The representation of issues of sexual violence and sexual consent on reality TV Shows using "Big Brother Nigeria 2017" as a case study

Master's Thesis 2017 33 Pages

Communications - Movies and Television


Table of Content

Table of Content

List of Tables


Literature Review
A note on Literature review
Reality TV and Audience
Defining Sexual violence and Sexual consent

Big Brother Nigeria
Background to the Show
Descriptive narrative of the incidence
The Producers’ response to the Incidence


Discussion of Findings

Conclusions and Recommendations


List of Tables

Table1: Audience comments that relates to victim blaming and name-calling

Table2: Audience comments that reveals knowledge of issues around sexual violence and sexual consent

Table 3: Audience comments that reflects societal beliefs and myths

List of Figures

Figure 1: Big Brother reality TV show consent training post on International Women’s’ Day.

Figure 2: Audience reactions to the consent training post .


This paper presents a media and cultural studies analysis of representations of issues around sexual consent and sexual violence against women on reality TV shows with a focus on the "Big Brother Nigeria 2017" case of sexual assault. In view of this, this thesis addresses the following questions to analyse the representation of issues related to sexual violence on Reality TV (RTV) shows.

- How sexual consent and sexual violence are represented by the producer of a reality show in Nigeria

- How the issue of sexual consent and sexual violence are perceived by the audience of the reality show in Nigeria

- How actions of housemates/ contestants in the Big Brother reality TV show represent the reality of issues in the Nigerian society.

This paper critically analyses the "Big Brother Nigeria 2017" reality TV show in relation to the perceptions, interpretation and representation of incidents involving issues of sexual consent and sexual violence. This thesis analyses these representations and perceptions from the audience’s perspective as well as the producers’ point of view. This thesis examines the relationship between RTV and a representation of the cultural norms and belief system of the Nigerian society. This thesis also gives a critical overview to rape culture, sexual violence and sexual consent awareness in Nigerian society. Using primary and secondary data obtained from two social media sites, Instagram (IG) and YouTube, this paper offers a detailed overview to the current state of sexual consent and sexual violence awareness and evaluates the reactions in terms of what can be considered as their perceptions, and representation through what is watched on the Nigerian RTV. Owing to the awareness and the nature of RTV and huge audience participation, these issues create an avenue that generates awareness on sexual violence and consent in Nigeria . In agreement with Tester (1994 ) and Purvis (2006), more effort needs to be channelled at the use of RTV towards creating awareness on these societal issues as such. It is clear from the analysis that there still exists a gap in the level of awareness pertaining to issues concerning sexual violence and consent in Nigeria.


Firstly, I am grateful to Almighty God for grace and sustainability all through my years of study. This accomplishment would not have been so without Him.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my supervisor Dr Kristen Davis for her enormous support in the writing of this thesis. For her patience and knowledge in my area of research. Her guidance helped me in the writing of this thesis. I could not have imagined writing this thesis without such a knowledgeable and supportive individual. Besides my supervisor, I would like to thank Dr Matthew Piscioneri for guiding me through, for his insightful comments and suggestions that positively influenced the writing of this thesis in ways that shapes and the widened the focus of my research area.

Last but not the least, I express gratitude to my family and friends for the continuous words of encouragement and spiritual support received throughout my years of study and the writing of this thesis. Thank you.


Reality TV shows, in particular the Big Brother reality TV series, have been critiqued by numerous academic scholars. The concept of selecting scenes and angles to be produced and aired to audience has been critiqued for misrepresenting the concept of ‘reality’. The question of reality TV operating as a reflection of ‘reality’ has also been questioned (Murray and Ouellette 2004; Hill 2005). Also, Hill (2005) draws upon a number of conclusions on audience perceptions of reality TV and the reflection of their reality, ‘the degree to which reality format is staged and the degrees to which it is real are issues audience talk about on regular basis’ (Hill 2005 pp. 175-176). Hill (2005) is able to show that audience are aware of the staged nature of reality TV and this can influence their experience with television. Even as valid this argument may appear based on some other researchers, the findings gathered from Gotz (2004) study of young viewers of Big Brother reality show in Germany reveals a rather less involved mode of relationship between the producers of media content and a perception of realism from the audience. A larger portion of the respondents did not agree with the level of awareness that watching Reality TV contents were produced and edited for viewing (Gotz 2004 p. 76 cited in Michelle 2009 p. 144). According to Michelle (2009), rather, these young viewers of reality TV shows perceived Big Brother as a form of ‘real’ life documentary that provides them with information that can be used in their daily activities and how to live with family members. However, despite these unending arguments on reality TV and the 'realness' in media contents and formats, this can operate as an advantage and opportunity for producers to present contents that represent societal issues.

This paper aims to analyse the media and cultural studies representation of issues of sexual violence and sexual consent on reality television shows using "Big Brother Nigeria 2017" as a case study. I argue that reality television can be used as an agent for social change and an advocate for representing societal issues such as sexual violence and sexual consent in the Nigerian context. Although, there had been several representations of these issues in dramas, the law and other forms of media, there still exists a gap in the level of awareness in Nigerian society especially in the case of audiences of reality television shows. The central argument of this thesis stems from the lack of awareness of these issues in Nigeria.

To achieve this argument, a media and cultural studies analysis of Reality TV shows is applied to establish ‘Big Brother Nigeria 2017’ producers’ representation of issues around sexual violence and sexual consent against Nigerian women. The analysis includes examining audience activities as watching reality shows and its direct impact or consequential meanings or perceptions (Purvis 2006). The media and cultural studies analysis is not purely viewed from the media objects and outputs which could be texts, graphics, video etc. Analysis is observed from the societal context, how the media and society interact, how the media represents certain societal issues or values (Purvis 2006).Using a media and cultural studies analysis approach involves adopting a multi-disciplinary approach. Thus, a socio-cultural analysis spans the investigation of areas of popular culture such as media subjects, messages, objects, outputs and its interactions with the society.

