Kenya has a vibrant media, among the most respected in Africa. The media have continued to play a crucial role in the socio-economic development of the nation through disseminating information, holding a mirror to society, providing a platform for civic engagement, and holding the government to account.
Over the past year, the media have marked a major milestone in promoting democracy and good governance by holding the first-ever presidential debates just before the General Election in March. The series of debates provided an opportunity for Kenyans to analyse and scrutinise the candidates’performance records, election promises, and development plans. A number of new publications and broadcast programmes have been launched, helping to diversify the content available to the public.
The media industry continues to grow, taking advantage of new technologies and the people’s increased access to better mobile and internet connectivity. As county governments came into being, the media responded with newsgathering and content strategies that focus on the new regions.
The industry has recorded tremendous growth since independence in 1963. From only one broadcaster the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Initially the Kenya Broadcasting Service), inherited from the colonial government – the country today boasts 386 FM radio frequencies, 46 in Nairobi alone, and 105 TV frequencies allocated to state and private operators.
From just a handful of publications at independence, the media now publish 19 daily and weekly titles across the country.
The huge investment poured into Kenya’s information and communication technology (ICT) over the past few years has paid dividend through the mobile phone revolution, which in turn has drastically altered,not just banking and money transfer, but also the dissemination and consumption of media content. With mobile services penetration standing at nearly 80 per cent and more than 30 million subscribers registered on mobile networks, more and more users are utilising technology to access the Internet and Watch or listen to TV and radio broadcasts, thus creating business opportunities for the media.
The media have also boosted their revenue and audience participation through SMS, confirming this platform as a fertile ground for the media’s interaction with their audiences.
Internet use is also on the rise. Many broadcasters have taken advantage of these huge developments in mobile phone technology to package their content to specifically target people’s needs.
This has transformed the speed of collecting, compiling, and publishing or broadcasting information. In the past, journalists in far – flung areas would file their reports via telephone or telex and the photographs would be sent by bus to the headquarters of the media houses in Nairobi. This meant that some stories and photos ended up being published several days after the news event.
Kenya Media Industry overview
Ahead of the March 4, 2013 elections, the media engaged in campaigns to promote peace. In December 2012, one local radio station in Nairobi, Ghetto FM, brought its peace initiative to the heart of the city by broadcasting from a glass house pitched in the central business district for a week.
There have been a number of media products and programmes launched in the past year. In September 2012, Citizen TV tapped into the youth market by launching the Great Debaters Contest for high school students. Kiss TV revamped its news offering by introducing a prime time news programme, ISO at 7, anchored by veteran broadcaster, John Sibi – Okumu. However, the operation was short-lived and the department closed down in August 2013, with the Radio Africa Group management citing financial constraints.
Not to be left behind, the Chinese launched their CCTV Africa service at the beginning of 2012 with its headquarters in Nairobi and recruited a number of Kenyan media personnel. By the end of the same year the Chinese publication, China Daily, had introduced an African edition, also published in Kenya. In May 2013, KTN launched a Sheng programme for news, Hapa Kule, targeting the youth, while Citizen TV unveiled a new talk show in April 2013, the African Leadership Dialogue, is aimed at giving insights on Africa.
The Kenyan print media were also busy with new services for their readers. The Standard Media Group was first off the block with a new weekly sports magazine, Game Yetu, launched in November 2012.
Nation Media Group followed with a new bi-weekly sports paper, SportOn, which was unveiled in January 2013 but has since shifted to an online edition.
The Standard Group came up with a new human interest publication, The Nairobian and NMG followed suit with Nairobi News The People newspaper also launched its revamped Sunday edition after a four – year absence from the market. The aggressive editorial and marketing efforts came at a time when print media around the world continued to face competition from other types of media.
Newsstands are now awash with print media products, which are divided into five categories: dailies, Weeklies, monthlies, bi-monthlies, and quarterlies. The publications that have continued to be accessible to Kenyan readers in the past year include;
Business Daily, Daily Nation, People Daily, Taifa Leo, The Standard, The Star.
