Kenya's Most Authoritative Political Newspaper

Citizen Weekly

Monday, 15 September 2014

CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE AT PRESIDENT'S OWN MEDIA GROUP



Kenya’s first national newspaper to become free of charge, The People Daily, now reduced to plain PD, belongs to the Mediamax Network Ltd, a stable and company owned by the Kenyatta family. Unconfirmed reports say Equity Bank guru James Mwangi is also holding shares in the company using a proxy. He has been spotted at the headquarters raising eyebrows.

Mediamax’s brands include The People Daily, television station channel K24 and radio stations Kameme FM, Milele FM, Meru FM and Mayian FM among others. Milele FM is said to be the main stay of the media house. However, journalists at the establishment openly complain of bias and disparity in salaries with those at Milele being largely paid more than others. 

Milele FM is the brainchild of Granton Samboja who once worked for Radio Africa Group before starting his own outfit that has grown by leaps and bounds.
Media analysts say that since the departure of Vincent Ateya from the microphone to management, Milele FM has lost its morning listeners dramatically. Critics say those airing the morning sermon are not serious and play around with the word of God. Questions are being raised as to why the station cannot engage a respected man of God to spread the gospel rather than having clowns whose spirituality is doubted by listeners. 

And then, we have the same faces and voices in morning sermon airing the programme Dakika, where callers answer question and win money. If one fails to answer a question rightly, you are called stupid and unreasonable. A teacher from a secondary school out to make a fortune who failed to answer the question is cursing why he ventured. One of the presenters sarcastically laughed at him and even challenged him to stop teaching and wasting time in class when he is a fool.

Since then, his colleagues and students call him mwalimu mjinga (foolish teacher) as one Mogaka, the host referred to him. A pastor who also did not answer correctly a question involving the shortest verse in the Bible was rebuked as being satanic and a disgrace to his flock. Today, the said pastor is not comfortable with his congregation. Surprisingly, it is the said Mogaka and Margaret Waitherera who are engaged in morning sermons only to start abuses on the next beats.
The company has made big investments in its media activities in the last 18 months after merging with Milele FM. 

Mediamax Network recently acquired a state-of-the-art printing press for its publishing division and is in the process of establishing new high technology TV and radio studios at its new head office at DSM Place, Kijabe Street, in Nairobi. Word has it that they want to poach presenter Smriti Vidyarhti from NTV.
The People Daily joined the nondescript ranks of free newspapers and brochures under the strategy leadership and management of Ian Fernandes, a Kenyan of Goan extract who has worked at the top levels in the mainstream giants Standard Media Group (IT manager) and Nation Media Group (managing director, broadcasting).

It is not clear what Fernandes, who is drawing a nine-figure salary and perks, hopes to achieve by taking the free distribution route with a national newspaper which was started as a weekly by the Kenneth Matiba corporate empire before it went to the dogs and auctioneers.
Matiba made the fatal mistake, in corporate terms, of financing his own presidential campaign in 1992 using his own fortune, so sure was he of victory.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s media house is making another mistake that Matiba also made. Matiba’s corporate empire was still intact when he launched The People as a weekly that came out every Friday, but none of his companies and, or those associated with him, ever gave a thought to advertising in the newspaper. Matiba’s business empire advertised in the Nation and Standard massively, blissfully overlooking their owner-proprietor-chairman’s own media outlet.

By the same blinkered token, the Kenyattas and their highly paid managers are consumers and advertisers of media other than their own. The First Family, whose patriarch the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was Kenya’s first journalist and book writer in the English language, can easily directly organise for upwards of 50 corporate brands in multiple sectors, including household names such as Brookeside, to advertise big in The People without turning the publication into a for-free pamphlet. 

Kenyans are not used to free things and that is why the newspaper is now being collected by shopkeepers to butchery operators to wrap their products. In the morning, they send emissaries to pick free copies from various points in the city. Other shrewd traders even order for those involved in distribution to deliver and get weighed and then pay immediately.

