Grave diggers know where buried bodies lie

Misleading article on history of local TV station cannot go unchallenged

In Summary

• Veteran journalists know best the history of KTN and its ownership

One of the perks, for lack of a better word, of longevity in journalism is knowing where certain bodies are buried and who dug the graves. 

Before you jump to conclusions, I am not talking about an actual death in mysterious circumstances, or even about the new search for Kimathi wa Waciuri’s mortal remains.

I am, in fact, referring to an article I saw on social media somewhere that purported to write about the history of KTN and its ownership.

The article was misleading on so many fronts, I couldn't help wondering if the writer had dreamt it up.

A little research of living working journalists who were there back in the day might have even led the author to me. I was actually caught up in the middle of the whole KTN drama from the very start. 

Just over 30 years ago, I applied for, interviewed and got a job at a newspaper called the Kenya Times.

The KT, as we called it, had begun life in 1977 as the Nairobi Times, owned by Hilary Ng'weno who, in 1984, sold it to Kenya’s then only legal political party, Kanu.

Kanu had been looking for their own mouthpiece to counter the other two daily newspapers of that time, which were owned by foreigners.

The Nation was controlled by the Aga Khan. Even though some well-heeled Kenyans owned shares and were on the board, everyone knew who the real boss was. The Standard was owned by Tiny Rowland’s Lonrho conglomerate.

The newspaper would be an add-on to the state broadcaster, the Voice of Kenya, which would later become the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, and the Kenya News Agency, both controlled by the government, which was formed by the only political party, Kanu.

A board chaired by Kanu VP Mwai Kibaki was set up to run the show, but in reality, everyone knew it was President Moi who called the shots at the Kenya Times.

In 1988, the Kenya Times was struggling and needed an injection of funds. Along came the dodgy British press magnate, Robert Maxwell, with £30 million to pay for a modern colour press and “technical advisers”.

Thus, the Kenya Times Media Trust (KTMT), a joint venture between Kanu Investments (which later turned out to be a shell company) and the Maxwell Communication Corp (MCC, which would go bust in less than three years) was born.

It was this group that was behind the proposed construction of what in that era would have been Africa's tallest office tower problematically situated in Uhuru Park, as well as the setting up of a Kanu-owned and run TV station.

That TV station, which was originally known as Channel 62, which was the name of the UHF channel it aired on, began in March 1990.

By that time, Jared Kangwana, who had risen to national prominence after being appointed secretary to the 1984 Njonjo Commission of Inquiry by President Daniel arap Moi, was chairperson the KTMT, of which KTN, as Channel 62 would come to be known, was a subsidiary.

Maxwell died mysteriously on November 5, 1991, having drained hundreds of millions of dollars from his two flagship public companies and from employee pension funds (where the MCC staff in Nairobi had all their savings) in a frantic attempt to keep his heavily indebted publishing empire afloat. 

This was also a month before Moi and Kanu bowed to pressure and agreed to change the Constitution to once again allow the country to have more than one political party, and nobody was sure what the immediate future would look like following an election.

Almost immediately, the ownership of KTN mysteriously changed, with Kangwana telling anyone who would listen that neither Maxwell nor KTMT had ever owned KTN.

However, there was talk of Kangwana being a front for the Moi family, and when the Moi family later took control of the Standard group after Lonrho sold out, KTN suddenly appeared as part of the Standard’s portfolio. You do the math.

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