The Standard Group is a classic example of a media house that has lived its dream. It’s pioneer product, The Standard, is the oldest newspaper in East Africa and has unrivalled history dating back to the pre-Independence era.
The newspaper’s epic journey started in Mombasa in 1902 when an ambitious Indian contractor working on the Kenya-Uganda Railway line, Alibhai Mulla Jevanjee, took a bold step to fill the information void in East and Central Africa. He installed a rudimentary printing press and engaged a British journalist — W.H. Tiller — to help start what was to be the first newspaper in the region.
On November 15, 1902, the first copy of the African Standard, a single sheet printed on black and white, rolled off the press. It has sustained a bold and focused journey over the decades with a crisp coverage of every historical moment in Kenya and the region.
The paper made its first milestone when the publishers charted a train to relocate the printing press to Nairobi as political and economic interests shifted from Mombasa to Kenya’s current capital city some 500 kilometres north.
It is The Standard that has provided the most complete record of Kenya’s history from the first and second World Wars that planted the seed for the fight for freedom, to the Mau Mau days and the push for self-governance to Independence, the nascent post-Independence days through the regimes of Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki.
The Standard covered Kenya’s first major international guest in 1905 when Queen Victoria’s son — the Duke of Connaught — came visiting.
When the colonial government held the first Agricultural show in the country in 1904, only The Standard was there to record the historic event.
Indeed The Standard Library reflects the rich history of East Africa’s journey from virgin land to present day development.
The Standard’s incisive reportage of World War I and World War II in 1918 and 1945 endeared it to both Kenyans and the colonialists. Kenyans whose relatives were enlisted into the armies fighting the wars relied on The Standard for updates from the battlefield.
After the Second World War
The return of the Kenya’s soldiers, the increase in literacy levels and the clamour for Independence put The Standard on the fast lane as the trusted source of news.
The Standard had an unrivalled and nearly exclusive coverage of the Mau Mau uprising and the emergency period.
Both the colonialists and Kenyans relied on it for news.
A State of Emergency was declared in 1958. It was a difficult time for Kenyans who were often rounded up for screening. Hundreds were killed while thousands were thrown behind bars. This did not, however, dampen the quest for self-rule and The Standard recorded Kenya’s history as it unfolded.
It was not until October 1960 that Kenya got a second newspaper, which then offered competition to The Standard.
It also captured the final moments as colonialists laid down arms to give way for Independence.
The Standard reported the joy and the great expectations when the nation’s founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was released from detention in 1961 and from then on, Independence was just a matter of time.
Uhuru and After
The lowering of the Union Jack and its replacement with the Kenyan flag, the swearing-in of Mzee Kenyatta as the country’s first Prime Minister and Independence celebrations in October 1963 were some of the landmark events covered by The Standard.
But the epic journey continued with a bold coverage of the twists and turns of political developments in post-Independence Kenya.
The East-West divide in international politics was to affect Kenya’s political landscape as Mzee Kenyatta fell out with his vice-president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who was soon pushed to political oblivion.
We covered the assassination of Planning Minister Thomas Joseph Mboya in 1969, outspoken MPs and civil rights crusaders — Pio Gama Pinto in 1965 and JM Kariuki in 1975.
Difficult times for the media
These times and the subsequent two decades were a difficult period for the media industry. Many were the times government officials and political bigwigs put editors under pressure and it took both courage and wit to navigate the numerous interests but The Standard managed to stand for public interest.
One of the lowest moments for the country was the death of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta on August 22, 1978. A cloud of uncertainty engulfed the country, as it was the first time State power would change hands in a political transition.
Multi-party democracy and beyond
We also covered the political raucous that marked the single-party rule and the repeal of Section 2a that ushered in multi-party democracy in 1991.
In 1997, the Standard Newspapers Group Ltd (SNGL) acquired the Kenya Television Network (KTN), becoming the first media house to incorporate both print and electronic media. KTN became the first privately-owned and independent television station in the country.
