Ideas & Debate

Why local content quotas should be raised to 60pc

KUZA-BROAD

Participants during the launch of SMS voting in the 2019 Communications Authority of Kenya Kuza Broadcasting Awards in 2019. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • The key objective of local content quotas is to protect local culture, and by extension the national identity, from being swept aside by a flood of cheap foreign works.
  • This is meant to enhance the opportunities and economic value for local artistes and entrepreneurs with the expectation that in time, the local content producers would improve the quality and quantity of their productions.
  • Use of more foreign content amounts to denial of copyright royalties to local artistes and payment of the same to foreign artistes.

As we consider broadcast guidelines developed under the Kenya Information and Communication Act (KICA), it is also time we discussed its efficacy. The local content provision under the Act has been in place in Kenya for several years now. Its objective is to offer advantage to the ‘local’ person over the ‘non-local’ person in the performance opportunity in broadcasting platforms.

The key objective of local content quotas is to protect local culture, and by extension the national identity, from being swept aside by a flood of cheap foreign works.

This is meant to enhance the opportunities and economic value for local artistes and entrepreneurs with the expectation that in time, the local content producers would improve the quality and quantity of their productions, ultimately controlling the cultural sectors. Use of more foreign content amounts to denial of copyright royalties to local artistes and payment of the same to foreign artistes.

Currently, the programming code for broadcasting services in Kenya requires that broadcasting organisations ensure that at least 40 percent of their stations’ programming is local content. The new proposal under review looks to raise the bar to 60 percent.

The local content threshold is quite low as it requires one of the authors of the music or film to be a Kenyan citizen. A foreign citizen resident in Kenya would presumably benefit.

Broadcast houses that fail to meet the local content quota are liable to fines payable to the broadcast regulator — the Communications Authority of Kenya. There is no provision for the fines to be used to support the sector that would otherwise benefit from the quota.

From all appearances, the local content framework appears to remain in place for the foreseeable future. However, given that the local content quotas system has been in place in Kenya for close to a decade, it requires a more thorough examination than is happening at the current review.

Over this period, in my assessment, while there has been marginal improvement in the quality of music and movies, foreign music still dominates the airwaves in Kenya and foreign films are still cheaper to buy compared to similar works produced locally.

From the reluctance to comply, it is evident the penalties are not deterrent enough. The royalty from broadcast still favours foreign artistes. And from the local content filings, there is notable avoidance in programming in a bid to attain the quota.

Worse since, there is no data or analysis available. It is, therefore, difficult to make an objective determination whether the local content quota system works or not. My hunch is that the local quota system might not be producing the results that were envisaged, namely strengthening the position of local artistes and entrepreneurs.

In a bid to review the local content quota, several questions arise. Is there value in raising the percentage of local content quota? Can the fines be made onerous? Can broadcast organisations that exceed the local quota by a good level receive recognition or benefit? Can the amounts raised as fines be applied for improving the sector the local content is expected to protect? Is there value in having the broadcast sector regulator to report annually on the adherence to this provision?

I support the proposed threshold of 60 percent for the foreseeable future. This is a fine balance to cater to other musical tastes found in Kenya. I foresee a danger in going beyond 70 percent if no tangible economic value can be gained.

I propose introduction of fines that impact the broadcasters’ bottom line to support compliance. Those funds should go to an art fund available to support music and movie projects at preferential interest.

In addition to the recognition under KUZA awards, a tax relief could be extended to the broadcast houses that exceed the quota by five percent.

Finally, the new framework should require the Communications Authority of Kenya to report every six months, probably through Parliament, for accountability.

The local content quota remains a key intervention to support local music and film sectors. The risk of not having a strict local content provision is that the sector will continue underperforming and copyright royalties will continue being remitted abroad to benefit foreign content owners. In my view, the quota must be linked to robust preferential funding for both sectors and enforcement.