealing in the game when I entered the room. Can you imagine the implication of children playing such computer games?
You might think that I have deviated from my topic but you should know that video games are borne out of certain movies and vice versa. An example is 'Delta Force' which I play sometimes. The negative impact of these is that young people, consciously or unconsciously: learn aggressive attitudes and behaviors which they may start exhibiting among their peers; become desensitized to real world violence and develop a fear of being victimized by violence
The newest wave in the media is the constant release of music videos and I am sorry to say that most of these videos contain sexual innuendoes that are played on primetime for children to watch. In fact, your children are the first to know the latest music videos on the entertainment scene!
Most music videos regularly include girls and women in the traditional role of sex objects, as seen in videos of musicians like Daddy Lumba, Batman Samini, Ofori Amposah etc.
A study shows that when men are shown in the background of a video, they are most often fully clothed. But, when women are in the background, approximately half the time, they are dressed in ways that expose or focus on their breasts and rear ends. Their argument is that, it is the norm of the day and that is what the viewers want so they provide it; forgetting that people buy into what they see and hear.
Both advertisers and media executives, TV producers, network executives, film companies and others in the media world downplay and deny any impact of their programs on the attitudes and actions of youth. Meanwhile they continue to spend millions on special advertising and marketing geared to increase appeal to youth markets.
These same companies spend millions on market research and advertising to create products and campaigns targeted at a youth demographic despite their denial. If this were true to fact, would Nestle continue spending millions changing perception that caffeine in coffee has negative effect on young people? These days, all their adverts are made up off young people. When I was a child I remember my parents preventing me from taking coffee. As to whether it is true about the negative impact or not, the bottom line is that, Nestle is intensively using young people in their ads to capture a youthful consumer base.
Don't we all know that taking one bottle of coca cola is like chewing seven cubes of sugar? And who said 'fanta, pepsi etc and the like are healthy anyway and yet still we all drink them anyway. Don't you see the bunch of young people they use in their exciting commercials all the time?
Companies are spending millions organizing fashion shows by using young good-looking individuals to make plain and boring clothes look appealing to youth. Youth respond to visual advertising more than other forms. This is due to the fact that youth want to visualize them selves using the product or service. An example of this would be simply as follows. Even adults are manipulated by these practices. For example, Wrangler comes out with new jeans. You hear an ad for these jeans on the radio. You may be curious but you cannot visualize the actual style or yourself wearing this item. Next you see the ad in a newspaper. Now you can visualize the product but it is only a photo. Now you see a television commercial. The person in the commercial is clad in cowboy boots and riding on a stallion, laughing and having so much fun. A song is playing in the ad that catches your ear. Now you subconsciously associate the product with fun, excitement and style. Now you want to go and purchase those jeans. This is a plain and straight example of how the media in its simplest form influences youth culture.
Now if you consider how often the youth are subjected to the idea that you need to look perfect, be thin, use violence and drink beer, the bitters and smoke Rothmans etc. it is a powerful and effective influence or it would not be such big business.
Parents can never have total control in what their kids watch but at least they can make the effort to guide them in what is good and what is bad, what is harmful and what is healthy. It is mostly up to the government regulatory bodies to ensure that what we see on our television screens read in the print and hear on the radio are in the public interest.