Is Journalism in Kenya Sinking to the Dregs?
In recent times, when I turn on the television, I am not sure whether I am watching the news or a travesty of the same in the name of a glorified cat-walk of beautiful men & women dressed up in dashing tunics and layers of make-up smiling before our media screens telling us what we should care about.

I fear for journalism in this country for many reasons and that is why I write this article today, to highlight why I flinch at the thought that the deterioration of one of society’s key institutions will be to our detriment sooner than later. I believe the role of any writer is to unearth the realities that the general public would not otherwise see and weave them together for the greater good.

It is no secret that mainstream media in Kenya is far from politically neutral and this in itself is enough to stir concern. But no journalist would ever write a story about themselves, would they?

A quick recap of the major mainstream media houses in Kenya: The Nation Media Group (NMG), K24 T.V., Citizen T.V. (Royal Media Services), the Kenya Television Network (KTN), and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).

Not to delve too deep on matters consociation, let us quickly skim through the ownership of these media houses, their board constitutions and hence implied affiliations.

Uhuru Kenyatta appoints Olive Mugenda to JSC

The Nation Media Group (NMG) is owned by the Aga Khan Foundation, founded in 1959 by his Highness the Aga Khan. At face value this seems okay, after all, the foundation is more or less an autonomous entity.

But when we take a look at the board members of NMG we see some familiar faces; allow me to pick one – Professor Olive Mugenda. Prof. Mugenda served as the Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University (a public university) and was later [1]appointed by the current President, Uhuru Kenyatta, early this year to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

This may not mean anything and one can say she was vetted and therefore qualifies for the job. However, it is often the case that such nominations are done based on trust and a history of loyalty; I will let you ponder that. This notwithstanding, we recall that back in 2012 there were [2]articles written about the professor regarding an alleged involvement in scandal worth hundreds of millions of shillings tied to Equity Bank.

Two years ago, another [3]article emerged by Tuko News (an independent media house) claiming that Professor Mugenda was involved in yet another scandal. Note too that this article was done under the watch of Carole Kimutai who was then the Founding Editor of Tuko News, but now currently serves as the Managing Editor for The Standard Media Group which, as we will see below, leans more to a pro-government outfit.

Court hands businessman reprieve in Kari land dispute

On to the Kenya Television Network (KTN) founded by Jared Kangwana, a close ally of retired President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi for years. This affiliation was accentuated in a land donnybrook four years ago where Kangwana stated that the former [4]President had allocated the land to him.

Going by the former President’s endorsement of our current President in 1997 as KANU’s (Kenya National Union party) presidential flag-bearer, it would not be a far-fetched assumption that KTN and its mother company, Standard Media Group, leans more to the government.

Also, former Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) parastatal boss, Dr. Julius Kipng’etich, now sits as a board member of the Standard Media Group.

K24 T.V. is owned by the Kenyatta family to the best of the public’s knowledge; no need to say where their loyalties lie and the same goes for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) which is not only the pioneer media house in the country but also a parastatal ran by the government.

So, we are left with one more mainstream media house to look to for authentic unbiased journalism – Royal Media Services or, if you prefer, Citizen T.V.

I will use my media outlets to back Raila Odinga

In the 2013 general elections in Kenya, the owner of Royal Media Services, Samuel Kamau Macharia (popularly known S.K. Macharia), was seen standing next to the former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, in a press conference at which the election results were being contested. It doesn’t mean that he was supporting the former Prime Minister just because they shared a podium but it did leave one wondering why he was with him at the time.

Moments after the famous press briefing, several [5]articles arose from independent media houses claiming that he was, in fact, using his media house, Royal Media Services, to support the former Prime Minister’s election bid. Fast-forward to 2018, Royal Media Services conducted what is arguably the largest poaching drive in the industry’s history, literally milking-dry all their competitors, especially KTN and NTV (Nation T.V. of Nation Media Group).

Among those poached were KTN former Managing Editor, Joe Ageyo, whose new role is not clear yet given we have seen him intermittently reporting features for Citizen. Joe was also one of the 2 journalists who moderated the 2017 Presidential Debate alongside the then Nation T.V. Managing Editor, Linus Kaikai. It is worth noting too that Asha Mwilu, an award-winning journalist who worked closely with Joe during his stint as Managing Editor at KTN, was poached together with him to join Royal Media Services.

Another personality to note among the poached is Yvonne Okwara-Matole, from KTN. Again, like Joe, she too was a moderator for the running-mates’ debate in the 2017 general elections.

Judge Bars Police From Arresting Ntv’s Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo, and Ken Mijungu

Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo, and Ken Mijungu were [6]summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters (CID) for apparently refusing to comply to a directive regarding the airing of the former Prime Minister’s ‘swearing-in’ ceremony.