Coast Week, Financial Post, Inside Kenya Today (started in August 2009 by the Department of Communication and Public Information), Standard on Sunday, Sunday Nation, The Standard Group ‘s The County Weekly, which in August 2013 was replaced by The Counties, The EastAfrican, The Sunday Express, The Weekly Citizen, Truth Weekly.
Business Monthly EA, Business Woman, CEO Africa, CIO East Africa, Drum, Kenyan Kitchen, Management, The Nairobi Law Monthly, Parents, Passion, Prime Parenting, Small and Medium Enterprise, Sports Monthly, The Diplomat, The Insyder, True Love, Finance, Healthy Woman, Salon, Motors, African Woman, Africa Medical Review, Animal Welfare, Business Post, Construction News, Destination, Travel, Expression Today, Focus on Getaways, Focus on Property, Homes Kenya, Nairobi Business, Pregnant, Sacco Review, Smartlife, Swara, Agrolink, Corporate Intelligence Africa, The Exchange, Property Zone, Think Business, Tupike, Twende Tu, Unique Homes
Biashara Leo, Business Africa, Business Post, Go Places, Safari Digest, Sokoni Regional and county publications The Sun (Kabamet), The Eye/Mwangaza (Siaya), The Eastern Star (Machakos), Ngao (Nakuru), Sauti (Kericho), Sauti ya Gusii (Kisii), Nuru (Isiolo), Nyota ya Magharibi (Vihiga), Sauti ya Pwani (Mombasa), Maarifa (Murang’a), Habari (Garissa), The Truth and Education News (Nairobi), Kajiado County News and Narok County News, The Link (Migori), South Rift Times (Kericho), the Nyanza Weekly (Kisumu), Horizon Weekly (Bungoma), Trans Nzoia Magazine, Trans Nzoia Times. Slopes Weekly, County Leader, Highlands Tribune, and Business Express are found in Central Kenya, while The Anchor is in Machakos. Imenti News, Wembe, and County Focus are found in Meru, while Mombasa has Coast Week and Pambazuko.
Media Associations in Kenya
There are many institutions that have continued to serve the interests of the media in Kenya. The media are regulated by the Media Council of Kenya and its Complaints Commission, the Communications Commission of Kenya, and the Registrar of Books and Newspapers for print media.
Other professional media organisations include the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUI), the Media Owners Association, the Kenya Editors Guild, the Association of Media Women in Kenya, the Kenya Parliamentary journalists’ Association, the Foreign Correspondents Association of East Africa, the Kenya Business Writers Association, the Kenya Correspondents Association, the Science Reporters Association, the Kenya Sports Writers Association, the Environmental Journalists Association, and the Kenya Association of Designers and Illustrators.
Kenya News Agency
The Kenya News Agency is the only national wire service in the country. It has correspondents in all parts of the country and collects and transmits news and features to its subscribers.
The media played a resistance and awareness role during the struggle against colonialism. When independence was attained in 1963, KNA was established as a domestic news agency to help in the task of promoting national unity, peace, and development. KNA continues to churn out news and information from the regions and is in the process of digitising its vast archive of photographs.
Growth of the media in Kenya
Over the past 10 years, the media industry has been among the fastest growing sectors in Kenya, with rising demand from media users whose trust in the industry continues to grow.
However, Kenya has a relatively recent history of media dating back to 1895 with the publication of the quarterly Taveta Chronicle by the Christian Missionary Society.
In introducing literacy, the early missionaries aimed to equip their new Christian converts with the ability to read the Bible. The content in the early press was, therefore, mainly religious in nature. The Taveta publication was later followed by two other church publications, Kikuyu News produced by the Church of Scotland and Wathiomo Mukinyu published by the Catholic Church, which also launched Rafiki Yetu. The earliest secular publication was The East Africa and Uganda Mail (1899-1904).
