The case of Royal Media Services (RMS) vs Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) is not as complicated as we would want it to look. The recent shutdown of more than 6-booster transmitters in in Nakuru, Narok, Mukuyuni (Makueni) and Mabrui (Malindi) was not a purely regulatory matter as Ndemo would love us to believe.
This is how it started. In 2005, President Kibaki was informed by the intelligence that the Banana (YES) side was going to loose to the Orange (NO) side in the referendum. The ground was tilted in favour of Raila, Kalonzo, Ruto and other opponents of the new constitution. So something needed to be done to greatly turn the tide against Raila and his side.
Kibaki then called a meeting at state house attended by Bitange Ndemo (PS Information), Charles Njoroge (CCK), Mutahi Kagwe (the Minister of Information), John Michuki (Internal Security Minister), Francis Kimemia (internal security), S.K. Macharia (Royal Media Chairman), Michael Gichangi (Intelligence boss) and Francis Muthaura (Civil Service boss) among others. Out of those present, PS Bitange Ndemo has remained the only person outside Mt Kenya Mafia who is very loyal and close to State House (one of the few who know about illegal transfer of Grand Regency to Kibaki’s family).
The meeting reached a decision to award Royal Media Services extra frequencies to cover almost anywhere in country. Royal Media now cover more areas than any broadcaster has ever covered. Basically the group has a foot-print which covers almost every corner of the country. The extra frequencies were allocated at the orders of State House. It was not something to be debated. So after the overnight allocation of frequencies irregularly to RMS and being the astute businessman he is, S.K regularised the acquisitions after few days. He formalised the acquisitions with CCK and made sure that almost all the allocated frequencies were not “illegal”. Only few boosters (transmitters supporting other transmitters) were on frequencies which were not regularised.
Later, S.K. grabbed some frequencies through his connections at State House. This made RMS now control a market of more than 51%. Some of the newly grabbed frequencies with direct assistance of CCK, Ministry of Information and Statehouse were not regularised or CCK advised that they be left in a pending state.
Apart from pushing for the allocation of extra frequencies and allowing Royal Media to grab some, state house also pushed for the allocation of adverts from state corporation to RMS. This ensured that the new broadcaster was well funded.
RMS then embarked on a process of almost exclusively poaching staff from Standard Group which was considered to support the Orange team so much. The media house poached tens of staff members in a go that KTN was almost crippled. Later when they saw that KTN was still on its feet, Michuki personally ordered a raid to finish the broadcaster claiming that they were about to publish something regarding the first family. This was just an excuse.
So that is how RMS expanded so fast and became the dominant media house in the country.
Problem is that S.K. Macharia saw his empire as so big that no one could match it. When he appeared on Forbes list of the African Millionaires to Watch in 2013, the whole Media Group celebrated like it was an endorsement from some god.
S.K. toyed with the idea of joining politics but he thought that he might not win much support from opposing tribes considering that Kenyan politics is so tribalised. So he decided to enter in to politics softly using a backdoor.
He decided to support Raila Odinga for president. He declared at a rally in Nyeri that he will use all his resources to support CORD. The Star newspaper wrote, “” That headline woke opponents of Raila in Jubilee, Amani and Eagle coalition. The only close competitor to CORD is Jubilee with Uhuru Kenyatta being one of the few leaders from Mount Kenya who is very very close to state house.
So a meeting was called at state house. Present were Francis Kimemia, Uhuru Kenyatta, PS Bitange Ndemo, CCK Chairman (Ben Gituku), Michael Gichangi and Nick Wanjohi. President Kibaki is also said to have been in the meeting which resolved to contain RMS after the Nyeri declaration.
A plan to fix RMS was mooted and it was to be multi-pronged. Uhuru was to be enabled through state coffers and allocation of advertising spend in enabling Mediamax to poach personnel from Royal Media services. PS Kimemia also ordered that Ndemo should ensure that all frequencies held by RMS “illegally” be immediately taken away from them. Government allocation in adverts and promotions or public information campaigns were ordered scaled down.
So the actualization of the plan started last week and it is going to be hastened. Mediamax has in just the past few days poached more than 32 key staff from Royal media including those in technical and operations department. Mediamax is offering some of the new catches as much as 300% raise in salaries. This is not realistic considering that the group which owns The People, Meru FM, Milele FM and K24 TV control just 2.2% of the Kenyan media market. The investment might take as long as 3 years to be gained back.
3 days later, CCK has moved in and switched off Royal Media transmitters in areas where CORD is just trying to gain meaningful support. From Monday, RMS will see termination of advertising contracts while the push to close more ethnic stations will be hastened by PS Ndemo.
These actions will be pushed until after the elections. Though RMS might win the legal war through courts, State House functionaries will not honour most of the court decisions as Kibaki has done before without blinking an eye.
Speaking to two former bosses of CCK, they said that they believe that the timing is very wrong even if the intention was to be good.
In fact one said, “timing is everything. If I were still the CCK boss, I would not have done this now. Even for the current CCK boss, he looks like a cheap puppet of politicians by pulling such a move. This is wrong.”