This paper is divided into four major parts to simplify the analysis of the issue at hand. The first section reviews literature that accesses issues around debates on the representation of issues around sexual consent and sexual violence towards Nigerian women. This also includes a detailed analysis of what reality television means, and its implication in the Nigerian context. The second section provides an overview of the ‘Big Brother Nigeria 2017’ reality show and the issues around sexual violence and sexual consent on a female housemate by a male housemate. It explores the viewers’ conversations, comments and debates that emanated as a result. The third section is the discussion of a methodological approach used in drawing the basis of my argument. The data analysis section of the methodology includes the application of content analysis on audience and producers’ perceptions, reactions and comments of sexual assault in "Big Brother Nigeria 2017" reality show. Finally, this study concludes and offers recommendations on the use of reality TV as a channel for creating awareness of sexual consent and sexual violence awareness in a society with controversial cultural perceptions and representations on social issues.

The central idea of this thesis is how reality shows represent issues around sexual violence and sexual consent in the Nigerian context. However, this thesis also demonstrates that the audience is very important and plays a significant role in the communication process. This thesis draws from Michelle's (2009) argument on moving the focus of audience participation and interactivity with media genre and formats which would be discussed in the literature review. The argument attempts at creating a broader reaffirmation that the audience possesses several diverse characteristics that are changing rapidly in relation to the increasing number of new media formats. Audience involvement and feedback on certain content in reality shows can generate subsequent contents for the producers. Audience play an important role in media and cultural studies analysis. This raises this question; can producers develop content without the need for audience? (Stokes 2013). The audience is a key element and cannot be over emphasized in media and cultural studies analysis of media representation around social issues. When this is clearly understood, then one would understand the relationship between a media content that represents issues and the audience to which it aims at reaching.

This thesis also suggests a contribution to the literature on issues around the media representation of sexual violence and consent in the Nigerian context, which have not been discussed. The thesis also provides a unique relationship between reality television and social change. Reality television representations of social issues in Nigeria is a worthwhile object of study and analysis. There are a number of gaps that exist in relation to the level of interaction between the media representations and social issues in Nigeria. However, it is expedient to add that a lack of available data on sexual abuse and sexual consent in Nigerian women and its representation by mainstream media reveals that these issues are under examined. This includes critical issues, such as the dynamics of sexual consent, incidences and the understanding of the realisation of sexual abuse in Nigeria for women.

Literature Review

A note on Literature review

In undertaking a media and cultural studies analysis of reality TV representation of issues on sexual violence and sexual consent against women in Nigeria, several lapse in awareness were identified. The contents of this literature review reveal under representation, perceptions as well as a lack of awareness on issues around women, sexual violence and sexual consent. There is still a gap yet to be filled in the literature that addresses issues around reality television shows representing these significant social issues. However, based on these studies, and other scholars’ argument and position on this issue, this paper aims to offer a media and cultural studies analysis of the representation of issues of sexual consent and sexual abuse on reality TV Shows using the Big Brother Nigeria 2017 as a case study.

The issues of sexual violence and sexual consent have received extensive attention and interest from academic scholars, criminologists and mainstream media. These scholars include, for example (Cowling & Reynolds 2016; Beres 2007; Ward 1995; Abama & Kwaja 2009). However, these discussions and debates fall short of media and cultural studies representation on issues around these debates. How does the media represent, perceive and interpret these issues? How have issues relating to sexual violence and sexual abuse especially in women been discussed and analysed? How have reality television producers, contestants and audiences interpreted and represented issues around sexual violence and sexual consent against Nigerian women? Certain research papers have attempted to tackle issues relating to sexual violence and sexual consent against women but there has been an absence in debates around the media and cultural analysis on representation of these issues on reality TV shows: According to Purvis (2006 p. 7) ‘Representation is used in media and cultural analysis to denote not simply written, spoken and visual texts (for example, film, TV documentary, photographs) but to refer to arrangements of signs used in order to generate meanings about people or experiences’. Similarly, media representation of texts involves comments, context and reactions in words that generate meanings and perceptions about a certain social and cultural norm in a given society.

However, the question in this thesis is not just how the media represents these issues, but how a specific genre as reality TV can represent the issues around sexual violence and sexual consent in women. In this case, how a reality show such as Big Brother Nigeria represent issues around sexual violence and consent in Nigerian women in ways that creates a form of awareness around sexual violence and consent in the society. How will such a show with a large audience base, make meaning through its content creation, and in doing so pass such an important message out to its audience.

Reality TV and Audience

Reality television is a term used about a wide range of television programmes such as reality crime shows and home video programmes including a hybrid program such as Big Brother. Most critics and viewers believe reality television tends to portray itself as a platform that showcases the reality of issues in the society, using housemates who are non-actors. The focus is to use familiar environments like a home that gives the opportunity for contestants to engage in daily activities (Biltereyst 2004; Bignell 2005). Considering this fact that RTV represents the reality of social issues, it is important to note that reality TV shows are different from the fictional television dama (Bignell 2005, p. 60). The ‘reality’ being that the show is produced to reveal real-life occurrences of housemates living under unique circumstances which are aired to a wide audience (Nwaafor and Ezike 2015). In the case of Big Brother, the house mates all live under the same roof, engage in their activities of daily living and compete for a grand prize or some reward at the end. The show Big Brother has an underlining requirement, rules of the game that are structured by the producers of the show. This structure offers argument for the dynamics of the show as it depicts that the producers in some way, create content for the audience.

One area to consider is audience perceptions to watching reality TV. One perspective identified by Hill (2005) is that audiences watch reality TV not just for entertainment but are actively involved in viewing attitudes and behaviours of participants and producers of RTV. Another perspective, as described by Hill (2002 cited in Bignell 2005), is the realisation of self and the actualisation of depicting the authenticity in watching the reality TV show. Hill (2002) argues that although, RTV audience want to watch informative programs on television, they opt for programmes that go behind the scenes to watch people through hidden cameras. This suggests that audience who watch reality TV shows prefer to see people in ‘real’ circumstances. This point also adds to a more recent argument and findings by Michelle (2009) about understanding audience, their diversity to media forms and how this can transform and influence the modes of media delivery. This findings not just demonstrates the intrinsic qualities of audience, but also aligns with other scholars’ approach to audience study. The audience perceptions of the mode of reality TV programming and their reactions to it draws strengths on the central argument of this thesis. If audience engagement through media contents, and their awareness of Reality TV shows as a mirror of ‘reality’ can be utilised to its maximum by producers, then reality TV as Big Brother can be can agent for representing and addressing societal issues.

