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Cablegate: Kenya's Media: Part Ii - Fm Radio Stations


DE RUEHNR #2646/01 3551308
R 211242Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Kenya's Media: Part II - FM Radio Stations


1. (U)Summary. This is the second part of a four-part report on
the state of the Kenyan Media. The parts are: 1) Overview and the
new media law; 2) Radio Stations; 3) Media Houses and Cross
Ownership; and 4) Role of the media and New Trends. The 90s
liberalization of the broadcast industry combined with radio's
innate advantage over other media have caused the number of FM
stations in Kenya to multiply. The major contributing factor was
the explosive growth of vernacular, tribe-concentrated stations.
The vernacular stations played a questionable role in the 2007
post-election violence. Many fear that small but popular radio
stations will be gradually absorbed by a handful of powerful media
houses or rich politicians. The new media law is making an attempt
to streamline licensing and clarify the distribution of
frequencies. End summary.

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Had to be Radio


2. (U) Radio remains the most pervasive and affordable medium in
Kenya, especially in its rural areas. Although the media sector
has exploded in the last fifteen years, television sets are
generally owned only by the country's relatively small urban middle
class. More than any other medium, radio speaks Kenya's local
languages, and showcases local culture and way of life. Low
production and distribution costs make it possible for radio to
flexibly interpret the world from local perspectives, and to
respond to local needs for information. A 2008 Gallup survey
indicated that 94 percent of Kenyan households owned a radio while
only 30 percent owned a television set. The same survey showed
that only eleven percent of Kenyans read newspapers on a daily
basis, while 81 percent reported that they received information
daily via radio.


Multiplying at Breakneck Speed


3. (U) The first private FM station, Capital FM, began
broadcasting in 1996. Soon, many stations sprang up in both rural
and urban areas. The Royal Media, one of the most powerful media
houses in Kenya, perfected the art of rural outreach, with more
than 20 stations throughout the country focusing on local news.
Later, stations such as Kameme and KASS mushroomed after it was
noticed that Kenyans, especially in the slums and rural areas,
preferred broadcasts in their tribal languages. Initially, they
were available only via the state-run Kenya Broadcasting Company
(KBC), which broadcast for two hours a week in 17 different
languages. Following the lead of Nairobi's "Kameme," the number of
vernacular stations exploded. Now, virtually, all tribes in Kenya
have FM stations broadcasting in their own language.

4. (U) There are five different types of FM radio stations in
Kenya: mainstream, vernacular, religious, community and foreign.
Radio listenership tends to be regional, and those mainstream
stations which broadcast in more than one region and in either
English or Kiswahili account for 40 percent of the existing
stations. Vernacular stations account for almost 25 percent.
Community stations operate on community sponsorship and are barred
from commercial advertising. Currently there are seven community
stations in Nairobi. Pamoja FM, which operates in the Kibera slum
is representative: it is underfunded, its journalists are unpaid,
and it reaches about one million listeners. Religious stations
attempt to propagate certain religions as Hope and Baraka
(Protestant), Waumini (Catholic); Iqra, Rahma, Salaam, and Star
(Muslim). Foreign stations include BBC, VOA, Radio France
International and a Chinese station. The BBC started a 24-hour

service in Nairobi in 1998 and has since expanded to Kisumu and
Mombasa. The VOA began transmission with a 24-hour relayed signal
in June 2001.


Vernacular Stations: Mixed Blessing


5. (U) The explosion of FM radio stations can largely be
attributed to the proliferation of vernacular stations. According
to the Media Council of Kenya, Kenyans tend to tune into English or
Kiswahili stations for entertainment but to vernacular stations for
issue-based information. Particularly in rural areas, information
on agriculture --planting, seed selection, rainfall, fertilizer and
the produce markets is passed by vernacular stations. One of
Kenya's most dominant tribes, the Kikuyu, is served by five
stations - three nationwide and two regional. To list only a few
from the kaleidoscope of ethnic stations, there are stations such
as Inooro (Kikuyu), KASS (Kalenjin), Geza (Kisii), Karamugi (Luo),
Mushi (Kamba) and Mlenbe (Luya).

