There is a critical debate ongoing in the country on the effects of media and the boundaries of the various regulatory bodies formed to ensure safe content. At the centre of this debate is the now-rejuvenated Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) headed by chief executive officer Ezekiel Mutua.
The board is seemingly on a censorship spree, banning songs, advertisements and other content it deems unsuitable. No doubt there are enough people at Mutua’s corner cheering him on. On the other corner of the ring is an assortment of media players including media owners, journalists, advertisers and students of regulation.
Simply put, KFCB argues, media have far-reaching effects on the society. Should vulnerable members of society be exposed to this “immoral”content on media, then they are likely to suffer harm. Consequently, KFCB has moved to ban commercials and other material with scenes portraying adult content from being aired during the watershed period between 5am and 10pm.
There is anecdotal and substantial evidence to back up KFCB’s concern about harm. For example, research data suggests that individuals exposed to pornography are affected to varying degrees by such exposure. Students of sociology concluded long ago that exposure to violence may lead to violent behaviour among children, and that members of the public exposed to heavy television viewing develop a “mean world syndrome” that would affect them.
Such injuries are not just limited to the individuals but would include the entire society. For example, individuals exposed to pornography may have views towards sex that are not in congruence with the mainstream society. Consequently, as a responsible society, KFCB seems to argue, guidelines provided in safeguarding the welfare of society need to be enforced.
The mandate of KFCB as stipulated in the Film and Stage Plays Act, Cap 222 is to regulate the creation, broadcasting, possession, distribution and exhibition of films by rating them to maintain public order and national values. Then through a partnership with the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), also a regulatory body, KFCB is required to provide classification that guides CA in enforcing the watershed hour viewing principle. The principle is widely applied across the globe.
It takes cognizance of the fact that there are vulnerable members of society, such as children, who need to be protected from harmful content. The best way to do this, given their right to information, is to segment viewing hours so that content appropriate for general consumption is broadcast at certain times of the day while content deemed harmful to such members of society is broadcast at other times.
Also, material suitable for adult consumption should have a warning to that effect. For long, Kenyans have been at the mercy of radios that air raunchy discussion at times that maybe considered inappropriate. The public has appeared helpless, no wonder KFCB’s robust action attracts immediate sympathy from some quarters.
However, the contest comes in from those in favour of self-regulation, arguing that the various segments of the industry—broadcasting, advertising, and film—should regulate themselves, and that KFCB should limit itself to film classification. But the counter-argument has been that bodies tasked in self-regulating the media have done little to stem the slide in content generation.
The media has Media Council of Kenya while the advertising community has hits respective regulatory body but offensive broadcast has continued. Nature abhors a vacuum. For a long time, the public has complained about the content in our media but the response has been ineffective.
It may not matter what the mandate of KFCB is as long as in the view of the public, it is seen to step into action. Granted, the respective regulatory bodies must step up and be effective. Writer is Dean, School of Communications, Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University