According to Chikafa and Mateveke (2012), the concept of Big Brother emanated from George Orwell’s book Ninety Eighty-Four which depicts the authoritarian government with a leader encapsulated with the urge to monitor citizens through a camera. Big Brother as a form of reality TV, puts into place a number of practices to ensure that the cameras are well positioned to record the activities of the housemates both day and at night (Bignell 2005, p. 73). Bignell (2005) argues that reality television aims at creating a passion that is shaped by contestants’ reality, which is constructed around reflecting either their pleasure or their suffering. This in turn creates the passionate participation of audience who follow the everyday life of the contestants. The claim that reality television encompasses a certain form of reality and that the actions and emotions of the contestants are real and authentic was attested also by Biltereyst (2004). This argument on the representativeness of reality television to social issues is useful and valid in the understanding of this discourse. The analysis creates a platform for the basis of this research question. Purvis (2006) supports this claim as he asserts that, in a bid to representing world or societal issues using texts and images, the mass media in a way can powerfully reposition certain issues to the world and this can shape what could be considered as opinions or reactions from its audience. If reality television is deemed to reflect the reality of the housemates whom are contestants thereby showcasing cultural values they represent, then the argument that reality television can be used as an agent for social change and can be an advocate for representing societal issues as sexual violence and sexual consent in women is plausible.

It is important to note that reality TV shows such as Big Brother have raised concerns surrounding morality and how values are represented. Another concern that has been raised involves the direct impact these reality shows have on audiences and in shaping the social system. Concerns on issues around sex, nudity, violence amongst others have raised questions among African parents and viewers (Nwaafor and Ezike 2015). Yet what happens is that the audience, especially the youth, continued to emulate styles and actions of the housemates they already consider as celebrities (Nwaafor and Ezike 2015). Several evaluations and debates around reality television have led to the production of controversial statements and analysis of the relation of reality television and social issues. In some cases, concerns around cases of housemates’ privacy being publicised in the Big Brother reality show to viewers is debunked. For example, a Noble Laureate winner and a prominent spokesperson in Nigeria Wole Soyinka critiqued the Big Brother Africa show. He argued that the show lacked content beneficial at representing African cultural value because of a representation of housemates’ sexual figures to the audience (Jacobs 2007). A Kenyan political scientist and a democratic theorist Stephen Ndegwa also shares the same disdain as Wole Soyinka. His opinion stems from the root of the Big Brother Africa reality TV show. He argues that the show should be censored in Kenya as it promotes western lifestyles that are in direct opposition with the African culture, customs and traditions (Jacobs 2007). One example of this is when the show appears to focus on housemate intimate moments for public view. It creates debates on the probability of the housemates’ desire to be intimate with one another for the fascination of their audiences or the producer’s tactics at creating controversial contents for public view (Bignell 2005).

While some scholars have viewed reality TV as a way of addressing social issues, some have gone a step further into viewing reality TV as a tool that attracts controversial societal discourses in morality and scandalous situations (Biltereyst 2004). However, alternatively, reality TV can be successfully useful in representing issues that audiences need to see being discussed in the mainstream media (Biltereyst 2004). For example, several issues in the society that are less openly talked about can be represented in the mainstream media through reality TV shows such as Big Brother. It is argued that it is through the mainstream media, that audiences become aware of their morality in ascertaining right from wrong (Tester 1994). Also Hall (2009) supports Tester’s claim, but in relation to audience perceptions, involvement and relationships to reality TV. Hall (2009) attests that the realisation of the program’s authenticity impacts on the audience enjoyment and perceived learning. When audience perceive a contestant as exhibiting familiar traits, or behaviours that reveals their true self, audience are likely to attest that they have learned through the contestants. The realisation of this finding by Hall can also support the basis of utilising reality TV for representing social issues. In the same light, ‘Big Brother Nigeria season 2’ generated conversations around sexual consent and assault, an issue often ignored in public discourse and largely suppressed amongst policy makers and governing bodies in Nigeria.

In relation to Nigeria, the format of Big Brother as a genre of reality TV was familiar to the Nigerian audience. The African continent had witnessed several seasons of Big Brother Africa which featured housemates from Nigeria. The Big Brother reality show debuted its first screen appearance on the African continent in 2003 and since then it has generated more shows distinctive to several other countries in Africa (Nwaafor and Ezike 2015). Similarly, some literature has also analysed the relevance of the Big Brother reality television show in the African context as a show that does not depict the real struggles of the populace in Africa (Srivastava cited in Chikafa and Mateveke 2012); struggles about a continent strained with diseases, war, corruption and poverty. However, what Srivastava has failed to understand is that those struggles are inherent, but there are other programmes that the mainstream media can utilise to represent and address these societal struggles and issues. It is also interesting that this stereotypical argument has failed to consider that reality TV shows can also address, represent and give meanings pertaining to these social issues. Chikafa and Mateveke (2012) argue that most of the criticisms are a result of the ignorance of the Africa continent as well as the African identity. This explains the basis for this research study, a study that attempts to identify the presence of a social issue as sexual violence and sexual consent in the Nigerian society. This research study explicitly acknowledges the absence of representation and sensitisation around such issues and specifically how reality television can be an agent for representation of these issues.

Defining Sexual violence and Sexual consent

There have been several definitions of sexual violence perpetrated against women. One defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is the ability of a woman to be physically coerced or forced to engage in sexual intercourse or be forced to do something sexual and something she finds sexually demeaning, undignified and dishonouring (Abama and Kwaja 2009). Another defines sexual violence as sexual coercion, meaning an attempt with the use of force through violent means, deception, cultural beliefs and economic conditions that threaten the victim in ways that enable sexual intercourse or sexual activities against their will (Ajuwon et al. 2004). Abama and Kwaja (2009) also mention that violence against women possesses a great threat to any societal economic and social development. Alarape and Lawal (2011) argue that forcefully engaging in sexual intercourse with a woman or by deception is a sexual crime and they mention that rape has received most attention from researchers.

