The year 1964 marked the introduction of television in Ethiopia. It was created to epitomise the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting that took place in Addis Abeba that same year. Color TV broadcast began in 1982 in light of the founding of Workers’ Party of Ethiopia (WPE), best known as Esepa.
Until recently, TV was synonymous with the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC). But the status quo is changing at an alarming rate with the launching of new satellite television channels. Currently, excluding the numerous religious tubes, there are around 10 regional states’ channels and 14 privately owned ones, all competing for the hearts and minds of Ethiopians in the country and abroad.
Notwithstanding that 80pc of the Ethiopian populace is living in rural areas, TV has become superfluous to the point that it is hard to find individuals who have not been affected by the magic of it.
The Economist in its December 9, 2016, article dubbed ‘New television channels in Ethiopia may threaten state control’ observed, “stroll through Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Abeba, and everywhere you will see satellite dishes, sprouting mushroom-like from roofs, gardens and balconies.”
It went on to quote an Addis Abeba Univerity lecturer who says, “People have roofs to repair, but they are buying satellite dishes instead.”
Apart from providing hard news, TV is a cherished form of entertainment. In a world where individuals are expected to work regularly to win their daily bread, evening TV Shows are good for relaxation. Through the mere physical movement, a few clicks of the remote control will allow one to watch all the news events, sporting matches, documentaries and soap operas from around the world.
Television is also a valuable educational tool, especially, for kids. If handled responsibly, some programmes could be crucial to the development of toddlers who are still in their formative years. The best programmes can spark creativity in a child’s mind. Some are able to learn letters and numbers before they even get to kindergarten.
Unfortunately, children’s TV shows have never been treated as a mainstream agenda by most of our country’s broadcasters. After the controversial departure of the nation’s father figure, the late Tesfaye Sahilu, a.k.a. Ababa Tesfaye, from the then Ethiopian Television (ETV), now EBC, children’s programs have been devoid of substance.
In most cases, TV stations incorporate kid’s shows in their programming just for formalities. Due to this, the shows lack not only structure but also objectivity.
But, unless deliberately designed to evoke unhealthy competition among families of different economic classes, what is the relevance of screening a plethora of birthday parties?
Consequently, parents have no choice but to let their children watch foreign produced cartoons, usually lip-synced in Arabic. Tragically, those movies appear to be the carrot and stick approach to motivate kids. They are used as a means of getting children to do their homework or behave because kids fear never being allowed to watch Tom and Jerry or Shaun the Sheep.
As a father of two, a valuable lesson I have gained is that raising kids is akin to guerrilla warfare. The arrival of satellite channels has only complicated the issue. In a country where land is exorbitantly expensive, and most families make do with small sized homes, it has become difficult to protect kids from Kana’s soap operas.
And channels like Kana have gone beyond just muddling family life. Of course, the introduction of the station has proved deadly not only to the young film industry but also to other TV stations. However, local movies should blame no one but themselves for their demise. In a nation where there are many stories to tell, it is an artistic crime to waste time and resources on insensible romantic comedies.
Still, families who choose the right channels can ultimately benefit from TV shows. Since the heydey of the medium in the early 1950s, television has continued to play a dominant role in our daily lives. It has never ceased to interfere with the family bond and the activity of socialisation.
A longstanding controversy in mass communication research has been whether the use of television and other media interferes with family life. Subsequently, studies have shown that the socialisation role, which used to belong to the family, has partly been passed on to the media, and as a result, the audience has become one-dimensional.
Among TV’s alleged sins are shows and commercials that depict violence, alcohol, drug use and sex in a positive light. Research has shown that children who are most exposed to violence in the virtual world behave more aggressively as kids and when they are older. TV teaches them that violence can resolve conflict – much like the way a movie hero beats up the villain to overcome him.
Forty or thirty years ago, people would be sitting outside talking to their neighbours, unlike today where people hide in their homes and never learn a thing about whoever lives next door. Urie Bronfenbrenner, an American developmental psychologist, has said it best.
“When the TV set is on, it freezes everybody. Everything that used to go on between people – the games, the arguments, the emotional scenes, out of which personality and ability are developed – is stopped,” he said. “So when you turn on the television, you turn off the process of making human beings human.”
It is hard to avoid television; even in some residences, the TV is always on without anyone watching it. However, experts believe that viewing TV can be good if it is done in moderation, and the programmes being watched are selected. The idea is to provide children with a controlled viewing experience that imparts critical thinking skills.
As they say “life is meant to be lived, not watched”.
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