The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) has today signed a memorandum of understanding with South Africa’s film and video content regulator, the Film and Publication Board (FPB). The MOU signed by the CEOs of the two bodies, Ezekiel Mutua and Themba Wakashe, aims to identify and define activities for mutual benefit of both countries, develop mechanisms and programs for regulation in the wake of new technologies, promote compliance within legislative frameworks applicable in respective jurisdictions and promote outreach activities between the two boards.
While the actual fine print and deeper implications of the MOU are yet to be fully established, this event could mark the beginning of both positive and negative developments affecting not just stakeholders in the Kenyan film, music and advertising industry, but individual everyday users of the internet and social media as well.
The news that the FPB has made a Ksh. 10 million donation towards the development of the local film industry is quite welcome indeed. The FPB’s plans to set up a school specializing in film classification could be beneficial to the region as a whole. The KFCB also stands to benefit by learning from and possibly adopting some of the FPB’s practices, including better awareness and engagement strategies with the public, and annual reviews of its classification guidelines based on feedback by the public.
On the flip side, KFCB’s new partner brings to the table its own share of bad and potentially damaging policy, especially with regard to the regulation of content on the internet. In May 2015, the FPB published and presented for public consultation a Draft Online Regulation Policy with the objective of regulating and classifying online content. The document has sparked widespread condemnation among the public and experts alike. It has been called Africa’s worst new Internet censorship law for its dangerously ambiguous provisions that could give the regulator draconian powers over every facet of online content including the everyday activities on social media such as posting status updates/tweets on Facebook and Twitter or posting videos on YouTube. The discovery that significant portions of the policy were lifted from an Australian Law Reform Commission report has contradicted the Board’s assertion that the policy reflects South African cultural values.
Also curious are statements by the FPB’s CEO to the effect that the South African regulator draws inspiration from the KFCB’s activities. The KFCB recently emerged from its shell as a quiet regulator and is now the subject of controversy and outrage in equal measure, fuelled by highly publicized declarations and activities – from banning the distribution of several music videos, banning the exhibition of possibly the only international award winning Kenyan feature film of 2014 for depicting stories by the LGBT community, wrangles with Netflix and YouTube over classification and removal of content that is “immoral” and could “radicalize” the youth into engaging in terrorism, and more recently overstepping its legal mandate by banning an alleged sex party based on an unsubstantiated claim that pornographic films were going to be made.
The regulator has at the same time maintained a track record of not providing sufficient avenues for engagement with and feedback from the public and has made very little efforts for awareness creation or targeted campaigns aimed at the very children they seek to protect as well as undertaking little (if any) research to provide empirical basis to their claims, some of which come off as completely absurd.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There is a need to regulate online content so as to protect vulnerable groups #kfcb — KFCB (@InfoKfcb) March 17, 2016
This new partnership between KFCB and FPB is in many ways the marriage of two like-minded bodies whose agendas and activities need to be watched with great vigilance and caution. While the MOU portends several positive developments for the local film industry, their plans to regulate digital media on the internet could translate to a dangerous assault on the Constitutional freedom of expression that individual everyday users may soon have to fight to protect.