Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The KFCB trial balloon

In conclusion, we reiterate our commitment to continue working closely with all stakeholders to create an environment that supports the growth of the film and broadcast sectors while at the same time protecting national moral values. - Kenya Film Classification Board
I challenge you, dear reader, to find the phrase "national moral values" in the Constitution of Kenya. Go on; I'll wait. Really. Okay, that was unfair. See if you can find it in the Films and Stage Plays Act, chapter 222 of the laws of Kenya. Go on; surely it must be there, the way the Kenya Film and Classification Board seems to bandy it about with enthusiasm these days. For the anal among us, "morality" is mentioned seven times in the Constitution of Kenya and in none of those circumstances could any reasonable reader contemplate the KFCB as the arbiter of  morality.

If you have been paying attention, you will surely realise that the KFCB has suddenly become very prominent over the past two years, since it put its foot down and declared that the Wolf of Wall Street would not be screened in Kenya because of its threat to national moral values. In the past month alone, it has entered into a contest of wills with Google Inc. over a music video broadcast over YouTube, a Google property, and Coca-Cola over a TV ad that shows young people being intimate over a bottle of Coca-Cola. In every instance of its muscle-flexing, the KFCB has claimed that it is doing so in the name of "national moral values."

The KFCB is exercising a mandate that does not exist. The Constitution has not established a moral police; the Films and Stage Plays Act, where the KFCB draws its authority from, does not deal with the moral values of the nation. We may snigger as the KFCB thumbs its nose at us, the consumers of films and stage plays and the targets of adverts, but this creation of a power out of thin air might be a trial balloon to see how much coercive power might be created out of thin air and how that power might be wielded.

In one of his delightful posts on Facebook, the KFCB CEO details how he and a former Cabinet minister met with heads of state in order to calm them down in the run up to the 2013 general elections. He was responding to cruel sniggers about one of his other delightful posts which he made about the KQ business class lounge some time back.  He finishes by puffing his chest out by all-capping thus,
But it is the sentence, "The president sent his 'trusted men' to assure our neighbours..." that gives me pause. In Moi's regime, "trusted men" were responsible for some of the darkest episodes in our nation's history and the revival of that language by a self-styled protector of national moral values should worry us.  Frequent allusions to "God" and "protect the children" in addition to the enforcement of a non-existent national moral values mandate are signs that the KFCB does not know its constitutional or statutory limits and will keep pushing the envelope until it is stopped or it becomes akin to a Moi era monster. The KFCB is a trial balloon. If it is not stopped something much worse will seize non-existent power. That power will not be wielded for our benefit. Such powers never are.

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