Kenya’s uninformed ban on TV shows with gay characters is extremely dangerous

Cape Town – The ridiculous reasons are now surfacing as to why Ezekiel Mutua, the censorship tsar of Kenya's censorship board, last week abruptly banned 7 cartoons on Nickelodeon (DStv 305), Disney XD (DStv 304) and Cartoon Network (DStv 301) for being "pro-gay".

The bizarre reasons provided by Kenya's Film Classification Board (KFCB) it seemingly took straight from the internet without having actually watched and screened the various kids cartoons, are mind-bogglingly insane and shockingly unbelievable.

Ezekiel Mutua, KFCB CEO, told MultiChoice Africa the seven cartoons singled-out by the KFCB, must be off the air on the DStv and GOtv satellite pay-TV platforms over seemingly-insane reasons, ranging from one character "who has a dick for a head", to two characters who go on an (unseen) "implied romantic vacation".

While on a superficial level Kenya's censorship and banning of kids cartoons might seem silly, it has systemic and operational real-world consequences for South African and African TV viewers far beyond the borders of the East African country.

The ban could also have an impact on SA

Since channel distributors often only has one TV channel broadcast feed for Africa, a ban of content on a channel in one country, like Kenya or Nigeria – that a channel distributor then must agree to – means one of two things.

Either the whole channel must be completely blocked and be made unavailable in the affected country, or the content deemed offensive on the TV channel must be removed from the linear broadcast schedule.

Since there's only one similar channel feed for more than one country, this means that the content is taken away not just from viewers in the country affected, but from millions of DStv subscribers right across several African countries, including South Africa.

Channel24 asked the KFCB when the censor board saw the actual shows to properly evaluate their content since the majority of the now-banned shows are not even being broadcast on the various channels across DStv at the moment anyway.

The KFCB failed to answer when the 7 cartoons were actually broadcast and watched by the board and responded to the question in a nonsensical fashion by saying, in part, that broadcasters must "ensure that Kenyan identity is developed and maintained in programmes" and that they "observe standards of good taste and decency".

The 7 cartoons are now abruptly banned, with the KFCB's censorship that is creating problems for not just MultiChoice and DStv, but also the channel and content providers Walt Disney Africa, Viacom International Media Networks Africa (VIMN Africa) and Turner Broadcasting EMEA that respectively run and programme the Disney XD, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network channels.

Some of the cartoons are not even airing anymore and ended years ago – for instance the now-banned The Legend of Korra that finished its run in 2014.

Going on what the internet said

Yet it seems as if the KFCB did a basic desktop Google-search to find possible justification for a ban on the shows, and then decided to ban them based on what the internet sites it visited, said.

Responding to a media enquiry from Channel24, the KFCB says the seven cartoons -  Loud House, The Legend of Korra, Hey Arnold, Clarence, Steven Universe, Adventure Time and Star vs the Forces of Evil - are TV children programmes "with homosexual themes".

If a show's creator said a character is gay – in the way that JK Rowling after the conclusion of the Harry Potter series said that Prof Dumbledore is gay – that is enough for Kenya's censors to order a ban on a kids cartoon on MultiChoice's DStv platform.

The KFCB was specifically asked why content is banned that's not even being aired and isn't on-air currently.

The KFCB says its "investigations focused on both current and previous programmes that are not suitable for children. The fact that some of the programmes are 'no longer airing' does not negate the fact that they are unsuitable for children". 

KFCB: Cartoons introduce kids to deviant behaviour

The KFCB – that said it banned the cartoons because it believes that the Nickelodeon, Disney XD and Cartoon Network shows "are intended to introduce children to deviant behaviour" – was asked what this "deviant behaviour" is that it is referring to, and also how this children's programming is doing that.

The KFCB didn't offer up any explanation or clarity, and in response to the question says that it is "mandated to regulate film and broadcast content to protect children from exposure to inappropriate content. Promoting cultural and moral values through also constitutes our mandate."

The KFCB that said the cartoons are against its "understanding of the institution of family", was also asked what the KFCB's definition of family is and when this definition was decided upon.

The KFCB says Kenya's constitution "only recognizes marriage between people of the opposite sex. From these references to the Kenya Constitution 2010, it is clear that homosexuality is not part of the culture, national values and the concept of a family."

"Further, it is important to note that South Africa is the only African country that recognizes same sex marriages. Indeed, the Kenyan government has a responsibility to protect children against harmful exposure to negative media content and this is what the KFCB is doing as part of its mandate."

Why Kenya’s censors banned each of the 7 cartoons

The KFCB was asked for the specific reasons why it banned each of the 7 cartoons on Nickelodeon, Disney XD and Cartoon Network.

Here is exactly what the KFCB said: 

Loud House (Nickelodeon on DStv)

The animated TV show airs on weekdays between 11:00 and 15:00 and features a married, inter-racial same-sex couple, Howard and Harold McBride parenting ten year old Clyde McBride.