Sexual violence representation, compared to physical violence in mainstream media generally, has received minimal attention with less representation particularly on television (Lee et.al 2011). In comparison to popular crime dramas aired on television, Lee et.al (2011) expresses thoughts towards representing sexual violence through crime drama. In this case, given the magnitude of this issue around sexual violence, Lee et.al (2011) argue that exposure to media contents may indirectly affect the attitudes and responses to issues around sexual violence and in women. However, in considering sexual content on the show, it is important to acknowledge that there are certain genres of television programs that include more sexual violence content than others. However, in relation to this, genres such as prime-time crime drama are produced specifically to suit such purposes, that is, to showcase sexual violence (Cuklanz 2000). It is expedient to note that primetime dramas also include sexual assaults, and story lines centred on sexual consent and the issues around the confusion that might arise with sex, consent and myths around rapes. Also, in the same light, a content analysis was conducted by Cuklanz and Moorti (2006) around a TV crime series called SVU, a popular TV series with a huge audience base and reveals that this reality show, supports and advocates for sexual violence prevention. Its investigations and analysis indicates a close relation between the representation of issues on sexual violence and sexual consent through contents on the television that in turn generates viewers’ perceptions and how this leads to the creation of awareness around such issues.

However, in recent times there have been many studies that discuss the perceptions of rape. Some have tried to investigate the exact position and conditions under who should be blamed for rape (Ward, 1995) and the perceptions that come with the demographic characteristics that define knowledge and attitudes towards rape (Alarape and Lawal 2011). Feminists have also argued about the stereotypical representation of sexual violence in women, especially when societies begin to blame the victims of rape (Ward 1995). In Nigeria, women are faced with a male domineering home structure that gives men authority and entitlement and in some cases; this can be interpreted in terms of sex and ownership (Abama and Kwaja 2009). Nigeria according to Okafor- Vanni (2013) is a patriarchal society that allows men to dictate norms and rules. Without completely blaming Nigerian society for several misconceptions that come with rape, Ward (1995) reveals that some findings still spell out the prejudiced and hackneyed attitude attached with blaming victims of rape for their assault. Hence, the plausible argument that the mainstream media, specifically a reality TV show such as Big Brother, functions as an agent for advocating and representing these societal misconceptions of rape, victim blaming, sexual violence and sexual consent perpetuated on females in Nigeria.

Ward (1995) examines the ways in which the findings, ethnicity and societal beliefs impact the mythical conceptions on sexual violence in its nature, ‘The belief systems of lay persons and professionals who interact with rape victims and rapists influence rape myths’ (Alarape and Lawal 2011, P.3887). These beliefs can create victimization and contribute to potent reasons as why some rape cases go unreported in Nigeria. In some cases, Ekoh (2013) asserts that the belief system places the responsibility on women to discipline themselves, preserve their bodies and control their advances to avoid being misinterpreted to the perpetrators of sexual violence. In the Nigerian society, sexual violence is stigmatised. It is not just about preservation or modesty of the victim, because in some cases, women who are fully clothed are still sexually harassed. When a woman is raped, the perpetrator is saying, that they have physical access of the victim’s body without consent and a society that does not protect a victim or reprimand but that the perpetrator is consenting to the notion that the woman’s body can be taken without consent (Okafor-Vanni 2013, para 3). Whatever is being said here is that although the Nigerian society prides itself on the virginity of females, why then is it the duty of the female to remain sexually moral and upright? Why can’t the male population also put up with the responsibility of such actions? What should happen is the education of our sons at an early start in life on the importance of consent and that “No Means No”. Also, of the likelihood of a female revoking her consent even after conceding. In areas relating to victim blaming, Okafor-Vanni (2013) adds that we should create a society that enables safe spaces for victims of sexual assault ‘Instead of telling the victim of sexual assault not to speak up so as not the shame her family, we should create a society were victims are helped to overcome the trauma of the assault. Instead of telling the young girl she 'asked' for it because of the way she dressed, we should punish severely and publicly shame rapists’ ( Okafor-Vanni 2013 para 10)

It is also beneficial to highlight that there are so many rape cases that go unreported in Nigeria, the least being that the victims are advised to keep silent as that alone could tarnish the name of the victim's family (Okafor-Vanni 2013para 3). These arguments on myths surrounding rape, sexual violence and victimisation in Nigeria gives a clear background to understanding sexual violence and it lends precedence to understanding issues around sexual consent.

The focus around the issue of sexual consent had less interest and discussion until issues around the predominance of non-consensual sex and incidences of rape and abuse against women (Cowling and Reynolds 2016). The issue around sexual consent had been an understudied field of research even amongst feminist researchers (Beres 2007). In agreement with Beres (2007), when searching for literature around sexual consent, there was a lower yield in results compared to words related to sexual violence or rape. This reflects a lesser focus on research studies based around sexual consent. However, in relation to this, Beres (2007) argues that sexual consent based on sets of conceptualisations, the definitions can be either implicit or carefully defined. Some authors have assumed the definition of sexual consent to be left 'open' to the understanding of readers while some have defined sexual consent ‘as the boundary between good and bad sex’ (Beres 2007, p. 95). However, the elaborate definition of these examples does not undermine the definitions these authors give to sexual consent, rather what this does is to present the overall idea behind the issues around consent as an under studied field of research (Beres 2007 p. 96)

There have also been recent studies in relation to media, entertainment and a means to creating awareness and educating audiences. This includes the discourse around how television, as well as the mainstream media, can be an advocate for social change. In Hust et.al (2013) and Block (2012), the media can be used as vehicles for transmitting and informing the society for progressive social change. Hust et.al (2013) findings from a survey of 508 undergraduate in a large north-western university reveals that crime dramas can be used as an avenue for sending across prevention messages and contribute to the intervention of sexual assault. This finding stresses how the media tend to portray and also, in the long term, intervene on social issues. A content analysis of crime dramas reveals that audience exposure to crime drams decreases the myths surrounding rape and also the increased level of awareness and intervention (Hust et.al 2013). Entertainment media contents can facilitate talks that can in turn potentially effect informed change (Block 2012). Drawing upon these examples, these arguments lend support to the central argument of this thesis on reality television as an agent for social change and advocate for representing societal issues as sexual violence and sexual consent against women in Nigeria. The assessment of the current state of opinions in this area of research demonstrates and evaluates discussions and ways this thesis will contribute to the field of research. It also serves as a basis to understanding the case study as a centre to the argument of this thesis.