The oldest newspaper in Kenya is The Standard, which began life as the African Standard, a Weekly published in Mombasa in 1901. Set up by Asian trader Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, it was sold four years later to serve the interests of the white settler community, who moved it to Nairobi, turned it into a daily paper, and renamed it the East African Standard. Once the colonial powers had partitioned Africa and established their administrations, the new settler authorities soon focused on controlling and inﬂuencing the development of the media in Kenya.
However, the Africans too responded in kind. As the struggle for independence picked up pace, African nationalists in Kenya also began to print their own publications to advance their cause between the mid 1920s and the 1950s. By 1946 there were 17 independent newspapers, mainly by African nationalists agitating for independence. These publications were used to air grievances against the colonial authorities and mobilise Africans in the struggle for liberation.
The newspapers included Jomo Kenyatta’s Muigwithania, which was launched in 1928, Ramogi and Nyanza Times, which was printed by Oginga Odinga, and Paul Ngei’s Uhuru wa Mwafrika. Among the pioneer titles was Tangazo, published by Harry Thuku in 1921.
When the colonial government declared a state of emergency in Kenya in 1952, all African newspapers were banned.
When the emergency ban was lifted and it became clear that the independence of Kenya was inevitable, the colonial authorities allowed the publication of regional newspapers and even sponsored some, including the Dholuo publication Ramogi, Thome in Kikamba, and Kihoto in Gikuyu.
The oldest Kiswahili newspaper was Baraza, which was born on September 17, 1930. It started as a weekly national newspaper and was sold around East Africa. When the Second World War broke out, there was a need for a newspaper that could be read and understood by the masses in East Africa and particularly by the service men fighting in the war. In the early days, Baraza was published in tabloid form. Most of the news items, with the exception of letters to the editor, were published in both English and Kiswahili. Its pioneer editor was Francis Khamisi.
Broadcast media in Kenya started in 1927 with the establishment of a radio station by the colonial government. The first English radio broadcasting, which served only whites and Asians, went on air in 1928. It was not until 1953 that the African Broadcasting Service was established. The radio programming served the colonial interests of supporting the war effort during the Second World War and as a propaganda tool against the Mau and the nationalist movement in 1952.
The African Languages Broadcasting Service transmitted programmes in eight languages only – Dholuo, Kikuyu, Kikamba, Kipsigis, Nandi, Luhya, Kiswahili, and Arabic. In 1954 the Kenya Broadcasting Service (KBS) was established with regional stations in Mombasa (Sauti ya Mvita), Nyeri (Mount Kenya Station), and Kisumu (Lake Station). By the 1950s, the African Inland Church’s Bibilia Husema Studios had launched Radio Kijabe, which remained the sole privately owned station in Kenya for many years.
Two years before independence, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) was formed and took over broadcasting services from the government-controlled KBS. However, through an Act of Parliament in July 1964, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation was nationalized and became the Voice of Kenya (VoK). But in 1989 another Act of Parliament saw the broadcaster drop its VoK name and revert to its earlier title of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.
Television broadcasting in Kenya was started in 1962 and transitioned to colour in 1978. KBC continued to be the only TV broadcaster in Kenya until the arrival of the Kenya Television Network (KTN) in 1990.
Sixty years after the first secular newspaper, The East African Standard, was launched, the Nation appeared on the scene on March 20, 1960, published by the Nation group. The group had been formed a year earlier after buying a Kiswahili weekly paper, Taifa (which was started in 1959) from a former colonial district commissioner. In 1964 Hillary Ng’weno became the first African editor-in-chief of the Daily Nation. The pioneer editorial staff at Taifa included John Keen, who was head of its news operations, and W.W. Awori.
Kenyan Media After Independence
The Kenyan media’s agenda changed at independence in 1963 from one of liberation concerns to a new focus on the development of the young nation.
Many African countries emerging from colonialism saw the media as an important tool to use or manipulate in driving their development goals.
