While parents are responsible for monitoring what their children see and hear, the electronic media industry also plays a very important role in this regard. Players in this industry have the ability to shoot potentially harmful media content into private homes where impressionable minds may get caught in the cross fire. It is therefore important to be aware of the regulations that seek to limit the extent to which children are exposed to inappropriate media content.
The electronic media industry is for the most part regulated by the Broadcasting and Radio-Re-diffusion Act ("Broadcasting Act"), the Television and Sound Broadcasting Regulation ("Broadcasting Regulations") and the Children's Code for Programming ("Children's Code"). Exhibitors of film are also regulated by the Cinematograph Act.
The Broadcasting Act provides for the licensing of commercial and non-commercial broadcasters and establishes the Broadcasting Commission ("Commission") as the relevant regulatory body. The Commission has the duty of monitoring and regulating licensees and has the power to issue directives.
One of the ways in which the Broadcasting Regulations limit the exposure of potentially harmful media content to children is by regulating adult programmes. The Broadcasting Regulations require subscriber television service licensees to ensure that adult programming is transmitted in an encrypted format and only between the hours of 11:00 pm and 4:00 am. Under the Broadcasting Regulations, adult programmes are defined as programmes which depict or display sexual organs or conduct in an explicit and offensive manner.
The Children's Code represents a more focussed and comprehensive effort to shield children from potentially damaging media content. Licensed media are required to rate, schedule and issue advisories in respect of problematic material in a programme or on a channel. For example, subscriber television service providers must utilise the following rating scheme for all programming channels: G (General), PG (Parental Guidance); A (Adult) and X (Encrypted). They must also ensure that advisories are presented for all of their programming channels that are rated PG, A or X.
Jamaican law also regulates the public exhibition of films. All exhibitors of films, pictures or other optical effects are required under the Cinematograph Act to receive authorization from the Cinematograph Authority prior to public exhibition. The Cinematograph Authority will assign a local rating to films and ensure suitability for exhibition to target audiences. The following rating scheme is applied by the Cinematograph Authority in carrying out its duties: U (Universal - appropriate for all ages); PG-13 (Parental Guidance — Children 12 years and under must be accompanied by parent/guardian); T-16 (no one under the age of 14 years will be admitted and children ages 14 and 15 must be accompanied by an adult); and Adult 18 (no one under the age of 18 years will be admitted).
While the focus of this article has been on the protection of children, it should be noted that Jamaican laws also recognize that society in general is in need of protection from insidious content. For example, licensees under the Broadcasting Act are prohibited from transmitting, among other things, indecent or profane matter or any portrayal of violence which offends against good taste, decency or public morality. Jamaicans might recall that on the basis of these prohibitions, the Broadcasting Commission issued a directive in 2009 prohibiting recordings, songs and music videos which promote or make reference to the act of "daggering".
The Commission also issued another directive in 2009 in response to the proliferation of lyrics and recordings in Jamaica that promote and glorify gunmanship, murder, rape and mob violence. This directive prohibits the transmission through radio, television or cable services of any recording, live song or music video which promotes and or glorifies the use of guns or other offensive weapons or any offence against the person.
Many Jamaicans have applauded these steps and in fact have called for even more intervention in cleaning up the airwaves. Indeed, the proliferation of songs that glorify gunmanship is particularly troubling for an Island whose reputation is being bloodied by crime and violence. There are, however, those who sing a completely different tune and question the sense in censorship. While this debate rages on, it is important to establish consensus around the need to protect the nation's children from potentially harmful media content. While we cannot control how people express themselves creatively, we can still seek to create an environment where children see no evil, hear no evil.
Malene Alleyne is an Associate at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon and is a member of the firm's Commercial and Property Department. Malene may be contacted via email@example.com or www.myersfletcher.com. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice