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Self regulation: How MTV’s uplink policy influences choice of video clips

In Africa, the quickest and easiest way to create a large audience base is to serve entertainment appeals to the lowest common denominator of popular taste such as crime, sex and violence. But for MTV, it’s never a black and white issue as there is a lot of grey stuff and somebody has to decide.


MTV has become a powerful force in popular music today; shaping trends in music and providing invaluable exposure to recording artists though pay of their video clips. MTV presentations of these videos have cultivate an audience for an artists and often sales of an artists music.

By contrast, music chips not presented on major program service has a limited value as a form of promotion and careers of artists featured in these unseen videos may be stalled due to lack of media exposure.

The importance of MTV as a site of exhibition for popular music an clips raise the issue of MTV’s role as a gatekeeper and its degree of influence over these form of culture.

MTV has an elaborate screening process for deciding which video will be added to its playlist. The channel must sift through a great quantity of music video, receiving submission. The clips are first reviewed by MTV’s acquisition committee to decide if the video will receive airplay. In some instance, a number of videos never make it on the channel.

Once accepted, the clip is then evaluated by programme standard, which determine whether the clip has any objectionable content. These are intended to prevent the presentation of videos that illegal drug use or excessive alcohol consumption or explicit, graphic or excessive depiction of sexual practices. The video cannot have scene of gratitutious violence such as knifing or physical restraint. Music clips with derogatory characterization of ethnic or religious groups are not allowed in the channel. MTV representative add that visual shots of naked women running around or throwing babies out of track would not be allowed.

It enforces these standards to deflect pressure from various groups complaining about sexual violence in videos to demonstrate management competency in handling complaints through its own screening process.

Tom Freston, President of MTV network, explained that, “We are caught between the rock and hard  place. We hear from advertisers, we  hear from individual consumers, and we can’t get off violating these standards and remain in business.

MTV’s Freston concede that this screening process is difficult and subjective where it gets tricking is drawing the line. It’s never a black and white issue. There is a lot of grey stuff and somebody has to decide.

In recent times, MTV sought to stop two large multiple system operators who wanted to aid their affiliation with the service. First, a tele-community antenna, a cable company, with fifty three systems serving 420,000 subscribers in different states, shocked MTV by dropping the channel from the cable system in 1991. TCA executives claimed that they received many complaints from their subscribers about sex and violence portrayed on MTV.  “We operate in mostly rural areas, and our customers told us they would prefer not to have MTV said TCA President Fred Michael.

One TCA executive called MTV borderline pornographic, and said parents, teachers, and local government agencies pressed the company to drop the channel. After TCA discussion, several local committee with TCA systems launched a campaign to compel the company to restore MTV with  petition and rallies in school.


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