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Netflix Off to Shaky Start With Kenyan Officials

FILE - The Netflix logo.
FILE - The Netflix logo.

Kenya’s Film Classification Board has accused the U.S.-based streaming service Netflix of not conforming to Kenyan standards as they apply to the country’s film and broadcast ratings system. CEO Ezekiel Mutua says his organization is not interested in restricting content to adults; its main concern is protecting children.

Digital streaming giant Netflix is expanding its international presence, launching service to 130 countries in January. Kenya is one of these new markets, but authorities are debating whether the new Internet content is wanted in the country, at least with its current ratings system.

Kenya’s Film Classification Board, the organization tasked with regulating film and broadcast content in the country, stated Wednesday 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 is the chief operating officer of the KFCB.

“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," said Mutua. "How would it look like if we just kept quiet and said, ‘anything goes, Internet you can’t regulate.’ Why not have the conversation?”

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

The group released a statement saying that, “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 says the KFCB does not want to infringe upon privacy and adults can make their own choices. He says his organization’s primary concern is protecting minors.

“So that, if a parent goes to buy, because we understand, you have to use your credit card and so on, but if 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. And to the extend that there’s a possibility, we as a regulator believe we have the right to raise these concerns," he said.

Mutua adds 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.

Twenty-eight year old Mark Radin is an American working in Kenya. He watches Netflix both at home in New York and in Nairobi and says he 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. 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. 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," said Radin.

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.