Is KFCB an impediment to creativity in Kenya?

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Kenyan gay gospel artist, Joji Baro, and rapper Noti Flow, in the controversial music video, Same Love, which was banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB)

While the Kenya Film and Classification Board is mandated to regulate film content in Kenya, there have been a few issues that have surfaced in the recent past that haven’t augured well for media firms and content producers.

The regulatory board is charged with ensuring Kenyan filmmakers and content providers are able to feed from their creative resource. It has insisted on 40/60 viewership across the national media platform, where 60 per cent of the content that’s viewed on television is local and 40 per cent is foreign.

But even so, many creatives across the board feel like KFCB still runs on outdated practices that stifle production and creativity.

“They are not open minded; they run on this religious, moralistic view, which to me impedes the ability for creatives to go the whole nine yards,” says filmmaker James Ogola. ‘If I have a story that I want to tell and the story is based on these two gay people who in this day and age are living in Kenya, the KFCB will not allow that to run, simply because it involves gay characters.”

KFCB has in the recent past banned adverts during watershed period, a Coca-Cola ad was forced to be cut due to a kissing scene. It is such unrealistic approaches to creativity that make many view the board as a medium for muzzling creative freedom.

“You cannot play regulator and muse on the same vein,” Steve Njuguna quips. “We have come a long way, look at us and compare this country to the rest of Africa, we have to work with a body that is cut out to play its mandate of regulating what’s not needed and not inducing to creative people what is supposed to be created.”

“Look at what happened to Netflix,” Agnes Pendo, a Mombasa-based filmmaker laments. “They came to Kenya, then KFCB said they are supposed to do 60 per cent of local content, how’s that going to work? I think some things have to be thought through first, like they could allow Netflix to work with local producers to create films that are quality but local, but dismissing them discourages investors from this country and scares off other interested parties.”

The most affected people are gay filmmakers who are not allowed to show their ‘inappropriate’ content to the public. Rapper Noti Flow and her bisexual lover, Soila Cole did a video which has been flagged on YouTube for being against Kenyan moral standards.

“We are happy that the music video has been pulled down following a request we made to Google. This is part of making sure that content is healthy for all,” Ezekiel Mutua, the KFCB CEO later said at the World Press Freedom Day at the Intercontinental hotel in Nairobi.

“What is considered immoral?” Janet Waweru, a 30-year-old scriptwriter asks. “We have different definitions of immoral. I might be gay for instance; that’s not immoral to me. A lawyer who fights for abortion – should he be banned for fighting for these rights? So where do you draw the line between creative morality and social morality because one thing might be creatively necessary for a story while it might be considered morally offensive to the Kenyan market, but where do you draw that line?”

With the rise of internet and digital media access, most Kenyans believe there’s a necessity for a regulatory body but it has to live up to its mandate and keep up with the times.

“KFCB is run by a bunch of aged guys, a bishop and a collective of hallelujah guys, so their view on things is through the lens of sin and demons,” Njuguna adds. “If this goes on it will surely affect the creativity of filmmakers because we will be doing Christian films all the while and I don’t think that is what creativity is all about.”

“I think we should have independent creatives who understand film art,” Pendo concludes. “KFCB should look at film as it is, and not turn its regulatory mandate into an impediment of creativity because that will be dangerous for us as filmmakers and also for people who are interested in investing in media in Kenya in the long run.”

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