So, it was not surprising that relations between the media and the new independent Kenya government soon soured and by 1968 the Government had enacted the Official Secrets Act with the aim of stemming a series of leaks that made the Government vulnerable.
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When President Kenyatta’s relationship with his Vice-President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, broke down in 1969, forcing Odinga’s eventual exit from office, the media’s engagement with the Government also took a new turn. The Government’s intolerance of the emergence of a free media was evidenced in the banning of its own publication, the Pan African Magazine.
The Church continued to have a presence in the Kenyan media through Target/Lengo, which was published by the National Christian Council of Kenya (now known as National Council of Churches of Kenya – NCCK). Among its earlier editors was Bishop Henry Okullu, who later became a strong critic of the Government.
On radio, the popular KBC programme, Je, Huu Ni Ungwana? Which has become synonymous with its veteran presenter, Leonard Mambo Mbotela, was first aired in 1966 and later developed into a television show. The programme addresses common courtesy among Kenyans.
One of the most vibrant periods in Kenya’s media history was the 1970s and 1980s, which was marked by the arrival of many iconic publications. Among them was the Weekly Review, which was set up in 1975 by Hillary Ng’weno.
The weekly, which was Kenya’s longest-running political publication, had a reputation for strong analytical and investigative journalism. Ng’weno also launched the Nairobi Times as a quality afternoon newspaper. It was later acquired by the then ruling Kenya African National Union (Kanu) party and renamed the Kenya Times with Philip Ochieng as pioneer editor.
In 1973, the satirical magazine, Joe, was launched, again courtesy of Ng’weno working with journalist Terry Hirst. It was sold widely in many parts of Africa until it folded in the late 1970s.
Other publications that came up included the Nairobi Law Monthly, started in 1982 by lawyer Gitobu Imanyara. The Financial Review and the Economic Review were also established, contributing to the growth of business journalism in Kenya. In the same year, Kenya’s first – ever community radio station was launched. Homa Bay Community Radio, which is also recognized as the first community radio station in Africa, started broadcasting in May 1982, but after operating in fits and starts, was dismantled approximately two and a half years later, in 1984. At its inception, Homa Bay Community Radio was a novelty, with its founders envisioning that the airwaves should be used for community development.
The 1980s proved to be a difficult time for Kenyan media following the 1982 coup attempt, which led to severe restrictions. As Kenya became a one party state by law, media freedom space shrunk and a number of publications were closed down and some journalists, such as Salim Lone, ﬂed the country.
This atmosphere saw the emergence of an “alternative” media to fill the void left by the mainstream media, which had been cowed into self censorship by the authorities.
Publications such as Mwakenya and Pambana came on the scene, while some Church publications took an increasingly critical tone against the government. As a result, many publications, including Beyond magazine, the Financial Review, the Nairobi Law Monthly, and Development Agenda were banned in the late 1980s as the clamour for a multi-party political system gathered pace.
One of the champions of multi-partyism was politician and entrepreneur Kenneth Matiba, who launched the weekly newspaper, The People, in 1992. It was later turned into a daily and was followed by a Sunday edition in December 1998. Between the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the media continued to reﬂect the social-political agenda of the day, which mainly centred on the push to introduce multi-party politics.
When this goal was achieved in 1991, ownership of media expanded and the content became bolder to the extent that a popular comedy act, Redykyulass, was formed in 1998. It was broadcast on Nation TV and regularly began satirising President Moi while his government’s excesses were also lampooned. In the mid – 1980s, the pioneering Hillary Ng’weno was back at it, this time switching from print to broadcasting. His STV television channel became the first fully Kenyan-owned indigenous TV station in Kenya. A few years later in 1989, the Kenya Times Media Trust, the publishers of Kenya Times, established the Kenya Television Network (KTN) TV. Under experienced editor Herman Igambi and unfettered by State ownership, KTN pioneered a new brand of television journalism and its prime time news bulletin became a daily appointment viewing for many Kenyans.