The Kenyattas can turn to friends who own corporations big time and get another 100 brands regularly featuring adverts and features in The People.
Using State House networking, the president can persuade his 25 county governors to support his multi-media house with both print and broadcast advertising. In the fullness of time, even the Cord governors would include the newspaper in their advertising expenditure.

The People Daily should never have become a free distribution phenomenon that still has no adverts. The strategy Fernandes should have sold to the Kenyattas ought to have been one of producing the fattest advertisement-loaded national newspaper daily, bigger even than the Nation and the Standard, even if many, or all, of the ads were placed only at a nominal fee or free-of-charge for a whole year of rebranding and relaunching.

One year of being the biggest newspaper by pagination and apparent advertising volume would have attracted independent real advertisers paying market rates – as well as readers. Two years of a fully re-loaded, The People as a newspaper would finally have taken off.

Who will sell such a proactive and symbiotic strategy to the Kenyattas, who have amply demonstrated that they can sell milk and lead that market, ditto the insurance, banking and the hospitality sectors?
Mediamax’s broadcast brands can become market leaders, with the right mix of journalists and marketers.
Another presidential family, the Moi’s, whose patriarch Daniel Toroitich arap Moi celebrated his 90th birthday last week, has demonstrated that even VIP’s can do media. 

The Standard Media Group has Kenya’s oldest newspaper, The Standard (established 1903) and the Standard on Sunday (established 1980) and the country’s oldest private sector TV station, KTN (established 1989). Power struggle among investors at SGM has seen high turn out in the editorial department and even failure to name editorial director position which for months has been vacant.
The Standard Group has a huge chunk of the media advertising market.

Kenya’s media advertising market is a multiple billion-shilling sector. According to Sokoni magazine, the journal of the Marketing Society of Kenya, in an interview headlined “The Persuasion Business” and published in 2011, that year, the advertising sector had a turnover of Sh65 billion.
Sokoni was talking to the Advertising Practitioners’ Association of Kenya chairman, Monty Dhariwal, who observed at one point:

“The advertising industry in Kenya is a vibrant industry, with total media billing exceeding Sh65 billion in 2011. We have seen an increase in flow of global players establishing local affiliates and agencies in the last 12 months and there is opportunity of further investment in the sector. The industry growth in terms of media spends has been exponential in the last few years with 33pc growth in the second quarter of 2012. This represents a significant growth over the same period in 2011.  Spending on TV showed the highest growth in the 1st half of 2012 compared to radio and print with a 9pc increase. Kenya is by far the most dominant advertising market in the region.”

In the months since the Sokoni interview, the sector has grown exponentially and must have done particularly well in 2013, the year of Kenya’s biggest ever general election.
The media sector is making big money through Devolution, from the 47 county governments. And yet MediaMax, the president’s own media house, is getting only a trickle of this immense business.
Fernandes, who is the first Mediamax CEO to work with a healthy budget, does not seem to be making inroads anywhere, including in the hiring of journalists. The journalists now at The People Daily are a cringing lot that no longer tells relatives and friends where they actually work and new blood is not joining the embarrassed team. 

Despite being given a budget, Fernandes does not seem to be attracting any new writers or editors. The editorial line-up remains as before and is top-heavy with people who were at the Kanu mouthpiece Kenya Times when that paper was sinking without a trace.

Fernandes is an award-winning manager (he scooped the Coya manager of the year award in 2007). He was instrumental in the launch of NTV in 2005. He was also responsible for the launches of NTV (Uganda), QTV and Easy FM.

In 2008, he launched the Nation digital division, the new media division of the Nation Media Group spearheading the group’s entry into mobile and online media distribution.
Prior to joining NMG, he had served as managing director of KTN, technical and production director of Standard newspapers.

He should use his vast networks of more than two decades experience at the top in mainstream media to get Mediamax a truly 21st century editorial and marketing team.
But first he must get the Kenyattas to give a helping hand to their own would-be media empire. The president’s own media managers, editors, writers, broadcasters and producers should constantly hold their heads up high in their workplace and on assignments and other engagements.