A new media law was gazetted some days back. This lay has had many media organizations and Human Rights Groups up in arms. That this media law is retrogressive is not in question. That it is archaic and an affront to the Kenyan public is not up for discussion. But the reaction from the greater public is what has me worried. The business community is silent; the church which is the First Estate is not defending the freedom of the fourth estate; and having searched through twitter in the few days after the gazettement of this law, neither are the social media types in Kenya. Maybe I should do a more thorough search but that is precisely the problem, I do not need to dig a mile just to get a glimpse of an issue as grave as this. It should be the topic on every blog, the default hashtag topic in Kenya, and not the scattered search results that we have now.
Like the German Priest, Martin Niemöller, I understand that after they muzzle the media, they will turn their attention to us social media types. And I can assure you, the laws will not be similar to the FTC rules concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising but more in line with regulating the content that we write or even going the Iran Government route of killing internet connection speeds just to prevent information. It is with this understanding that I dare say no to this law.
The Kenyan Government is taking us decades back at a time that Kenya is boasting one of the freest most robust media industries in the continent. Clamping down on the media in the manner that they are only raises more questions about intent and motives. For instance, preventing live broadcasts because they want to vet what we get to see on TV is just preposterous but there it is, in the law. At times of disasters, the government has put it in this law that broadcasters should not relay any images unless it is government sanctioned. I take particular offence at this because the Kenyan people, the NGO’s especially the Red Cross Society are usually the only respondents to these disasters. The government only shows up after the work is done for PR. Finally, investigative journalism will be a dead-end career path because of disclosure requirements in the law. Apparently, you need to inform the corrupt officials that you are investigating that you are recording the conversation, effectively killing the story and exacerbating the already mammoth corruption problems we have in the country.
But even for businesses, their quiet does not mean that they are spared either. The onus is now placed on the media to prove that the adverts they show or air are for products that actually work. How the hell they are supposed to do this is beyond me. They may have to create new departments to countercheck every product that they chose to air in advertisement. That means they will have to bath with that Dettol, use that Harpic, Open that account, use that tariff, enroll in your college or University, test drive your car, and see whether Coke really makes you go Brrrr; all this in an effort to verify whether what you are selling really works. If you satisfy them, then they let you advertise with them. If you don’t, they ask you to go advertise elsewhere because you are a legal liability. But my take is that they won’t do it. It is too expensive and just plain ridiculous. They lose advertising revenue and your business loses that lucrative spot in the middle of the 9 o’clock NEWS. Either way, you both lose.
My take is that a halfway centre will be established where companies will be taking their products for verification and this centre will then give the heads-up for media agencies to advertise your product. This will be extra money out of your pocket for product verification. Frankly, I do not see this thing going down this route. Something has got to give. But if it does not, prepare your self for the above and maybe worse.
Disclosure is something that Social Media people do almost as second nature because our reputation is our currency. Even the FTC rules found social media practitioners’ way ahead of the game in disclosing affiliates in their advertisements. But what we have here is not as straightforward. In social media, we endorse products that we have tried and tested and are more than happy with because that is our currency. If we endorse for the sake of money, we lose our readers, our circle of influence, and our livelihoods because everything is tied to us as a brand. But when it comes to Mainstream Media, asking them to vouch for every product that they advertise is killing a whole industry. Why blame the media? Why not the company producing these products?
What is your take on this new media law and how do you see it affecting you as a person or your business?