Wednesday, October 24, 2012

CCK issues new rules to curb hate speech in campaigns

File | Nation The Communications Commission of Kenya headquarters in Kenya

File | Nation The Communications Commission of Kenya headquarters in Kenya 

By JOHN NGIRACHU [email protected]

Politicians have been barred from sending unsolicited campaign text messages. They will also be required to submit the short messages for vetting by the State regulator at least 48 hours before the time they are scheduled to be sent.

Texts can only be sent between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and should be in either Kiswahili or English.

The sponsor of the message, referred to as SMS, will also have to be identified and to present the necessary documents before they are authorized to send it.

These are some of the guidelines introduced by the Communications Commission of Kenya as it aims to curb the spread of hate messages via SMS.

Alarming and hateful messages transmitted over mobile phone networks are said to have incited the violence before and after the 2007 General Election.

The guidelines introduced to the public at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi on Wednesday morning cover the SMS messages sent in bulk.

This is done via companies that have databases of mobile phone owners who pay extra to get information they are interested in.

These companies, referred to as Content Service Providers, are primarily responsible for ensuring the process of sending the texts adheres to the regulator’s guidelines.

They are also barred from sharing or selling their databases for the purposes of sending political messages, tracking of polls or political lobbying.

Presidential aspirants Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka have the four-number SMS service for their supporters to get regular updates on their campaigns.

Uhuru Kenyatta uses two short codes; one for those who want to speak to him directly and another for registration in The National Alliance Party.

The United Republican Party also keeps its subscribed supporters up to speed using this method.

Orange Kenya CEO Mickael Ghossein said without such regulation, it would be difficult to deal with the large number of messages sent through the phone networks during the campaign period.

CCK director Francis Wangusi said the guidelines would be used together with the registration of SIM cards to shut out the spreading of hate speech.

Mr Wangusi said the commission is working on regulations to be promulgated by the Information ministry on the registration of the phone cards.

“Even between now and when (the rules) are promulgated, we are going ahead to sensitize Kenyans… they need to register their SIM cards by the 31st of December,” he said.

He said the commission aims to have mobile phone networks as secure as the identification card system. The first phase of this process was the disconnection of counterfeit phones.

Mr Wangusi said the registration would also help trace messages that have not been approved, such as those sent from person to person in January and February 2008.

According to Information Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo, the individual who forwards the message is held responsible for being a conduit of the hateful content. He said the mobile service providers can also use filters to stop the spread of these messages.

“The loopholes are somebody can go to Uganda and do it from there. If they are not able to catch it quickly, it can actually go through. It’s actually a very difficult exercise,” he said.

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