Big Brother Nigeria 2017

In this section, I will discuss some of the representation of issues of sexual violence and sexual consent in Nigerian women through the case of sexual assault of a female housemate in the Big Brother Nigerian season 2 show. I will discuss the major issues around the sexual assault by the housemate and the representation of this issue by the producers of the reality show, the perceptions and reactions of audience of the show and the implications this has had on the representations of such societal issues in Nigeria.

Background to the Show

The Big Brother reality show debuted its first screen appearance on the African continent in 2003 and since then there have been more shows produced that are distinctive to several other countries in Africa (Nwaafor and Ezike 2015). The Big Brother Nigeria show had its first season aired in 2006. The Big Brother Nigeria 2017 reality television season 2 show premiered in January 2017 with twelve (12) housemates who live together in a specially built house that is inaccessible and isolates them from the world (Big Brother 2017). All the housemates were competing for the grand prize of 25Million Naira and a brand-new Kia Sorento. The basis of the final selection of house mates were not disclosed, but observing the ethnicity and social diversity of the contestant, gives a clear possibility of the producer’s intention of selection. Most of the housemates represented several tribes and socio economic status. The house was closely monitored 24/7 by cameras, but as with many productions, editing was made by the producers in order to determine which of the cameras are aired live to its audience. The audience of this show spans across 45 countries in Africa (Sunday 2017). Viewership over the period it was aired on television was through a cable channel accessible to the African audience, as well as streamed life on YouTube channels (Sunday 2017).

The housemates meet with Big Brother (Biggie) in the diary room to discuss and recap their daily activities. The meetings are at a time were housemates get to be comfortable with ‘Biggie’ and during which they air opinions about issues or speak about their challenges living in the house (BigBrother Naija 2017). Big Brother designs challenging tasks for the housemates to test their team work capabilities, mental alertness, physical strength as well as community spirit (African Magic 2017). The managing director, Multi choice Nigeria Mr John Ugbe mentions that the show aimed at enhancing, providing and delivering African content, and showcasing ordinary Africans from different facets of life to draw a wider African audience (Vanguard 2017, para 4)

Descriptive narrative of the incidence

In the early hours of the morning on the 5th of March 2017, of the show, two housemates Tboss and Kemen (female and male housemates respectively) were caught on camera in bed. It was shown that Kemen was sexually harassing the female housemate Tboss while she was unconscious and asleep. In analysing the scenario without bias, Kayphil (2017) describes the incidence as it emerged on camera as an appearance of bodily movement under the beddings that both housemate shared. Also, the camera footage revealed that the female housemate Tboss appeared to be asleep when Kemen was moving under the sheets and after a while, she appeared awake as she turned to her sides backing Kemen. From the official website of the reality show, the action was perceived and described differently. According to the video footage that was released, Kemen, the male housemate was making sexual moves at the Tboss by sliding his hands underneath the blankets while she was asleep (BigBrotherNaija 2017). The next morning of the incidence, Big Brother called in the female housemate Tboss for a diary session. Tboss narrates to her housemates that when Big Brother showed her the video in the diary room, she felt molested; she felt that as she was unconscious during this act, she might be portrayed negatively to the viewers at home.

The Producers’ response to the Incidence

Big Brother was displeased with the actions of Kemen, the male housemate as it was noted that the actions were not mutual and Tboss, was unaware of the entire situation, thus infringing the right of a fellow housemate (Sunday 2017). In Big Brother’s words, ‘Kemen you have been found guilty of violating the Big Brother House rules’ (Kayphii 2017 para. 9). The question not just lies in what was published on the website of the reality TV show, but in what the house rules specifically were. According to Kayphii (2017), the house rules were nothing resembling to sexual harassment or assault. The rules were tagged towards housemate’s prohibition of intimating and threatening fellow contestants and respecting other housemates (Kayphii 2017 para.14). However, if Kemen did not violate a house rule specific to sexual assault or harassment, what is found here is the absence of or rather a clear definition of sexual harassment in the rules of the game.

Apart from the immediate action of disqualifying the male housemate from the show, on the 8th of March, which was the International Women’s Day, facilitators were invited by the producers to discuss issues around sexual violence and sexual consent in women. Big Brother decided to celebrate the day by organising a seminar tagged: ‘Consent is Sexy’ (Africa Magic 2017). The first part of the session began with the housemates being lectured about the importance of listening to partners in relationships as well an understanding of the importance of owning up to actions at any given point in time (Africa Magic 2017). The housemates were more self-aware about issues related to consent. After the seminar, the housemates and most of the viewers of this show were enlightened in relations to issues around sexual violence and sexual consent. The actions by the producers is an avenue for creating awareness on these issues following several debates and arguments generated by the audience nationally and around the African continent. The main sponsors of the show PayPorte also released an official statement stating their displeasure of the actions and their stance on sexual harassment and perversion. They went further in their statement to state that individuals should conduct a high moral standard with or without the influence of alcohol (BigBrotherNaija 2017).

From the incidence in the big Brother Nigerian reality show, one thing that was evident in audience reactions were those who stereotypically blamed the female contestant for instigating the act. The reactions to this case is almost not surprising as the dominant societal belief is that women in Nigeria should in all cases prevent themselves from being sexually harassed or molested. This is a vastly different response to the men who are presumed to act based on perceived signals given by the women. Sexual consent is a critical issue in this debate. Busari and Chukwurah (2017) argue that this year’s Big Brother show in Nigeria positively generated several conversations on sexual consent in women. Through social media platforms, Nigerians began to generate discussions surrounding the issue of the contestant Kemen molesting Tboss while she was asleep. The incident led to many conversations around rape in the country and the cultural stigma related to reporting rape cases. Most cases are because of victim blaming, no support for victims and the suspects not being reprimanded.


