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Tuesday, March 17, 2015


He is seen as the Rupert Murdoch of Kenya. A modern day buccaneer that bestrides the media landscape like a colossus.
From his ivory tower, he gazes at all around him benevolently but is quick to strike at any threat to his burgeoning kingdom.
The patriarch of Royal Media Services, Samuel K. Macharia is estimated to control a vast fortune worth over Sh112billion according to Buzz Kenya spanning interests in agriculture, real estate, finance, telecommunication and insurance.
"Murdoch" has increasingly emerged as the invisible force behind the cartel of three media houses that has gone to the trenches to fight digital migration in the country in a last ditch effort to maintain a cozy oligopoly where they control close to 90 per cent of the advertising spend in the country.
In one year alone, close to Sh40billion is spent on TV advertising and the three companies gobble up most of it giving them the firepower they have deployed in fighting the move to a more competitive digital landscape where content rather than access to limited frequency will dictate audience numbers and determine the advertising spend you attract.
Macharia’s hand is seen in the trenchant and borderline illegal positions being taken by the three media houses given his combative nature where money is involved.
It is easy to see why. With an 86 per cent reach in the country, Citizen TV, Royal Media Services flagship brand, also commands 45 per cent of TV advertising.
Advertising figures from July – September 2014, the latest quarter available, indicate that total spend on TV during that period was Sh8.95billion.
Out of this, Macharia’s take was Sh4billion. In a year, Citizen can gross Sh16bn in advertising revenues explaining why Macharia is fighting tooth and nail in court and playing dirty with misleading adverts regarding GOtv and Startimes.
Notably, only Nation Media Group’s print division comes close to grossing that amount with about Sh13billion a year.
Of the four TV stations who ran the ads, Citizen was particularly incessant in running an ad that claimed the two licensed digital TV carriers were running Free-To-Air channels illegally.
Almost every two minutes, the ad would come on while it was less frequent on the other channels.

This was in line with a "resolution" made at a supposed "training" for journos on Digital Migration organized by the three media houses at the Serena sometime before the ads begun running.

Scribes arriving at the morning to noon training were agape to find SK Macharia himself present there along with lawyers Paul Muite who onstensibly was part of the training team.

After a quick recap of the technical issues, which the scribes were there for anyway, the gathering launched into the real agenda of the day.

"You are our foot soldiers!" A senior editor implored the scribes..."Fight for your jobs!!"  SK himself intoned on the matter and impressed quite a few journos with his knowledge of the media landscape.

"The key message being that we must go out there and fight!" one of the journos who attended told Nairobitech.

Shortly after that, the negative advert blitz started.

To understand  Macharia's nature one only has to look at his history.
The notoriously litigious Macharia has had some of the longest running cases in Kenyan courts.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ended a 34-year old court battle between SK Macharia’s former toilet paper making company, Madhupaper International and KCB that had dragged on since 1981.
After another of his companies’, Royal Credit was denied a credit line by Standard Chartered Bank, forcing it to shut down in 1998, Macharia filed a suit which he has doggedly pursued through the courts since 1999, a period of 15 years.
In 2000, he sued the then Communications Commission of Kenya for closing his media stations. After the NARC government came into power he requested for 20 radio frequencies and 1 TV frequency and received from the then Director-General Samuel Chepkonga, now Member of Parliament for Ainabkoi constituency.
Three years later he wrote a letter to the Minister for Information and Communication Mutahi Kagwe demanding that CCK be directed to settle his suit from 2000 out of court.
 "During this Narc Government, which has had the support of Royal Media Services, CCK has been hunting and harassing Royal Media Services with perhaps intention of closing it again," Macharia wrote.
 "I am requesting your ministry and the government to immediately stop the harassment of Royal Media Services Ltd by ordering CCK to settle out-of-court the cases in court against each other including settlement of legal fees claimed by CCK's lawyers from Royal Media," Machariasaid.

Macharia is not averse to using unorthodox tactics, In May 2004, after media business rival Patrick Quarcoo raided his talent stable for several presenters, Macharia opted to jam Quarcoo’s Kiss 100 transmission bombarding it with Kikuyu songs for four days.
CCK had to raid RMS’ premises to confiscate equipment suspected to have been used in the operation.

In this, his last stand against the regulator's conditions for migration, Murdoch seems determined to drag it out to the bitter end.

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