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POLITICS AND MEDIA CONTROL IN KENYA: BATTLING FOR ENDORSEMENT OVER THE AIR WAVES

Uhuru Kenyatta - owns The People newspaper through Africa Holdings

Kenyans witnessed a cat throat competition in the local media at the height of the recent political campaigns, as politicians struggled to gain prominence, either through the media houses they own, or those owned by their business associates.

WHO OWNS THE MEDIA HOUSES?

Most of the media houses in Kenya are owned by politicians and these include; One Fm which is owned by Henry Kosgey’s family; Ali Mwakwere owns Kaya FM; Vice President elect William Ruto has a 49 percent stake in Kass FM; Charity Ngilu acquired Mbaitu FM the other day; and Raila Odinga owns Radio Umoja. Through TV Africa Holdings, the President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta acquired Matiba’s THE PEOPLE newspaper and Rose Kimotho’s Media Max while Standard Group is owned by retired President Daniel Moi together with his business associates.

ENTERTAINERS ENDORSE POLITICIANS

In an unprecedented turn of events the 2013 elections saw scores of the crème de le crème of Kenyan entertainers, both musicians and actors, publicly endorse their preferred presidential hopefuls. We saw among others the undisputed king of dance hall Redsan, CMB Prezzo  and leading Tahidi High actress Jolene endorse Raila Odinga and the likes of Jaguar, popularly known for his Kigeu Geu hit, together with gospel artist Ringtone and DNA, endorsing Uhuru Kenyatta.

Media influence was certainly believed by the various campaign teams to play a big role in determining how Kenyans vote. Having leading entertainers in a campaign could give the team an edge and this was an area that the Jubilee Secretariat appeared keen to invest in.

William Ruto – 49% stake in Kass FM

TNA KSH250 MILLION FOR ENDORSEMENTS

TNA, is said to have set aside at least Ksh250 million for endorsement alone and even went ahead to launch the Dunda Na Uhuru concerts where top artists in the industry performed. It’s reported that Jaguar made as much as Ksh500,000 for every performance during the elections campaigns. (Wait a minute, the guy made half a million in a day, in a performance not more than 30 minutes, yet my annual salary does not even amount to that!)

ROYAL MEDIA OR “CORD TV”?

The battle to control the media air waves took a different turn all together when businessman S.K. Macharia, owner of Royal Media Services, publicly endorsed Raila Odinga contrary to the expectations of the central Kenya community.

Royal Media Services is the biggest media house in Kenya which boasts of control in almost all the vernacular radio stations. Politics in Kenya is ethnic based hence the move by Macharia, which was perfectly democratic but did not augur well with most members of his community and some of them went ahead to brand citizen TV “Cord TV” on social media.

MEDIA MAX POACHES CITIZEN TV JOURNALISTS

Redsan - endorsed Raila Odinga

Now in what observers have come to view as ‘media genocide’, Media Max just a week after the IEBC declared Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of the 2013 elections, went ahead to poach 14 top notch journalists from Citizen TV to their K24 TV station which was in a sick bed following Jeff Koinange’s exit. The list included Jimmy Gathu, Ann Ngugi, Tom Mboya, Terry Ann Chebet, and Belinda Obura among others.

For the second time K24 was re-launched and rebranded and is now home to many new and sizzling local productions that puts the station on a par with the rest as far as local programming is concerned. Some of the new programmes in K24 include Maisha, Sirkal Ya Bibi and Tamashani.

MEDIA HOUSES BATTLE, A BLESSING IN DISGUISE?

With the Kenyan TV and film industry rapidly gaining prominence, the competition being witnessed in the local media seems to be a blessing to local actors and film makers as it stirs up demand for their talents, which means more opportunities for them even as the stations struggle to keep up with the government’s directive to air 40 per cent local content.

Jaguar - backed Uhuru Kenyatta.

“It’s business as usual if anything; this is something that should have happened a while ago. I think the media is enforcing what the government had ordered; that TV stations should increase local production airing by 40 per cent.But yes, it does mean more opportunities for film makers and the film industry and more viewership and recognition for actors and their efforts”, says Actor and Casting Director, Gerald Langiri.

A journalist is as good as his last story, we say, so being bought from your current station to the competing one means a fatter pay cheque and even better allowances, and in most cases the management is forced to look into the affairs of those who remain in order to keep them.

However, according to Saudat Said, a public relations graduate at the Mount Kenya University, journalists ought to be careful when making such moves, as they might end up losing their identities since they come as a brand.

Will Citizen TV survive the test of time and is K24 the next big thing in Kenyan media? Only time will tell.

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