News / Africa

    As Netflix Expands, Kenya Seeks Discussion on Ratings

    FILE - A sign points to Netfilx headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif. Netflix.
    FILE - A sign points to Netfilx headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif. Netflix.
    Jill Craig

    U.S.-based digital streaming giant Netflix is expanding its international presence, launching service to 130 countries in January, but Kenyan officials, one of these new markets, are questioning if the new Internet content is suitable, at least with its current ratings system.

    Earlier this week, Kenya’s Film Classification Board, the organization tasked with regulating film and broadcast content in the country, said Netflix had not been granted a license before it began operating and that they would like to have discussions with the company about how better to rate its content for the Kenyan audience.

    Ezekiel Mutua, chief operating officer of the KFCB, said that it would be irresponsible of Kenyan authorities to not concern themselves with this issue.

    Starting to stream movies

    "Here, we have not gotten very far because they have just started streaming on this side of the world, and we have just started this conversation,” Mutua said. “How would it look like if we just kept quiet and said, 'anything goes, Internet you can’t regulate.’ Why not have the conversation?”

    Mutua said the primary focus of a conversation is whether the current Netflix ratings system is appropriate for Kenyans; specifically, children.

    The KFCB released a statement saying, “It will be against our mandate to allow our children to get ruined by inappropriate content in the name of profit” and that Kenya could not afford to be “a passive recipient of foreign content that could corrupt the moral values of our children.”

    Mutua said the KFCB does not want to infringe upon privacy and adults can make their own choices, but that his organization’s primary concern is protecting minors.

    “There’s a possibility that a parent would base his decision on the wrong ratings, the ratings are American, they are not Kenyan, they are not African, and therefore there is that possibility,” Mutua said. “And to the extent that there’s a possibility, we as a regulator believe we have the right to raise these concerns.”

    Security component

    He added that there is also a security component for unregulated online streaming access, which terror groups and criminal organizations are also able to utilize.

    “We are only calling for measures to ensure that our cyberspace is safe, that if people are streaming both the good and the bad, that there is some regulations that can hold them to account, that’s all,” he said.
     
    Mark Radin, 28, an American working in Kenya, said he watches Netflix both at home in New York and in Nairobi and can see both sides of the issue.

    “In general, I don’t think clamping down on content is good; however, I do think that countries have the right to decide what they deem appropriate,” Radin said.

    “Europe does it, the U.S. does it and every other country does it. So it doesn’t make any sense to be saying that Kenya shouldn’t be allowed to do it," he added. "And I think they definitely have the right and the authority to review and decide what they deem appropriate for Kenyan society, per Kenyan laws and Kenyan policy.”

    'What is good for Kenya'

    Joe Mucheru, secretary of Kenya's Ministry of Information Communications and Technology, said through his spokesperson Thursday that "there is a need for stakeholders to engage with Internet content providers to leverage on what is good for Kenya."

    However, Mucheru has also advised the KFCB that it may not be "easy to regulate content from Netflix because Netflix releases thousands of films to the net per minute."

    Netflix declined requests for a statement.

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