Nairobi — Safaricom has become the first mobile service provider to announce tough new guidelines aimed at reining in negative political messages ahead of the next General Election.
Safaricom Corporate Affairs Director Nzioka Waita said guidelines will apply to all licensed content service providers seeking to communicate political messages to the electorate, on behalf of politicians through the use of various messaging services provided by Safaricom including Short Message Service (SMS).
"These guidelines apply only to bulk SMS which is sent by premium rate service providers," he emphasised.
"It applies to messages that you would receive from short codes or what you would receive from subscription services. It does not refer to SMS's sent between individuals, nor does it refer to messaging on social media networks because those are not within our sphere of control," he added.
Waita revealed that bulk SMS messages are in the sphere of their control because those messages are rooted through their systems in a store and forward message, so they have a chance to see and vet the content before it goes out to the public.
Safaricom has indicated that it will suspend or terminate contracts of Content Service Providers who fail to comply with the rules.
"Anybody who has a contract with Safaricom to provide premium rate services to the public will have to follow these contractual guidelines and we will not hesitate to terminate those contracts if these guidelines are not followed strictly or if anybody is found by any lawful agency to be involved in incitement or in spreading hate messaging that is likely to cause the sort of chaos that we've seen here in the past," he explained.
"We know we will take quite a public beating on some of these topics, but as a corporate citizen, we need to do what we need to do within the wider interest of the country," he stated.
The rules come just two days after The National Alliance (TNA) blew the whistle on conmen who were using the party's name to extort Kenyans and Waita acknowledged that it has forced Safaricom to introduce the guidelines a week earlier than they anticipated.
"That scenario sort of preceded the action we are taking because we were planning to publish these guidelines next week anyway, but the situation has prompted us to move a little bit faster then we had planned to," he revealed.
"There is a lot of pressure on us from content service providers who see big revenue opportunities in getting involved in the political message advertising space," he explained.
Secretary General Onyango Oloo said conmen had been sending text messages from short code 3839 asking for support for Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta's Presidential campaign.
"It as come to our notice that in the past one week, a certain group calling itself 'The Supreme Candidate Lobby Group' has been extorting money from members of the public using the name of Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta or purporting to be in association of him," he announced.
"This lobby group is going about pretending or purporting to conduct opinion polls through number 3839," he added.
Safaricom is seeking a consultative approach from various industry and electoral process players to develop a uniform platform to guide mobile technology based political messages.
"We welcome the involvement of the regulatory bodies in government because we feel that as custodians of the law, they would be in a much better position to receive reports and information from us," he said.
"We will simply take contractual action because that is within our power. We cannot take any legal action against anyone who does something of this nature and the most we can do as a good corporate citizen is to report this activity to the agencies that are lawfully empowered to take action," he explained.
Safaricom has invited the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the Registrar of Political Parties of Kenya to discuss political messaging ahead of the elections.
"We must confront the issue of mobile based political advertising as stakeholders before it is too late and certainly before it is used to cause chaos in Kenya," stated Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore.