Kenya’s broadcast industry has been thrown into a spin after a
privately owned television station poached prominent newscasters from
two of the East African nation’s leading stations, writes Eric Nyakagwa.

Citizen Television, which is owned by businessman Samuel Macharia, is currently undergoing a major reorganisation ahead of the country’s general election slated for late this year.

This has seen it recruit household names in the industry including Kenya Television Network’s Catherine Kasavuli and Louis Otieno as well as Nation Television’s Effy Hunjah.

The trio made their debut on Monday evening, when Royal Media Services, which owns the station as well as a raft of radio stations and a weekly newspaper, also shifted its newscasts from 8pm for Swahili and 10pm for English back by an hour to be line with the competition.

Ahead of the debut, the Standard Group, which owns KTN, put out an advertisement declaring it still has many experienced newscasters and also announced promotions in its print department, in what is being seen as a possible reaction to news that the industry may soon see the launch of a new national newspaper.

The reorganisation begun with the recruitment of former Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Managing Director Wachira Waruru as chief executive.

Waruru, a former Group Managing Editor with the Standard, is a known reformist, who was ejected from KBC after he refused to slant news coverage in favour of the government.

Ahead of the 2002 general election, the Royal Media Services came out openly in support of President Mwai Kibaki, then an opposition candidate running on the National Rainbow Coalition ticket and repeated the same during the 2005 referendum on a proposed new constitution when it backed his administration, which nevertheless lost.

Media observers will be looking to see whether Waruru can sustain his independence at a time when the Kibaki administration is likely to seek favourable coverage as he guns for a second term in office.