One month later, all of a sudden, journalist Larry Madowo [7]resigns from his post at the Nation Media Group; can these 2 incidences be conflated? Also, Linus Kaikai, who was accosted with him, resigned shortly after the summon at CID headquarters – more coincidence? Guess where Kaikai went to – [8]Royal Media Services – another coincidence?

News has been reduced to Insensitive Sensationalism

There’s a saying that ‘grand alliances between two great powers are generally the least effective’; could this apply to the seemingly infamous ‘handshake’ between our President and former Prime Minister?

Would it be so absurd to entertain the possibility that the shake-up in the media is connected to this? I turn on the news and all I see is tragedy; Moi Girls rape ordeal, recent demolitions by NEMA, hordes of corruption cases from that of the National Youth Service to the more recent of supposed misuse of office by the former governor of Nairobi.

I know when a dog bites a man it is no news and ‘news’ would only constitute the opposite but have we taken ‘bad news’ too far? There’s a running feature on Citizen T.V. called ‘Scars of Terror’ which claims to commemorate the 1998 bombings that took place in our country – how sensitive is such a title for victims of the incident, some of whom are to date are grappling with trauma and recovery.

Has our news been reduced to insensitive sensationalism of even the most tragic moments of our times? Do journalists care about telling the truth – honest stories from the same masses that the media fraternity serves, or is winning an award for a story more important for them?

Is mainstream journalism in our country slowly being co-opted by the political elite? I often reflect on these questions that face us stark in the face, I hope all Kenyans do as well.

[1] Uhuru appoints Olive Mugenda to JSC – https://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/2018/07/uhuru-free-swear-mugenda-two-others-jsc/

Uhuru nominates Olive Mugenda, Felix Koskei to Judicial Service Commission – https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2018/02/13/video-uhuru-nominates-olive-mugenda-felix-koskei-to-judicial-service_c1714109

[2] Olive Mugenda Sh 400 Million Corruption And The Kenyatta Family Linkhttp://nairobiwire.com/2012/11/olive-mugenda-sh-400-million-corruption.html

[3] Former Kenyatta University Vice-Chancellor Olive Mugenda has been accused of using a company in which she is a director to  buy property worth millions in Rwanda without approvals https://www.tuko.co.ke/156616-parliament-unearths-mega-scandal-former-ku-vcmugenda.html#156616

[4] Court hands businessman reprieve in Kari land dispute – https://mobile.nation.co.ke/news/Jared-Kangwana-Kari-Land-Dispute/1950946-2443944-format-xhtml-93n9qv/index.html

[5] I will use my media outlets to back Raila – https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2013/01/11/i-will-use-my-media-outlets-to-back-raila-sk-macharia_c724742

[6] Judge Bars Police From Arresting Ntv’s Kaikai, Madowo And Mijungu https://nairobinews.nation.co.ke/news/judge-bars-police-arresting-ntv-journalists/

[7] Larry Madowo lands new job days after resignation – https://www.sde.co.ke/article/2001275371/larry-madowo-lands-new-job-days-after-resignation

[8] Linus Kaikai still bags job at Royal Media even after State House called to block it: https://radiojambo.co.ke/linus-kaikai-still-bags-job-at-royal-media-even-after-state-house-called-to-block-it/

About the writer: Robert Mũnũku

Robert Munuku (b. 1984) is an award-winning independent visual artist, writer & filmmaker from Nairobi, Kenya. Munuku began visual art at an early age of 5 years old, encouraged & supported by his parents, Frank Munuku (father) & Assumpta Pierra Munuku (mother).
Later in his early 20’s Munuku learned digital art and fused the techniques with his previous preferred media (wood, paints, pencils, ink, etc.). In his mid-twenties, he learned how to use DSLR cameras and began self-teaching photography & cinematography until he got his first camera years later.
Munuku is also the Founder of Mau Mau Arts (began in 2014) which is an organization that seeks to create a strong network of independent visual artists, filmmakers & performing artists on the continent with the shared goal of independence and art-driven, community-based creative education.
Named after one of the groups who fought for Kenya’s independence, Mau Mau Arts believes that art is a powerful tool that can address social issues plaguing the country, such as corruption and poverty amongst others. Through workshops, street exhibitions and exchange programs, Mau Mau will connect creative artists with one another, building a network that hopefully expands in years to come.
After a while, Munuku felt he needed to pursue his real passion (art, creative writing & film) and therefore went ahead to form Mau Mau Arts as a way to unite creative individuals after seeking out ways to fill voids that were left gaping in the industry.
He later transitioned into film work with his first project being as a Producer of the short film Heartshot for the 2015 48 Hour Film Festival Nairobi and later Kaleidoscope (2016), a fantasy short film, where he worked as an Executive Producer, Screenwriter & Producer. From 2017, Munuku embarked on multiple projects some of which include documentary making, music & feature film production.

Here’s Robert Mũnũku’s Demo Showreel (2015-2018):

Also by Robert Mũnũku: My Letter to the President
Suggested read: Mr President: What is the Taste of Oppression…