The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) has defied the ICT Cabinet secretary on regulating US video streaming service Netflix, saying it broadcasts immoral content.
The board says Netflix must conform to local regulations, since there is proof that it is providing content that is a "threat to our moral values and national security".
That view contradicts the position of ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, who said last week that all regulatory bodies eyeing Netflix must wait for policy direction from the ministry.
The ministry has opened discussions on how best to regulate firms classified as Over The Top (OTT) service providers and still retain them locally.
“Netflix made available to the Kenyan market content that has not been subjected to the board’s classification guidelines,” said KFCB chairman Jackson Kosgei at a Wednesday briefing.
“The board regards the development as a contravention of the laws governing films and broadcast content distribution in Kenya,” he said.
AUTHORITY TO REGULATE
Some programs featured by Netflix locally are drug cartel series "Narcos", war drama film Beast of No Nation and romance film Room in Rome.
The KFCB says the films are classified as fit to be viewed by 13-year-olds and above yet they have “extreme violence, nudity, promotion of irresponsible material, inappropriate language and drug abuse”.
“It will be against our mandate to allow our children to get ruined by inappropriate content in the name of profit. Moral and legal consideration must always outweigh any other benefits or interests,” said Mr Kosgei.
Further, the board says that by operating without regulations, Netflix contravenes the Films and Stage Plays Act Cap 222 of the laws of Kenya. It vests the board with the authority to regulate the creation, broadcast, possession, distribution and exhibition of audio-visual content in the country.
Like Netflix, Google’s YouTube, classified as an OTT, operates in Kenya but has been hard to regulate. Kenya has no laws that govern services such as Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp, which are also OTT services.
“We want the businesses of OTTs to actually be based here, there is a huge debate as to whether we will be billing or charging Netflix, and I think OTTs should feel comfortable to invest in Kenya,” said Mr Mucheru in an interview on Tuesday last week.
The Communications Authority (CA) also says Netflix will not be forced to ask for a local broadcasting licence, since it is an OTT and there are no regulations that govern it locally.
“Netflix services are accessed through the Internet on smart mobile devices such as laptops and on a subscription basis, making it hard to regulate; we are, however, looking at how to compel it to deliver quality services,” said CA Director-General Francis Wangusi.
Netflix has brought its services to Kenya at a time when the CA, together with the KFSB, have imposed on broadcasters strict regulations set by a programming code. The code dictates the watershed hours, which fall between 5am and 10pm, when material deemed inappropriate for younger viewers cannot be broadcast.
Mr Kosgei told the Nation that the board would not give foreigners an easy way out when local firms have to operate under strict regulations.
“We should encourage business both ways,” he said
He added that it is important for Kenya to consider regulatory measures enforced in other jurisdictions such as the United States, Australia, South Africa, Canada and France, where Netflix is subjected to film regulations and has agreed to comply.