6. (SBU) Proponents of vernacular stations, such as Rose Kimotho
of Kameme and C.K. Joshua of KASS, argue that it is not the medium,
the language, but the content that is crucial and stations use
vernacular languages only because many feel much more comfortable
with their own mother tongue. They maintain that any language
could incite violence and that language alone cannot be blamed for
tribal violence. Many Kenyans enjoy their identity as a member of
a certain tribe and prefer the ease of receiving information in
their own language rather than having to digest the same
information in English or Kiswahili. Vernacular radio is an
efficient way to bring a broad cross section of the population into
the decision making process. It also plays an important role in
educating the mass in the rural area where the government failed to
do so. Wachira Waruru, Managing Director of Citizen Group, which
runs several vernacular stations, said that denying Kenya such a
tool would mean depriving the majority of Kenyans of information.
Some even insist that terming vernacular stations "bad," stems from
a colonial mentality where all languages other than English were

7. (SBU) Opponents of vernacular stations, such as Michael Mumo of
Capital FM and Peter Kimani of the Standard Daily, think that they,
by nature, exclude members of other tribes and create a sense of
division among Kenyans. The majority of Kenyan journalists agree
that the media, particularly vernacular FM stations, played a
questionable role during the 2007 post-election violence.
Vernacular stations became the tool for certain political forces
and provided a platform in pushing their agenda. Empowered with
metaphors that only their tribes could understand, the vernacular
stations pitted one tribe against another in many instances. Some
presenters of vernacular FM stations could mobilize their tribesmen
effectively along a political agenda. Joshua Sang of KASS FM,
enormously popular in the Kalenjin region, is a good example. In
November 2009, two Kenyan journalists filed complaints against Sang
and KASS FM to the Media Council for exposing them to public debate
"in a manner that was likely to cause them harm from listeners."
Sang allegedly castigated two journalists on air for writing
unfavorable stories about the recently formed Kalenjin Council of
Elders and threatened them that he would burn their fingers if the
story was covered in a negative light. Cases like this will
continue to feed suspicions about vernacular station for "fanning
ethnic animosity" and creating a dangerous environment in the
run-up to the 2012 presidential elections.

8. (SBU) A few media experts maintain that vernacular stations are
a temporary fad, which will phase out as Kenya undergoes more
urbanization. Sheila Amdany, former owner of Simba FM and current
Secretary of the Media Owners' Association thinks that vernacular

stations are a "fashionable thing for the time being to be faded
out in time."

9. (SBU) According to the Media Council of Kenya, the problem lies
in the lack of capacity in the Kenyan government to monitor what is
being broadcast. According to Wachira Waruru, Chairman of the
Media Council, although vernacular stations have been accused of
inciting post-election violence, there is no well-documented
evidence. Even the Waki and Kriegler reports - comprehensive
reports on the post-election violence -- do not include any
concrete examples of radio broadcasts linked to specific


For Some, Vernacular Speaks Money


10. (SBU) Radio Africa owns 44 frequencies with six FM stations in
operation currently while Royal Media is running 22 FM stations in
Kenya, most of which are vernacular stations. Popular Classic FM,
KISS FM, East FM, Jambo FM, X FM, and Smooth FM all belong to Radio
Africa. The Chairman of Royal Media, S.K. Macharia, of the Kikuyu
tribe, was the first media owner to rapidly expand into vernacular
stations. As noted in reftel, recent changes to the Kenya media
law and regulations try to curb the unchecked appetite for more
frequencies by a few owners by stipulating one frequency per
broadcaster in the same area. Powerful media houses such as Royal
Media have vowed not to surrender the frequencies already in their
possession, even those frequencies that are not being utilized and
kept idle. In fact, Royal Media says it plans to open more
vernacular stations in the near future.

11. (U) The Ambassador regularly does live call-in interviews on
the radio, including vernacular stations.

© Scoop Media

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