Igambi started his career at KBC, rising to become head of news. At KBC he was famous for chairing the weekly TV press conference programme that featured several leading journalists, including Mutegi Njau of the Nation Media Group. Igambi was the pioneer editor of KTN, where he served for many years and later became the editor-in-chief of Citizen Radio and TV.
With the liberalisation of the airwaves in the early 1990s came a proliferation of mass media, starting with Capital FM in 1996. New TV stations also came into being, including Nation TV in 1999, which later became NTV. KTN, which by this time had been in existence for 10 years, continued its pioneering role by launching a youth – focused programme, Str8up, in 2007. Two years later it became the first local station to run live trading data from the Nairobi Stock Exchange. The Standard Group, which owns KTN, also launched an F M station, Radio Maisha, in May 2010.
In 2004, the Government created the Office of Public Communication to address the media on critical policy issues weekly. Three years later, the Media Council of Kenya was formed to regulate the media and journalists followed by the Communications Commission of Kenya, which was created to regulate the telecommunication and broadcasting sectors.
Major Media Events in Kenya
The biggest event covered by the media in the past 50 years was the birth of a new independent Kenya in
1963. The January 1 edition of the Nation proclaimed 1963 a year of “peril and promise” while quoting Kanu President Jomo Kenyatta assuring White settlers that if they were willing to identify with the Africans, they would be Welcome in the Kenya of tomorrow. Twelve months later, on 12 December, Jomo Kenyatta was cheered by a quarter-of-a-million people at Jamhuri Park as he became independent Kenya’s first president.
In 1965, Mr. Pio Gama Pinto, a member of the Kenya House of Representatives and an outspoken critic of colonialism who had served in detention, was shot dead by three gunmen outside his home in Westlands.
On 1 December, 1961, the East African Common Services Organisation was born after the first meeting in Arusha between presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Milton Obote of Uganda, and Jomo Kenyatta, becoming the only common market of its kind in Africa. In 1967, it was replaced by the East African Community (EAC), which collapsed in 1977. It was revived in 1999 with the original membership of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Burundi and Rwanda joined in 2009.
One of Kenya’s darkest moments occurred on July 5, 1969, when the Economic Planning and Development minister Tom Mboya, was shot dead as he left a chemist on Government Road (now Moi Avenue). The media reported President Kenyatta expressing his profound grief and sorrow at the loss of a “man of unique qualities”.
In 1970, Kenyan track hero Kipchoge Keino received a gold medal from Queen Elizabeth after winning the 1,500 metres race in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland. The media reported how he had ignored death threats to win the race. Kipchoge proved himself the world’s best middle-distance runner when he won another gold medal, this time in the 3,000 metres steeplechase in a new record at the Munich Olympics.
President Kenyatta opened one of sub-Saharan Africa’s tallest buildings of the time, the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, on 11 September, 1974.
Kiswahili received a boost in 1974 when President Kenyatta declared it the country’s national language and that it would be used in parliamentary proceedings and other government functions.
Kenya’s worst air disaster took place in October 1964. The media reported that the Lufthansa jumbo jet with 139 passengers crashed on take-off from Nairobi Airport, killing 59 passengers. The flight was on its way to Johannesburg.
The hand of political assassination revisited Kenya again when on 12 March, 1975, the body of former assistant minister J.M. Kariuki was found in the Ngong Hills. The media reported how police had to use truncheons to disperse angry students who marched through the streets of Nairobi to protest at the killing of the politician popularly known as JM.
In June 1977, the East African Community collapsed after the three member states failed to raise the money need to keep it running. With the death of some of the EAC institutions, including East African Airways, Kenya launched its own airline, Kenya Airways, on February 4, 1977, with an inaugural ﬂight from London.
The year 1978 was the end of an era in Kenya as the founding father of the nation, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, died on August 22 in Mombasa. The press reported how Kenya came to a halt as the news spread around the country. The Government declared 30 days of mourning and Vice-President Daniel arap Moi was sworn in as president pending elections.
