One obvious omission from my previous reports has been television. At home I don't have either a satellite dish or a cable TV subscription, but I can still watch seven free-to-air terrestrial stations. Two of them come from the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) with the remaining five run by a variety of private operators.

All rely heavily on imported programming and on relays of various Africa-wide networks. For example, Stella Television (STV) is the local rebroadcasting partner of the South Africa-based network, TV Africa. The well-known M-Net, another South African channel, is relayed by KBC's Metro TV, while KBC TV's Channel 1 carries programming from the Africa Broadcasting Network (ABN). Yet another South African service, Channel O (pop videos), gets relayed by more than one Kenyan station.

CNN is extensively relayed as a sustaining service - at various times of the day you can see it on KBC, Kenya Television Network (KTN), Nation TV and Citizen TV. STV uses Sky News from London for the same purpose. On KBC you'll also see China Central TV (CCTV) and Deutsche Welle TV news and features in English. DW TV also gets aired on Citizen TV.

These news relays are generally used to fill up the schedules outside prime time (all of the private stations are on air 24 hours a day). On 11 September however, KTN switched to a continuous relay of CNN throughout that evening (it was late afternoon in Kenya when the news broke) and STV did the same with Sky News (which was itself carrying much material from Fox News).

The relays of Sky News apart, British TV gets very little air time. BBC World TV news was once relayed by KBC, and more recently by STV, but that has ceased now. I've seen a few BBC comedy shows from a while ago (e.g. "Yes, Minister") on KBC.

During prime time, KBC TV offers the best chance of seeing local Kenyan entertainment programming. Nation TV and KTN are the best channels for local news. One Nairobi station, Family TV, is a Christian channel specialising in American-style preaching. It has a sister radio station in Nairobi, Family FM.

Technical buffs will be interested to know that KBC Channel 1 broadcasts on VHF Bands One and Three. The other TV stations in Kenya broadcast on UHF only. This means that, for many people, getting good reception from all stations means having two aerials. As not all the UHF stations use the same transmitting site, sometimes three aerials - pointing in different directions - can be required for perfect pictures on all channels.


TV Africa - mentioned above - had the rights for the World Cup in several countries, and took action when Tanzanian private station ITV relayed its World Cup coverage without permission (they used a satellite feed intended only for Mozambique). When ITV refused to comply with a demand that it cease the relaying, TV Africa inserted a scrolling message on the screen telling viewers that the law was being broken if anyone could read the message outside Mozambique. ITV's response was that they were complying with FIFA's request that the World Cup be viewed as widely as possible across the world. Eventually they reached agreement with TV Africa to relay the games legally.

In Kenya, there was the opposite problem, with a TV station in trouble for NOT showing the World Cup! TV Africa had signed a contract with KBC and STV for both of these Kenyan stations to broadcast all the games. The problem came on 1 June, which is the anniversary of Kenya achieving internal self-government in 1963. The occasion, like three or four others in the Kenyan political calendar, is always marked by a lengthy parade at the main stadium in Nairobi, followed by a major speech to the crowd and the nation from President Moi. Naturally the whole show is relayed live by the KBC on both TV and radio.

But this year the parade and presidential speech clashed with a World Cup match. What  was the KBC to do? To anyone who knows Kenya, it will come as no surprise to learn that the football got the chop and the president got his usual TV appearance, even though that meant KBC had to break its contract with TV Africa, which said that all games must be relayed live and uninterrupted.

It looked like a repeat of this episode might occur on Budget day - 13 June - when KBC normally gives over the best part of the afternoon to showing the president arriving at parliament and listening to the reading of the government's annual budget. But TV Africa said that unless KBC relayed the match that afternoon live, it would lose the rights to air subsequent matches. This time the KBC gave way and so budget watchers had to listen to it on the radio instead.

It was possible to listen to World Cup commentaries on local radio as at least two enterprising private FM stations, Radio Citizen and Kameme FM, provided live commentary in local languages simply by having a presenter describe what he could see on a TV screen in their Nairobi studios! A soundtrack of continuous crowd noise provided a suitable background, though it was noticeable that the "spectators" were always making the same noise, irrespective of how well their team was doing!


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Updated: 19 Sept 2002