Aga Khan's newspaper group appeals for Kenya licence

08:27 a.m. Mar 12, 1997 EST
NAIROBI, March 12 (Reuter)

- East Africa's leading newspaper group launched a state-of-the-art printing press on Wednesday and urged the Kenyan government to approve broadcasting licences filed six years ago. President Daniel arap Moi, a frequent critic of local and foreign journalists in Kenya, inaugurated the $14 million press with the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili community and largest shareholder in the Nation newspaper group.

The Nation's 1991 application for radio and television licences has been ignored by the government without public explanation. ``We have by way of a reminder re-submitted our application for broadcast licences,'' the chairman of the group, Bedan Gecaga, said in a speech at the plant on Nairobi's outskirts.

Speaking later, Moi made no mention of Gecaga's appeal but urged the media to be responsible. ``Criticism is part of democracy. Abuse is not part of democracy,'' Moi said. The handful of private broadcasting licences awarded so far have gone to applicants linked to the ruling party or those who do not include news in their programme schedules. The government has retained a monopoly for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation in nationwide radio, the key medium for 30 million Kenyans who mostly live in rural areas and never read newspapers. Diplomats following the media in Kenya say the Nation Group newspapers are perceived as pro-opposition by Moi's government. The group is unlikely to be allowed to start a radio station in time for presidential and parliamentary elections due by the end of this year, the diplomats say.

The Aga Khan launched the Nation in 1960 and owns 45 percent of the shares. The group has grown to five daily and weekly titles with the Daily Nation selling about 160,000 copies a day, or three times its nearest Kenyan rival.

Group turnover rose to 1.5 billion shillings ($28 million) in 1995. In his speech, the Aga Khan laid out his ambitions for the Nation Group to become a global communications company at the forefront of information technology. The new printing press can print 60,000 newspapers an hour -- far in excess of the group's current needs. ``But the company's horizons are now the world and no longer just Kenya, or even Africa,'' he said.

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