So the other day I was asked by BBC to react to the claim by Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) that Netflix content is immoral and a threat to national security. The same day, KFCB Chairman Bishop Jackson Kosgei asked both local and foreign film content service providers operating in Kenya to ensure the material they distribute conforms to established regulations to avoid exposing children and the youth to content that has extreme violence and pornography.
As a progressive country, we cannot afford to be passive recipient of foreign content that could corrupt the moral values of our children and compromise our national security. If such content is allowed without scrutiny by our regulatory standards, the country is bound to open a floodgate for extremist and radicalizing content, particularly within View-on-Demand and Pay platforms
There are many things which are off on the good Bishop’s statement. Talking about extremism and radicalization at this point is a sad way to exploit what has happened to our troops to gain sympathy from the public which by large at the moment are not supporting the Board’s position. Then there is the question of morals. The problem here again is that Netflix content is content which is already in Kenya through other means or will eventually be here.
In reality there is no big difference from the content you find on Netflix from the ones on DSTV, StarTimes or Zuku. And if you are not getting the same content from the pay media, then there is the internet itself. Before Media on demand became a thing, people had many ways to get the videos online including the famous “sharing is caring”. But the most obvious route for Kenyans are the local DVD guys on the streets of Nairobi. At this point, I think the Board and the good Bishop should worry about two things and morals is nowhere near them (Even Churches in Kenya can no longer lecture anyone on Morals. You look at some of the church leaders and you see thieves, tribal bigots, murderers, looters, con-men)
First, is the fact that Netflix might run many of small businesses out of business. The movie guy in town is sure to lose his job as many of the people calling him will definitely find cheaper and convenient ways to access the movies and TV series. In the long run, the media house will also feel the pinch. The only saving grace for media houses and pay TV is the fact that not many people have stable internet. A fact that we are sure will change with time. But this is not a one-way street, as much as there will be losers, there are others who are sure to win or gain in the process. Zuku, Safaricom and Even Kenya Power for example with their home fiber will definitely gain from video on demand systems like Netflix. I feel the Data consumption and the number of people willing to pay for the fiber will go up.
Second thing to worry about should be the issue of local innovation. Two years ago, a young Kenyan man by the name Kahenya came up with a brilliant video on demand streaming idea. He called it Able Wireless and started the quest to get the license to operate it in Kenya. Instead of Communication Authority (CA) getting excited about the innovation, they took all the routes they could to frustrate him. It took one year to get the license from CA and by that time he had used all the money he had to start with. Rumors has it that a certain successful Kenyan company wanted to do the same thing and hence used the CA to make it harder for him to get the license.
Well, two years down the line, Netflix is here while Kenyan innovation never took off due to bureaucracy and even corruption. The Board should worry that Kenya Government institutions are not efficient enough to enable the innovative ideas to prosper. In the technology world, there is no room and space for bureaucracy. You think fast, create fast, succeed fast or fail fast and there is no room to lazy around. If you don’t do that someone else will do it.
At the end, I know some Kenyans would be asking if the Board has any point at all in what they are saying or trying to do. Well, I think they do, but they are using the wrong approach and the wrong method to communicate their points. On top of that, they are also exaggerating the whole issue of morality to win the public sympathy and to remain relevant at least according to some people on Kenyan social media. From the word go, we have to agree that our children should be protected from extreme violent and pornography and it is the duty of all the parents and teachers to ensure that children understand how internet works.
The Netflix Maturity ratings for most developed countries are done by the respective boards of those countries and I think that is where KFCB feel they should be doing the same for Kenya. The ratings for most African countries are classified on Netflix site under “the rest of the world”. The maturity ratings for the rest of the world is done by what they call reasonable judgement of the Netflix Rating system. So what KFCB is saying is that, just like France, UK, Japan, Canada and others, Kenyan organization in charge of Maturity ratings should be allowed to set the ratings for Kenya. After all the following is how the Netflix decides maturity ratings for the Movies and Tv shows:
“Netflix gathers maturity ratings based on country and region. The ratings are set by a standards organization that determines whether or not the material is appropriate for children. If for whatever reason a movie, TV show or other piece of content has not been rated by a known standards organization, Netflix will use its reasonable judgment to determine whether or not the material is appropriate and assign a “Kids OK,” “Guidance,” or “Adult” rating.”
From the above, you would clearly see why KFCB feel they have a role to play when it comes to content being shown in Kenya. And yes, I also think they do have a role to play but their ways of doing things is simply not in sync with reality and their mandate. The mandate of the board is to rate and classify movies and TV shows, and there is nowhere they are tasked to ban any movie or any show in Kenya. Kenya Information and Communications Act of 2013 empowered the Board to:
“Regulate the creation, broadcasting, possession, distribution and exhibition of films by:
(i) Examining every film and every poster submitted under the Act for purposes of classification;
(ii) Imposing age restriction on viewership; and
(iii) Giving consumer advice having due regard to the protection of women and children against sexual exploitation or degradation cinematograph films and on the internet;”
Kenyans still remember when KFCB banned The Wolf of Wall Street film due to its “extreme scenes of nudity, sex, alcohol, drug taking and profanity”. When a film or a Tv show has the so called nudity, sex, alcohol, drug taking and profanity, the work of the board is simply to rate it as for adult only and not ban it. It is important to note that any time the board tried before to ban any film in Kenya they make them more popular. Even Kenyans who don’t normally watch movies were looking for 50 Shades of Grey and The Wolf of Wall Street after the board said they had restricted or banned them in Kenya.
The Board is using the same kind of reasoning to try to “regulate” Netflix. Knowing that terrorism is a big issue of concern in Kenya, they have gone forward to add the words like extremism and radicalization of the youth in describing the Netflix content. That is stretching it and is simply absurd in many ways.
Most of the time, the guys on the Board come out like they don’t understand how the internet works. I guess that is the reason why the new CS Joe Mucheru is telling them to go slowly with the Netflix issue. Media on demand are basically systems which allow users to select and watch/listen to video or audio content when they choose to, rather than having to watch at a specific broadcast time. Media on demand systems are like any other sites, which all Kenyans with internet are able to access. Netflix is not different from Pornhub which any Kenyan with internet can access. I have not heard them say that Pornhub and other porn sites are degrading our morality although the site is among the top ranked sites in Kenya in terms of local traffic.
Netflix opened their servers to over 130 countries, Kenya included in January. But even before that, there were a number of Kenyans who were using Netflix and others like Hulu Plus, Amazon Video on Demand and Vudu. What I am trying to say is that KFCB is trying to regulate a site which is basically trying to regulate the internet.
Finally, before I go, KFCB needs to understand that for one to access Netflix, they must have credit or debit cards. The last time I checked the two are issued to people with an ID, meaning over 18 years. Now a parent might not be that careful and may be in the end expose their kids to extreme type of content. And for that the board has a role to play and it would be good for them to talk with Netflix but they should simply do their mandated job and avoid the theatrics. Media on demand is an idea whose time has come and there is no way to stop it. The only hindrance in Kenya is the number of people with stable internet.