There has been tension at Royal Media Services (RMS) since President Ruto took office in September, with the broadcast giant’s owners finding themselves holding the short end of the stick. It is understood that RMS co-owner S.K. Macharia has already started paying the high price of supporting Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Alliance presidential candidate Raila Odinga in the last elections.
President William Ruto’s administration is tightening its noose on the company’s management, and exerting pressure to have top journalists perceived to have been pro-Raila and anti-Ruto during the campaign period pushed out. Inside sources at RMS indicate that prime targets are editorial director Linus Kaikai and news anchor and talkshow host Yvonne Okwara.
Dr Ruto has also set his sight on Stephen Letoo, whom he once mocked at a press conference for covering Azimio rallies. “How is my good friend Stephen Letoo doing?” Mr Ruto asked. Mr Letoo, a political reporter assigned to cover the Azimio team during campaigns, responded, saying, “I am here my good friend, Mr President.”
The Ruto administration is determined to have the three out of Citizen TV as one of the conditions it has set to support Royal Media Services with advertising and other deals. RMS is already feeling the pinch with sources saying advertisements from government and related agencies have started thinning. This recently forced RMS to reach out to advertisers in an effort to retain them and expand their numbers. At a recent breakfast, the media house said, “we are delighted to break bread with our clients as we endeavor to offer the best partnerships and collaborations.”
Linus Kaikai and Yvonne Okwara have been earmarked for their newsroom roles in promoting Azimio’s agenda and suppressing coverage for Dr Ruto, who was the Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate. It understood Yvonne is being targeted for how she handled the presidential debate which was boycotted by Raila Odinga.
The Kenya Kwanza side felt that even though Ruto debated against himself after Raila boycotted the debate over unclear reasons, the Citizen TV journalist who was among four journalists picked to manager the interview “unfairly” treated Ruto by asking pointed questions that left him fumbling or contradicting himself.
After the interview, the Kenya Kwanza coalition is said have to deployed a team of undercover agents to trail and pick any contact or communications with Azimio team with a view to assembling evidence of unprofessional conduct against her. “It is not clear if they picked any leads but she would be trailed as soon as she left the newsroom to her house,” said a source at RMS.
Kaikai, on the other hand, was appointed Royal Media Services Group Editorial Director in March 2022 after the exit of Joe Ageyo, giving him in sweeping control over election coverage. He is also accused by Kenya Kwanza of favouring Azimio and thus a candidate for axing. The two also cohosted the Newsgang programme which critiques current affairs issues.
RMS has fewer options, given that the government is the biggest advertiser and so far owes the media houses nearly Ksh2 billion through the Government Advertising Agency. Nation Media Group has already caved in to Ruto’s demand and made editorial changes by dropping Mutuma Mathiu from the position of editor-in-chief and moving Bernard Mwinzi from managing daily news.
This signals tough times ahead for big media in Kenya, with analysts seeing continued arm-twisting by the government, a development expected to also constrain freedom of expression.