Why is the government trying to regulate morality?

Tuesday January 12 2016

Kenya Film Classification Board Chief Executive

Kenya Film Classification Board Chief Executive Officer Ezekiel Mutua at a press briefing in Nairobi on January 8, 2016. Mr. Mutua has urged the media to self-regulate to avoid being regulated by government agencies. Even before Netflix's first video had buffered once for excited Kenyans, the Kenya Film Classification Board was getting in the way, argues Larry Madowo. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

By LARRY MADOWO
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The American streaming service Netflix had not launched in Kenya for three minutes last week before the film regulator found a way to ruin its party. Even before the first video had buffered once for excited Kenyans, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) was getting in the way.

“We can charge Netflix for bringing in inappropriate content without examination by KFCB," said CEO Ezekiel Mutua.

The man has a social media presence and appears to know how the Internet works.

Earlier KFCB famously had banned movies it unsuitable for showing in Kenya. The Wolf of Wall Street and 50 Shades of Grey are just two recent ones.

Thanks to the board’s pre-emptive action, nobody in the country has even laid eyes on these reprehensible movies and the Republic still stands.

PESKY AMERICANS

Naturally, much of the 125 million hours of TV shows and movies that Netflix is bringing is inappropriate for delicate Kenyan sensibilities and we need KFCB to protect us from it. I’m sure his hardworking team will quickly get to work, reviewing all 125 million hours of content.

If they start now and watch it without a break, they will be done around March 2029, then Netflix would be cleared to operate in Kenya.

The only problem is that those pesky Americans keep adding new content every day, which would need even more people to review it.

Alternatively, the board should just ban Netflix and save itself the trouble. It appears the top dogs there have only a basic understanding of the Internet and have, therefore, never heard of the Streisand Effect.

If they did, they would Google it but because they don’t, I’ll break it down for them: if you try to censor or restrict a piece of information, it has the unintended consequence of becoming even more available.

The Communications Authority was just as busy as it gazetted the Programming Code for Free-To-Air Radio and Television Services. They might have been trying to protect children from harmful shows and all, but boy did they overreach themselves!

PAINFULLY NAIVE

The morning fare of risqué conversation and innuendo made popular by Maina Kageni and Mwalimu King’ang’i will be illegal in six months.

“The use of liquor and use of dangerous drugs shall never be presented as socially desirable or acceptable,“ the regulations say.

The authority seems to believe that people drink or use drugs just because advertising glamorises them. If you stop showing those appealing alcohol or cigarette ads, everyone will just magically stop using them. Problem solved.

Like KFCB, the CA probably means well but is just painfully naïve about what it seeks to regulate. For starters, correlation does not imply causation.

Just because the number of drunk youths appears to increase after an advertising campaign does not necessarily mean it was caused by the extra publicity.

Some of the new guidelines show a simplistic understanding of much more complex issues that even stronger restrictions will not fix.

“Music videos with content that may be harmful to children in terms of lyrics, video images and dressing should be avoided during the watershed period when most children are likely to be watching or listening."

LIBERTARIAN PRINCIPLE

That is an excellent premise and would not be contested by any rational individual. Many TV stations are already vigilant in this respect and did not air Sauti Sol’s "Nishike". They didn’t need to, but it still got 1.6 million views on YouTube.

Will the CA demand that YouTube block these videos between 5am and 10pm? Might the KFCB ban all the raunchy movies people are downloading easily from torrent sites? Will they switch off the Internet completely so that it can’t corrupt anybody? Why is the state regulating morality?

“Are you becoming the moral police?” my colleague, Dann Mwangi, asked Mutua on Friday.

He nodded enthusiastically before saying, “I think the government has that capacity, it would be right.”

So there it is, you elect the government and they decide for you what you may or may not consume in the media. Case closed. Except we don’t elect governments to put up a moral code for us.

This is not just a libertarian principle: governments or regulators have no business playing moral police. There are exceptions to this, of course, to protect minors or those driven into any activity against their will. The KFCB and CA need to take several seats.