The 1980s were a turbulent period in the world, with terrorist attacks and assassinations. Kenya too had its share of troubles. On New Year’s Eve in 1980, 16 people were killed and more than 100 injured when a terrorist bomb tore through the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi.
In 1981, the media reported how senior officials of the ruling party Kanu, Robert Matano and Justus ole Tipis, exchanged blows in Parliament following a disagreement over Kanu’s clearance of an election candidate.
On June 9, 1982, Kenya became a one-party state after a constitutional amendment was passed anonymously by a full house.
One of the biggest events and stories of the early 1980s was the attempted coup carried out by elements of the Kenya Air Force from Nairobi and Nanyuki. The press reported that the coup was quickly defeated by forces loyal to President Moi. The rebels had seized the Voice of Kenya studios to announce the overthrow of the government before they were flushed out and the station recaptured by troops that killed 70 rebels.
Another key event that received huge coverage was the Judicial Inquiry into allegations of abuse of office levelled against Constitutional Affairs minister Charles Njonjo. After 109 days of hearings, which ended on August 17, 1984, Njonjo was found guilty and expelled from Kanu. However, President Moi later pardoned him on grounds of age.
The 1990s kicked off with yet another tragedy in Kenya. On 16 February, the mutilated and burnt remains of Kenya’s Foreign Affairs minister Dr Robert Ouko, were found in thickets close to his Koru home after the minister had gone missing for four days. Dr Ouko’s death sparked riots and looting, with several people injured in running battles between the police and civilians.
July 7, 1990, will be remembered as the day of the worst violence since the 1982 coup attempt. The press reported how forceful measures by security forces to prevent a banned pro-multiparty public rally from taking place at Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi turned ugly. The riots spread to a number of other towns and left 20 people dead and many others injured.
More tragedy engulfed Kenya eight years later, when Nairobi was rocked by a terrorist bomb attack at the US embassy in August 1998. More than 200 people died and hundreds more were injured.
Fifteen years later, terrorists revisited Kenya on 21 September, 2013 when a group of armed men believed to be from the Al – Shabaab group invade the upmarket shopping mall, Westgate in Westlands, taking many people hostage. The tragic incident kept Kenyan media on their toes as they provided almost continuous coverage of the incident in which about 70 people were killed and dozens more injured. Just a few weeks prior to the Westgate attack, the media had been kept busy by another major incident where a section of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport caught fire, destroying property and paralysing operations. The authorities quickly set up a make shift structure and the airport resumed operations as contractors worked round the clock to rebuild the damaged terminal.
Media Training in Kenya
The media in Kenya came under heavy criticism following the post-election violence of 2007/ 8, with some media houses being accused of inciting the violence.
As a result, training of journalists became a major feature of the media in the past five years. Inadequate training had frequently been cited as the main reason for low professional standards in journalism.
Media training in Kenya has grown tremendously since independence, with the mushrooming of institutions that offer a variety of courses ranging from certificate-level and diplomas to degrees and post- graduate courses.
The Media Council of Kenya is working towards harmonising the standards of media training in the country.
The main training institutions include the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, Tangaza College, University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Moi University, Egerton University, Maseno University, Masinde Muliro University, Daystar University, St Paul’s University, Catholic University of Eastern Africa, and United States International University.
One of the oldest media training institutions, the University of Nairobi’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, now offers a doctoral degree programme.
The Nation Media Group has established the Media Lab, a training programme to build the capacity of potential recruits and staff.
The Standard Group is also developing a similar scheme.
The British government, through its High Commission in Nairobi, has also been among the key institutions helping to build the capacity of Kenyan media. The Chevening scholarships are the UK government’s global programme, funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partner organisations. The scholarships are awarded to outstanding established or emerging leaders to pursue a one-year Master’s degree programme in any subject and at any of the UK’s leading universities. A number of Kenyan journalists have benefited from this programme, including Mark Kapchanga and Raphael Tuju.