The main purpose of this study is to undertake a media and cultural studies analysis of the representation of issues around sexual violence and sexual consent in women in Nigeria using the Big Brother Nigeria 2017 as a case study. This study tests audience comments through a critical analysis using a content analysis of the perceptions and readings of the Big Brother Nigerian 2017 Show. In doing so, it is important to consider Purvis’s (2006) approach at ways texts can be used in the construction of reality in analysis of media and culture. This methodology aims at addressing two questions around texts, one is centred on texts in the construction of reality and the other question relates to the use of texts and selective identities. Based on the case study, do these texts reflect a form of reality on the audience and the producers’ representation of issues? Does the specific text distort or challenge the reality of the issues that are being addressed? Secondly, in viewing texts and identities, who are those represented in the textual analysis and why are these identities of those represented important in the methodology?

From the review of relevant literature in the area of study, several phrases and themes related to sexual violence, sexual consent, rape, and victimisation were identified. These themes form the basis and the root of the methodology. This would be used in interpreting meanings from the comments, reactions and texts of audiences, producers and vlogger directly related to the issue of sexual assault of the female housemates. Content analysis, according to Stokes (2013), is a useful method in analysing and measuring representation in the media on an issue from the point of the producers of the content to the audience that receives it. Stoke (2013) also views this method of analysis as a direct approach in media and cultural analysis. According to Hseih and Shannon (2005), there are three approaches to content analysis and they are conventional, directed or summative. The conventional involves coding categories directly from texts, the directed analysis starts from a theory guides in category coding and lastly, the summative analysis involves the interpretation of counted keywords and phrases. However, for the purposes of this thesis, a conventional content analysis would be applied. This would involve the coding of categories of texts derived directly from the texts, responses and comments from the producers and audience of the reality show through social media. The reasons for adopting this approach is to categorise the large portion of comments and texts that revolves around the representation of issues around sexual violence and sexual consent against women.


This coding is categorised to determine codes in relation to the representations and perception of issues around sexual violence and consent by the audience of the show. I will begin with an analysis of the viewers’ comments to the video of Kemen and Tboss. These comments were generated from an online website, the official Instagram page of @BigBrotherNaija2017 as well as a Youtube page. For YouTube, most of the video footage had been taken down from YouTube. However, there were some YouTube vlog reviews. One of these reviews is the YouTube comment sections on the Iya Ibeji show after she aired her take on Tboss and Kemen issue.A Nigerian celebrity, Adekunle Gold, also reacted to the disqualification of Kemen from the Big Brother Naija competition for molesting his fellow contestant Tboss the on 5th March. According to a female section of the audience, if Tboss did not want to be sexually assaulted, she should not have slept on the same bed with Kemen. Adekunle Gold feels this is quite unfortunate for women have to think this way (Adenuga, 2017).

Below are audience comments generated from the Instagram account of Big Brother Nigeria 2017 after the announcement of the eviction of the male housemate. These comments are coded into three main categories: Victim Blaming and name calling, audience knowledge of sexual violence and sexual consent and societal beliefs.

Table1: Audience comments that relates to victim blaming and name-calling

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table2: Audience comments that reveals knowledge of issues around sexual violence and sexual consent

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 3: Audience comments that reflects societal beliefs and myths

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Audience reactions after Producer’s invited facilitators to discuss the issue around consent.

This issue around sexual consent reoccurred in the analysis of audience comments after the disqualification of the male housemate Kemen was announced on Instagram. However, the producers responded by organising a lecture in the house that discussed sexual consent.

From the comments, most of the housemates appreciate the efforts on lecturing and teaching the housemates about consent; however, some still expressed dissatisfaction on the timeliness of this seminar. The latter preferred that this seminar should have taken place before the show began to create sensitisation around this topic.

This approach is found to be useful in a content analysis as it directly uses the content data as a basis of drawing language codes. It also explains the similarities that exist because of the codes drawn from two different social media platforms. Content analysis of the comments and reactions on Big Brother Nigeria reality television show reinforces the stereotypes and rape myths in the Nigerian cultural value system. The analysis also reveals the assumption of sexual violence awareness and consent awareness by the reality television producers. Nothing was brought to the housemate’s attention until there was an actual incident.

Discussion of Findings

The conventional content analysis was quite straight forward. However, discussing the strengths of this approach is very pertinent in understanding how conclusions were drawn. In relation to the research question, and the argument of this thesis, this approach proved worthy in analysing texts from the audience through social media pages (Instagram and Youtube). In addition, this approach allows for the use of data derived from the texts that clearly represents the issue at hand, and helps in the construction of evidence to support the central argument of this thesis. The categorising of comments easily aid the analysis as this reveals producers’ representations and reactions of the audience on issues around sexual violence and sexual assault in Nigeria. However, it is possible that if other approaches were considered, similar conclusions would still have been derived.

I have compared my findings in order to understand the exposure of media contents and the attitudes of viewers towards this content. This comparison aided in understanding the influential role that the mass media play in society by understanding the means through which communications and symbol influence human actions and thoughts (Bandura 2001). This role offer some vivid explanations as to how the media can represent certain issues and the direct effect these can have on its audience. However, for the findings in this study, I examined the characters in the media and how attitudes are adopted by its viewers (Lee et al 2011). In the case of reality television and audience perception, there is the likelihood of the audience emulating or debunking media characters’ attitudes and behaviours towards certain issues if they perceive that the producers of this show represent these issues in a certain way. It is important to note that human behaviours can be shaped, or controlled by external factors such as the environment, and the media.

The ‘Big Brother Nigeria 2017’ reality show shed valuable light on issues around sexual violence most especially sexual consent in Nigerian women. For example, the fact that a section of some female audience was blaming Tboss (the female housemate) for the sexual abuse perpetuated by Kemen (the male housemate) reveals a lot about the level of awareness around sexual consent in the Nigerian society. It also supports the contentions of Alarape and Lawal (2011) and Ekoh (2013) on the belief systems of rape and victim stigmatisation against women by the Nigerian society. Also, Big Brother show producers might not have had intentions towards educating housemates on issues around sexual assault and consent on the March 8, International Womens’ Day, but the issues that arose gave them the opportunity of reaching out to the housemates to educate them as well as educating the audience of the show. The producers’ representation and reaction to the issue of sexual violence and consent through the seminar conducted had a direct consequence on the audience as was evident in their comments. Some were pleased with this seminar as it educated them while some others suggested that this seminar should have occurred prior to the start of the show. Similarly, even if the audience preferred this information coming before the beginning of the show, they still acknowledged the usefulness of education through reality TV shows. This conforms to Hust et.al (2013) argument on the influence television shows have on increasing awareness on certain issues. Block (2012) also supports this on a more specific level in the argument that entertainment media contents can expedite informed societal change. Although conceding with this argument has some inherent merits and relevance to these findings, it still needs to be reformed in ways that suits the specific use of reality TV as an agent for representing societal issues that are less talked about or under represented