The Standard Group went Online in October 1999 and its website has been attracting millions of readers.
The opening up of democratic space inevitably came with a little more freedom for the media, but politicians in power still sought to muzzle the media whenever the Opposition was given coverage criticising the excesses of government.
It took another decade before the Opposition could consolidate against Kanu and win the 2002 transitional General Election, in which former President Moi was leaving office at the end of his constitutional mandate.
The Standard was also there with its tradition of incisive coverage in 2003 when Kanu handed over power to the National Rainbow coalition (Narc) after ruling Kenya for over 40 years.
Affront to Press Freedom
Over the years, the Standard Group’s media outlets — The Standard, KTN, Radio Maisha and The County Weekly — have kept their style of bold, authoritative and fair reporting. It has pursued issues of public interest with zeal and remained the voice of the voiceless.
In 2005, the Standard Group offices were raided by balaclava-clad police agents who disabled KTN, cannibalized the printing press and assaulted staff before burning the next day’s newspaper that was rolling off the press.
This was clearly an affront on press freedom and the national and international outrage was instant and furious even as the then Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, said the strike was pre-emptive to stop the publication of a story that would have compromised State security, a position that was clearly not the case. To-date, the world is yet to be told why the Group was raided.
The Standard Group today publishes The Standard, The Standard On Saturday, The Standard On Sunday and The County Weekly.
Besides KTN, the Group also runs the Kiswahili radio station Radio Maisha.
The Standard Group boasts of excellence in all spheres of media and has helped shape the country’s human resource capacity in terms of the careers of many journalists. Many who honed their talents at the Standard Group media outlets now hold prominent positions in various media houses, in government and the corporate world.
From its humble beginnings in Mombasa, the Standard Group has also grown to become a centre of excellence whose coverage of events has helped shape the country’s destiny.
We have given our pledge to our readers, viewers and listeners to continue being objective, bold and authoritative in our coverage.
It has been a dramatic journey full of high and low moments. From an unpredictable market to attacks by enemies of Press freedom, the Standard Group has leaped through thorny hurdles to sustain itself as a respected and reliable media house.
The company survived a circulation crunch in the 1990s to build one of the best newspaper distribution networks in the country.
Its Commercial Division has grown over the years and today controls a sizeable stake in the advertising industry.
Things took a dramatic upturn in the first quarter of 2000 when the Company made a take-off into the next phase of its growth history by turning the challenges into opportunities.
The first tragedy hit the Standard in 1913 when a mysterious fire gutted down the company’s offices on Kaunda Street and destroyed all files and past issues of the newspaper.
In July 1994, a group of youth petrol-bombed The Standard offices in Mombasa after over a story that they claimed was critical of the Islamic Party of Kenya. The then Managing Director Bob Holt had to fly to Mombasa to settle the matter with the aggrieved leaders.
But the lowest moment in the company came on March 2, 2006 when goons backed by foreign mercenaries raided the Standard Group’s twin offices at both Likoni Road, Industrial Area, and at the I&M Bank Tower in the City Centre and assaulted staff on duty, destroyed broadcasting equipment and the printing press, carted away computers containing vital records and burnt copies of newspapers in an attempt to muzzle the group.
The Standard Family has since marked the anniversary as a Press Freedom Day — to reflect and give a voice in defence of media freedom in Kenya and beyond — and also recognise outstanding journalists.
Then came the threats by the government to demolish the new ultra-modern Standard Group Centre on Mombasa Road — together with other multi-billion structures — in the name of compulsory acquisition. It took the spirited fight by the Board and Management to convince the government to drop the demolition threats.
But for the challenges experienced, the company has also made landmark achievements in the past decade.
In 2004, the company moved into the towering I&M Bank Tower in the city’s Central Business District (CBD).
Before the migration, the company had its operations housed on Likoni Road, Industrial Area and in the CBD at Nyayo House and Bruce House.
