Gerald Langiri
February 27 / 2012

A question was posed on actors.co.ke facebook page seeking to find out if Kenyan actors are public figures or not. It read “Concerning question that needs to be answered: Are Actors, more so Kenyan actors, Public Figures? Or are there some who can fall into that category and some who cannot.?

In simple definition, a public figure is "A famous person whose life and behavior are the focus of intense public interest and scrutiny." If that is so, can one take for example, your facebook picture and post it in an article without your concent or mention your name in an article without your concent, after all you are a public figure or actors are not public figures?”

Answers came in and I have sampled a few here. A one Mary Chege had this to say: “Kenyan actors are not public figures, maybe because the media is not usually concerned about them, I mean they do not do stuff worth putting it out there i.e. newspaper. “

Alexandros Konstantaras said: “I like this question! Unfortunately in Kenya public figures, celebrities and artists are considered only the politicians, the TV and Radio presenters (?!?) and the singers. If you want my opinion its mainly because these categories provide mainly the scandals in Kenya. Plus the journalists here (except a couple of them) they do not seem to bother with actors much unless they are forced to write for actors who act in TV series of the station that their paper is linked to. Last but not least, are the actors themselves who try to avoid publicity with the fear of ruining their clean image. My suggestion is, if you want a star system create equally movies and scandals/gossips! And no matter what many Kenyans say: same faces are good! People cannot catch up with a new face every day? Funny but I almost never heard someone complaining about same singers or same politicians. Its only actors they have issues with.”

Irene Achieng Ayimba said: “They are by all means, that is why I do not understand when others blame the public for reacting to them or their stage names and yet it is out of choice that they are acting, forgetting that the same public grants you mileage by letting you into their houses every time you invade their screens.”

Lawrence Kemaland said: “Why would you or anyone want to be a public figure? Just because you have mastered a few lines on the script or appeared on TV or paper where most people consider it as a 2nd heaven? To be a public figure according to me it is a responsibility and to acquire that, you have to be self made and a person of high integrity do not just be someone people can watch be somebody that other people can look up to.”

Lawrence came under abit of scrutiny with his answer from the responses he got below:

TK Ted Kitana said: “Lawrence just wants to see how many people will comment on his clear lack of knowledge about actors.”

Wilfred Olwenya Maina added “that is the problem Lawrence, you have come up with your own definition of a public figure (according to me.....')Could you, kindly, give us examples of some of the people you regard as public figures and we can know what to borrow from them?”

As I usually write articles that touch on Kenyan actors and its industry, I sought out legal advice on the subject before I too find myself in the wrong side of the law when it comes to who and what I can write freely about and who or what I need to seek permission 1st. Also because I have received a few threats of defamation from all the writing I do. Yes, like many of the people who commented above, I too thought actors are public figures for the sheer fact that they are always in the public eyes.

However, according to Cap: I do not remember chapter: It was too complicated Line: It is not important, in the true sense of the words, Public figures are people who hold public offices and have an influence on public matters and their positions or jobs can be influenced by public opinion. They basically are in the public’s mercies. Actors and acting falls in the private sector. For example, I am currently acting as Don the Lawyer in the ongoing soap opera called Mali which is a show created by Alison Productions. It is the production house that will determine if I will go on acting in the show or not. Not the public or the fans. Yes the fans can have a say or two, if my acting is bad and that in return can influence whether I remain on the show or not. However, it is not the public decision to keep me in it or out of it.

Having said that, Kenyan actors, for the sheer fact that are in peoples living rooms and in the public eye doing shows and they can get well known, they are susceptible to critics. The criticism however must be framed in a manner not to portray malice. I cannot for example say “Gerald Langiri is a thief” unless I have proof and evidence he actually is a thief because without the proof, the person making those allegations can be sued for defamation (issuance of a false statement about another person, which causes that person to suffer harm). I could however say “I think Gerald Langiri is a thief because…” which makes that statement more of an opinion than anything else. The law does not have anything against freedom of speech and making opinions.

Now, one might argue that we have people not holding public offices and are public figures for example, Ms.Kenya. Yes, she qualifies to be a public figure because apart from being the most beautiful woman in Kenya, she has duties and responsibilities that affect the public. That goes to say that, public figures have a responsibility to uphold be it in social, political or spiritual work as long as they do have people to answer to and people looking upto to them. Key word being, they are INFLUENTIAL.

As usual, the law is never absolute and at times it can confuse you the way it did me ,when I was told,” A person can become an "involuntary public figure" as the result of publicity, even though that person did not want or invite the public attention. For example, people accused of high profile crimes”

So there you go, with all that information, one can conclude that Kenyan actors are not public figures unless they partake in influential activities that will elevate them from that “actor alone” status. Which therefore means, if one is to use your name (mostly in bad light or with malice without your consent) they are breaking the law. On the other hand, anything you say or post in a public forum or site for example, Facebook, can be used without your consent because it is in the public domain. In simple terms, one can take that picture of you drunk and half naked at that party and write an article on the bad behaviors you may have without any legal implications on the person writing it because, he or she did not break into your house to get it.

Kenyan actors need to wake up and take up activities that influence people apart from just acting if they are to be highly regarded. We may complain that its only Ministers and a special few that are highly regarded yet Kenyan actors are left behind and that is because, we have left ourselves behind. Oliver Litondo is an actor I would have considered a public figure in my books, yet the name alone did not sound at all familiar to the lawyer I was talking to. After explaining who he was, she replied he can be termed a celebrity but not a public figure. There is a difference.

Your image is equally as important. Social media is now as influential as word of mouth. The funny accolades and names that you give yourselves to sound hip and cool could be another reason why you attend auditions and no one knows you. You call yourself Cherrat Languire on facebook and at an audition you introduce yourself as Gerald Langiri. No one will know the latter as they are not used to that name. One thing preached about marketing yourself is to use facebook, twitter and social media site to market you. You can only do that if you portray the right image. Those am friends with on facebook read my statuses and may think I am a joker which is not a bad assumption as I always write things I would consider funny. It however does not mean am a joke. It just means I love humor. So what you try to portray and what you dish out is as important as preparing for an audition.

In conclusion, I challenge Kenyan actors to take initiative in giving back to the public. Even if it is not to become public figures but I believe it is about time we did so because, believe it or not, there are people looking up to us. I decided to take baby steps and start by writing articles that will hopefully touch another actor or upcoming actors in our industry, what are you doing?.

Written by :Gerald Langiri


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