In 2015, the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) issued a directive to Kenyan media stations to air 40% of local content in their programming. The new programming guidelines were aimed at boosting the film industry and creating jobs. Kenyan TV stations are notorious for airing foreign-produced programs.
A year later Globetrack International reported that only one TV station, KBC and emerging vernacular stations have reached the 40% threshold set by the regulatory body. Airing of local content is something Kenyan media has been grappling with for many years. Where does the problem lie? The media producers or the audience?
Kenyan content producers should carry part of the blame that foreign content has taken over our locally produced programs. The report by Globetrack International indicated that Kenyans referred to some Kenyan programs as ‘low quality’. Comparing the programs airing on our local stations and foreign-produced programs, one realizes how poor Kenyan content is.
The viewer is smart today and is bombarded with endless choice. He /She will switch to another channel once they feel the program is poorly done. Media stations entirely depend on advertising revenues which is affected by the number of eyeballs the station draws. In a bid to retain the eyeballs, the stations are forced to buy foreign content which are produced to international standards.
Take the case of Mexican soap operas which are popular in Kenyan households. The producers of such content are some of the world’s best content producers in South America. The soap operas have unique story lines and riveting tales coupled with talented actors and Hollywood-level equipment. The product is nothing short of a ratings puller; a reason why Kenyan TV stations are in competition to buy the next conversation-triggering film. Come to Kenya, an example is the first English soap opera which aired in Kenya, Mali, the short-lived soap opera aired on NTV. Though it was a bold step and featured talented actors, the series had a familiar script. It didn’t take long before Kenyans resorted back to their first love; foreign-produced television dramas.
Talent is a threat to Kenya’s television and film industry. It is said that while watching Kenyan films, you can notice the actors are ‘acting’ while foreign produced films such as Afrosinema, the viewer is drawn to the actor’s experiences. Kenyan producers should create intriguing drama plots and use powerful story-telling shots. Every film must have an attention-grabbing factor.
Nigerian produced films are the most popular in Africa. They are often ridiculed for exaggerated story-telling, melodramatic actors and story lines that bring the house down. What we are not realizing is that in the process of criticizing the films, we are acknowledging the creative aspects of films and the powerful impact they have had in Africa and beyond.
Films produced by Kenyans should be about Kenyans. Culture is an integral part of films. We have been exposed to foreign content which espouses westernized culture hence producers tend to create works based on foreign lifestyles. Kenyan filmmakers don’t use Kenyan ‘culture’ as themes in their stories. Few of them do. Films should be a mirror of the society.
Infiltration of the market by foreign films may be a cause of lack of ‘our’ culture in films. Producers are striving to compete on the global stage hence the need to borrow foreign themes. Recently, Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB) chairperson, Ezekiel Mutua blasted a locally produced film, ‘Rafiki’, a lesbian-themed story for feeding the audience with content that contravenes our African culture. Emerging social issues in the 21st century such as homosexuality is a theme in most films. Should Africa stay behind?
Most Kenyans would boldly tell you that they prefer Mexican soap operas and Afrosinema than locally produced films. This may be part of the problem. Nollywood is a powerful force in the film industry thanks to a large population of Nigerians who consume the content.
Media stations that produce content seem not to be allocating adequate finances for such projects hence the low production values of Kenyan TV content.
Whether it’s the local filmmakers, media stations or the audience, the bitter pill to swallow is Kenya produces low-quality content.
And the blame game continues in.