Drawing upon an argument of the realism of reality shows as analysed by some academics in the review of literature, Biltereyst (2004) attests that reality television shows embraces substances of ‘authenticity’. The Big Brother reality TV show showcases the daily activities of housemates. Having a show as such can influence its audience’s perceptions around the acceptability of some social issues. For the issues, around sexual violence and sexual consent for example, the reaction of the producers to disqualify Kemen for his actions sends a direct ‘displeasing’ message to both male and female audiences of the show as well as the housemates. While the general audience began discussing these reactions, it still sends the awareness of the non-acceptable nature of such sexual acts in the Nigerian /African society.

Findings from an analysis of the comments; responses contribute to the knowledge around reality TV usefulness for creating awareness of a social issue such as sexual violence and sexual consent in the Nigerian society. This analysis can also be used to set future suggestions for teaching areas of producer and audience relationship in media studies, one that sees this relationship beyond the producer creating contents for entertainment alone, but an acknowledgement of the possibilities of this content educating and creating awareness on certain issues. Its advantage being that this approach can start conversations around audience participation on reality television shows and its direct impacts on contents creation on the show. This thesis however, has added to the body of knowledge in terms of the application and the use of a media channel as a tool in representing issues around a social cause as sexual violence and sexual consent in Nigeria.

Conclusions and Recommendations

In this thesis, I explored and analysed the media and cultural studies representation of issues around sexual violence and sexual consent on reality television using the Big Brother Nigeria 2017 as a case study. Some scholars attempted to critique the realism in reality TV and the impact this has on audience participation, while some also saw the impact this has in the propagating of social change. Despite the growing attention and discussions on reality television and its impact on both audience and the contestants, there was little information and data that discusses and analyses the representation of sexual violence and sexual consent on the show. There were several limitations encountered during the writing of the thesis. These limitations reveal lapses in the attempt at representation and perception of such issues. However, with the available resources, the findings reveals the lack of awareness in the Nigerian society on issues around sexual consent and sexual violence against women. It also reveals a relationship between the use of reality TV as a way of representing these social issues and an outcome of creating a higher level of awareness around societal issues. However, it is important to note that the findings may not be applicable to all reality TV shows, but only those that are structured to engage the contestants in an environment that encourages living in a confined space. However, there should be further discussions around sexual violence and sexual consent to fill the gap that exists in the literature for future discourse. The mainstream media, especially the television alongside social media, are catalysts for change and these changes should be manifested through contents that directly inform, create awareness and establish stands on pertinent issues in the society.

Chikafa and Mateveke (2012) imagines in the case of Big Brother Africa show that young contestants are sourced from all over Africa with a mission to create solutions to pressing economic, societal problems facing their countries. Although the contestants are chosen to represent the diversity of Africa, they are also used to represent issues and advocate on the possibility of creating awareness on the issues their countries face, which is the true nature and idea of Africanism. The producers of Big Brother Nigeria reality show can emulate these concepts. Given the fact that the housemates were selected from several ethnicities in Nigeria, they are somewhat representatives of several cultures with a unified Nigerian identity, but also representing a range of diverse societal issues. It is taken-for-granted that the reality show allows for housemates to discuss and react to some pressing societal issues in Nigeria. It is imperative to adopt Chikafa and Mateveke's (2012) position on allowing contestants to come up with a mission to set up solutions to pressing problems in the society.

Although reality television should not be staged, we see that in most cases, the housemates act based on set principles and rules that are laid down by the producers of the show. Hence, the representation of sexual violence and consent in women should be made mandatory in tasks assigned to housemates. An example is a task centred around sexual awareness and sexual consent that drives home the message to the audience. It is apparent that the show encourages the discussion of other societal issues, but tends to ignore that of sexual violence and consent until an issue came up and the imperative to discuss arose. In creating a society that teaches such moral values, the mainstream media and social media should not be left out of it. In fact, the media should be a proponent into representing such issues in ways that can influence the societal beliefs. The audience are closely watching, monitoring and picking up attitudes from their favourite participant. In the case of Big Brother, when such issues are addressed it shed lights on such issues and opens it up for broader conversations in public discourses.

Finally, based on the findings, suggested areas of future research could focus on approaches of communication in reality TV shows. In particular, one area of study could address and focus on the implicit or explicit ways of communicating to the audience in order to produce social change. This thesis will inform Nigerian policy makers, educators and the producers of reality TV shows about sexual violence and sexual consent that would further aid in how this can be best communicated to the Nigerian audience. The ultimate goal of this thesis is to provide reality TV producers with a framework and an insight to future research areas to better understand the importance of audience engagement in programming, to aspire to utilise the platform to create and communicate contents that addresses societal issues.


Abama, E & Kwaja, CMA 2009, ‘Violence against women in Nigeria: How the Millennium Development Goals Addresses the Challenge’, Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.3, no.3, p. 23

Adenuga, P 2017, ‘See Adekunle Gold Reaction to Kemen’s Disqualification from Big Brother Naija’, Information Nigeria, viewed 27 April 2017, http://www.informationng.com/2017/03/see-adekunle-gold-reaction-kemens-disqualification-big-brother-naija.html

Africa Magic dstv 2017, Day 45: housemates pledge consent is sexy, viewed 24 April 2017, http://africamagic.dstv.com/show/big-brother-nigeria/news/day-45-housemates-pledge-consent-is-sexy/news

Africa Magic dstv 2017, About Big Brother Nigeria 2017, viewed 24 April 2017, http://africamagic.dstv.com/show/big-brother-nigeria/about

Ajuwon, AJ, Olley, BO, Akintola, O & Akin-Jimoh, I 2004, ‘Sexual coercion in young persons: exploring the experiences of rape victims in Ibadan’, Nigeria, Health Education, vol.104, no.1 pp. 8-17, doi: 10.1108/09654280410511743