But if 2004 brought a new lease of life, the year 2008 was historic. This was the year the Standard Group moved into its new headquarters on Mombasa Road.
The ultra-modern building is now the Group’s nerve centre, complete with a modern printing press and radio and television studios.
Scenes of journalists banging away on manual typewriters describe a typical newsroom of yore. Producing The Standard was a hectic affair as Sub-Editors had to literally edit, revise then cut, paste and typeset the pages. Stories and photographs from outside Nairobi were sent by courier.
Those were the early years between 1902 and the late 1980s. The Standard started as a broadsheet but slowly evolved into a tabloid.
Today, The Standard has undergone a historic technological evolution that has seen it maintain a cutting edge in the industry.
It not only has the most modern printing press in Sub–Saharan Africa and has digitised its broadcasting system at KTN and Radio Maisha.
The printing press is a masterpiece and visitors to the Standard Group Centre on Mombasa Road marvel at this modern technology.
From the plain broadsheet printed in black and white, The Standard is today full colour on high quality newsprint.
KTN, the country’s first privately-owned station, has itself undergone a complete upgrade with a state-of-the-art Outside Broadcast (OB) vans and a virtual studio system.
An upgrade in transmission undertaken in 2010 has seen the station digitise all its signals in a strategic plan to ready itself for the migration from analogue to digital.
The broadcasting studios, including of Radio Maisha, have been refurbished to improve on the quality of broadcasts.
It has been a long journey for the Standard Group, but the challenges have been turned into opportunities and contributed to the many successes.
Awards and Nominations
The Standard Group is an undisputed house of talents. More than 60 per cent of outstanding journalists in the country today — both print and electronic — started their journey at the Standard.
The Group’s journalists have won countless international and local awards, a proof that the Group is indeed a centre of journalistic excellence.
The Group strolled into the Hall of Fame in 1973 when pioneer writer and editor Henry Gathigira bagged the Journalist of the Year Award. The following year, then senior reporter Frank Ojiambo — who later rose to become the News Editor — finished first runners-up in the Kenneth Bolta Award.
Our excellence in sports journalism did not start the other day because in 1978, the then sports editor Sulubu Tuva was declared the Sports Writer of the Year.
In 1986, The Standard was declared the Best Designed Newspaper of the Year. But the better things were to come when in 1999, writer Pamela Mulumbi won the prestigious African Journalist of the Year Award.
In the very recent years, The Standard, KTN and Radio Maisha reporters and editors have won baskets of prestigious Awards.
In 2010, the Standard Group’s Assistant Director and Chief Editor John Bundotich won the prestigious Forum For African Investigative Reports (FAIR) Courageous Editor’s Award. This award recognises Editors who have withstood external pressure to publish stories in public interest.
KTN’s investigative duo of Mohammed Ali and Dennis Onsarigo have won numerous awards for their nerve-cracking investigative stories. The Jicho Pevu and Inside Story series remain unrivalled in the country.
The Standard, KTN and Radio Maisha journalists last year scooped almost all the Awards at the Footballer of the Year Awards.
In 2010, journalists from the Group scooped top honours at 4th edition of the annual Kenya Media Network on Population and Development awards. The list of winners is endless.
And to honour its talented journalists, the Group has established Press Freedom Awards to reward outstanding achievers to mark the historic raid at its offices on March 2, 2006.
Among those honoured this year include Managing Editors Okech Kendo and Kipkoech Tanui for their columns. Others awarded were Senior Associate Editor Njoki Karuoya for her advocacy on gender issues, KTN Investigative team Mohammed Ali and Dennis Onsarigo for consistently reporting on matters of public interest, The Standard reporter and cameraman Robert Wanyonyi for standing up for press freedom by resisting intimidation in the course of duty and Tony Biwott, a TV cameraman who was feted for his courage while filming risky assignments. Also awarded was a long-time columnist of the The Standard, Dominic Odipo.