While the program does not make a big deal out of the fact that this couple is homosexual, we find that this is a veiled attempt by the creators of the show to pass off this kind of relationship as normal. 

The homosexual couple debuted on the show in July 2016 in an episode dubbed “Overnight Success” in supporting roles but they have continued to constantly feature in the show that Nickelodeon has rated 7+.

Star vs the Forces of Evil (Disney XD on DStv)

A gay couple share a kiss in one of the episodes of the animated program in the children’s network. In yet another episode, two lesbian couples are seen cuddling.

The Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon on DStv)

The creators of the program state that the star and her co-star both of whom are female cartoons are a lesbian couple. In one scene they are seen walking through a portal into the spirit world for an implied romantic vacation.

Adventure Time (Cartoon Network on DStv)

The creator reveals that two main characters, Princess Bubblegum and vampire Marceline are in a gay relationship.

Steven Universe (Cartoon Network on DStv)

The show depicts two lesbian couples Ruby and Sapphire and Pearl and Rose Quartz.  The creator of the show explains the reason as to why she put gay characters in the series is that you can’t wait for children to grow up to let them know that queer people exist.

Gravity Falls (Disney XD on DStv)

The jokes in the cartoons are adult oriented for example one cartoon calls the other ‘bitch’, porn watching and gay cops.

Hey Arnold! (Nickelodeon on DStv)

Arnold is taught the wonders of sexual stamina and given stories about sex. Arnolds grandpa had a dick for a head – head is in the shape of a penis and somewhere in the scene there is a poster written "try my sausage".

Here’s the real facts about the 7 cartoons:

Loud House

The KFCB is so uninformed that it missed the announcement of self-censorship by VIMN Africa in mid-2016 when Viacom International "assured" DStv subscribers that it won't be broadcasting on television anywhere in Africa the "Overnight Success" episode on the Nickelodeon channel featuring the flash-appearance of two gay dads. 

The KFCB has now banned the Loud House series over an episode that was never even broadcast in Kenya in the first place.

Star vs the Forces of Evil

It's strange that the KFCB would ban a cartoon it couldn't possibly have seen yet. 

Disney XD just started showing the second season of the show on the channel across Africa and is now at episode 8. It will be quite a while before episode 20, "Just Friends", makes it to actual TV screens that does contain a fleeting kiss – if you know where to pause and look closely in the background.

Legend of Korra

The KFCB decided to ban The Legend of Korra since the creator, after the conclusion of the show in 2014, said that two characters are lesbian. Yet nothing romantic during the duration of the show was ever shown on-screen. Legend of Korra is banned although it isn't even showing on Nickelodeon currently.

Adventure Time

The KFCB decided to ban Adventure Time on fake reasons and alleges that "the creator said the two main characters are in a gay relationship". 

Not only are Princess Bubblegum and Marceline not the main characters as the KFCB alleges, but the creator, Pendleton Ward, has never said anything to that effect ever. The closest is actress Olivia Olsen voicing the character of Marceline, at a book signing, who said that in her personal opinion Marceline is likely lesbian but that the show will never venture into that territory since "in some countries where the show airs, it's sort of illegal".

Steven Universe

The KFCB found a correct quote from an interview with the website Movie Pilot with the show's creator. Ruby and Sapphire are indeed lesbians, according to the show's creator, but viewers will have to watch the show with that specific subtext to see that. The KFCB however seems to read a lot of fanfiction. Are Pearl and Rose gay? Nobody knows for certain and the show has never said that.

Gravity Falls

Explaining why it banned this cartoon, the KFCB again lies and says a character calls someone "bitch". Nobody says this to another character and the word is never spoken. What happens is that a character called Grunkle Stan once says "son of a ..." before the scene cuts away. The KFCB also lies when it says the characters watch porn. It's never happened. The show also finished in 2016 already. Like The Legend of Korra, the show's creator, after the conclusion of the series, said Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durand are gay, although it is never ever mentioned or explored in the show.

Hey Arnold

The KFCB says "Arnold is taught the wonders of sexual stamina and given stories about sex". Nowhere in the series does that ever happen. As proof of these and other simply not there things, the KFCB seems to have found a website that tries to find so-called "dirty jokes" in the cartoon.

The KFCB says Arnold's grandpa "had a dick for a head – head is in the shape of a penis and somewhere in the scene there is a poster written 'try my sausage". To see a penis you have to take a pen and draw on grandpa's face in just the right way to create a penis, and you won't believe how a penis will then pop out. It's real, definitive proof according to the KFCB that Hey Arnold isn't meant for children. Luckily Hey Arnold isn't even on Nickelodeon currently, so the KFCB didn't have to bother to watch actual episodes before banning the cartoon.

Channel24 proudly supports LGBTQI rights. For more information on gay rights visit the Triangle Project - a non-profit human rights organisation offering professional services to ensure the full realisation of constitutional and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, their partners and families.

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