Bandura, A 2001, ‘Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication’, Media Psychology, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 265-299, doi: 10.1207/S1532785XMEP0303_03

Beres MA 2007, ‘Spontaneous’ Sexual Consent: An Analysis of Sexual Consent Literature’, Feminism & Psychology, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 93–108,doi: 10.1177/0959353507072914

Busari, S & Chukwurah, F 2017 'Big Brother' has Nigerians suddenly talking about sexual consent’, CNN, viewed 27 April, 2017, http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/07/africa/big-brother-nigeria-sexual-consent/

Bignell, J 2005, Big Brother reality TV in the 21st Century, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Big Brother Naija 2017, Kemen Disqualiifed From Big Brother 2017, viewed 24 April 2017, http://www.bigbrothernaija.net/2017/03/kemen-disqualified-big-brother-naija-2017.html

Big Brother Naija 2017, Instagram Update, 5 March, viewed 01 May 2017, https://www.instagram.com/bigbrothernaija2017/

Biltereyst, D 2004, ‘Media Audiences and the game of controversy’, Journal of Media Practice, vol. 5, no.1, pp. 7-24, doi: 10.1386/jmpr.5.1.7/0

Block, L 2012, Entertainment Education and social change: Evaluating a children’s soap opera in Kenya’. International Journal of Educational Development, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 608–614

Cuklanz, L 2000, Rape on Prime Time: Television, Masculinity, and Sexual Violence, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Cuklanz, LM & Moorti, S 2006, ‘Television’s ‘‘new’’ feminism: Prime-time representations of women and victimization’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 302–321.

Chikafa, R & Mateveke, P 2015 ‘The ‘Africa’ in Big Brother Africa: ‘Reality’ TV and African identity’, Academia, viewed 24 April, 2015, https://www.academia.edu/2103540/The_Africa_in_Big_Brother_Africa_Reality_TV_and_African_identity_by_Rosemary_Chikafa_and_Pauline_Mateveke

Ekoh I 2013, ‘Why should you be angry about Nigeria’s culture of Rape’, AllAfrica.com Washington, (Online ProQuest Central)

Hall. A 2009,’ Perceptions of the Authenticity of Reality Programs and Their Relationship to Audience Involvement, Enjoyment, and Perceived Learning’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 53, no. 4, pp. 515-531, (Taylor &Francis Online)

Hill, A 2005 , Reality TV: Audience and Popular Factual Television, Routledge, London.

Hill, A 2002, ‘Big Brother The Real Audience’, Television & New Media, vol.3, no. 3, pp. 323-340, (online Sage Journals)

Hseih H & Shannon SE 2005, ‘Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis’, Qualitative Health Research, vol.15, no.9, pp. 1277-1288, doi : 10.1177/1049732305276687

Hust SJT, Marett EG, Lei M, Chang H, Ren C, McNab AL & Adams PM 2013, Health Promotion Messages in Entertainment Media: Crime Drama Viewership and Intentions to Intervene in a Sexual Assault Situation’, Journal of Health Communication, vol.18, no.1, pp. 105–123,doi: 10.1080/10810730.2012.688241

Jacobs, S 2007, ‘Big Brother, Africa Is Watching’, Media Culture &Society, vol.29, no.6, pp. 851-868, doi: 10.1177/0163443707081691]

Kayphii, 2017, ‘Kemen’s Disqualification, The #BBNaija Rulebook & Legal Perspective’, viewed 28 May 2017, http://www.kayphii.com/2017/03/07/kemens-disqualificationthe-bbnaija/

Lee, MJ, Hust, S , Zhang L & Zhang Y 2010, ‘Effects of Violence Against Women in Popular Crime Dramas on Viewers' Attitudes Related to Sexual Violence’, Mass Communication and Society, vol. 14, no.1, pp. 25-44, doi: 10.1080/15205430903531440

Michelle, C 2009, ‘Recontextating Audience Receptions of Reality TV’, Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, vol.6, no. 1, pp. 137-170, viewed 30 May 2017 , https://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10289/3357/Michelle%20Participations%202009.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Murray, S. and Ouellette, L., 2004. (eds), Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, New York and London: New York University Press,

Nwafor, KA & Ezike MA 2015, ‘Viewership Of Big Brother Africa Reality TV Show and Its Influence on the moral conduct of undergraduate students in Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Nigeria’, Global Journal of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, vol.3, no.5, pp.1- 15, viewed 28 May 2017, http://www.eajournals.org/wp-content/uploads/Viewership-of-Big-Brother-Africa-Reality-TV-Show-and-its-Influence-on-the-Moral-Conduct-of-Undergraduate-Students.pdf

Okafor-Vanni A 2013, ‘Nigeria has a Rape Culture too’, The Guardian, viewed 26 April 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jan/14/nigeria-rape-india-culture

Purvis T, 2006,Get set for media and cultural studies’ Edinburgh Universisty Press, Edinburgh viewed 28 May 2017, (Proquest Ebook Centra)l

Stokes J 2013, ‘How to Do Media and Cultural Studies’, Sage Publications, London

Sunday, P 2107, ‘Watch The Sex Assault Video that Got Kemen Evicted form #BBNaija’, The South Africa AN24, viewed 26 April 2017 http://an24.net/2017/03/05/watch-the-sex-assault-video-that-got-kemen-evicted-from-bbnaija/

Tester, K 1994, Media, Culture and Morality, Routledge, London.

The Iya Ibeji Show 2017, My Reaction towards the Kemen and Tboss Issue in the BBNaija House, online video, viewed 28 May 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aNihTDXaDw

Vanguard 2017, Why we are bringing back Big Brother Nigeria – Multichoice boss, viewed 01, May 2017, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/11/bringing-back-big-brother-nigeria-multichoice-boss/

Ward, C 1995, Attitudes Toward Rape: Feminist And Social Psychological Perspectives, Sage, London.


ISBN (Book)
File size
622 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Monash University Melbourne
Reality TV Nigeria Bigbrother sexual harassment



Title: The representation of issues of sexual violence and sexual consent on reality TV Shows using "Big Brother Nigeria 2017" as a case study