The country’s leading Media Company the Nation Media Group (NMG) has been severely hit by mass resignations of columnists over the powerful influence the government is now wielding and influencing on the company’s editorial operations.
The NMG’S top columnists are accusing the company’s top managers and board of directors of completely compromising the media independence and media freedoms to pander to the whims of the Executive arm of the government.
The writers led by the Executive Director Kenya Human Rights George Kegoro declared in a statement: “Freedom of the media is a public good and private individuals and corporations profit from it on the understanding that their gain secures their independence. Media freedom acquires significance for democracy where public institutions are weak and under threat and the Executive has little check as has been observed in Kenya recently.”
They say that last year they had written to the company’s board of directors after they saw a systematic process by executed to constrain independent voices within the company contrary to its stated editorial policy to promote diversity and media freedoms.
“We feared the legitimacy of the Nation Media Group as a credible source of the truth was being undermined by its management’s failure or refusal to safeguard the operational independence of professionals in its employ,” says the statement issued by the columnists headed ‘We Refuse to be Silenced.’
They cited the dismissal of the company Managing Editor for Special Projects and Investigations over the publication of an editorial that was critical of the presidency by one of the NMG’s publications – but worse especially since he had been threatened by such action by persons from outside the company.
Worse still within weeks of that decision the company’s management allowed its contract with the popular cartoonist Godfrey Mwapembwa popularly known as “Gado” to lapse because of the discomfort his cartoons were causing some senior people in the Executive.
Kegoro says that subsequent departures of senior editorial staff from the company under questionable circumstances did little to assuage their moral dilemma at their continued association with the media house whose respect for human rights and freedom of expression was in question forcing them to ask the company to change course, but this was not to be.
He said: “Our view then as it remains now is that these actions damaged the NMG’s claim to be a champion of editorial independence and media freedom. The board’s response when it came two months later promised un-specified action which never came to rectify the degenerating situation.”
The writers point out that last month the NMG was at it again when it dismissed from its employment Linus Kakai who as the chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild had spoken out against collusion between the Executive and some media houses managers to censor the mock swearing of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga’s swearing ceremony as a peoples’ president.
Subsequently the Sunday Nation Editors told one of its popular columnists who is closely associated with ODM/NASA that his contract to be writing for the publication was not going to be renewed and it has since emerged that one of the conditions the executive gave to restore the illegally switched off frequencies of the NMG was to stop publishing David Ndii’s column.
They say that a worrying pattern has emerged where the Executive is able to influence who works for or contributes articles for the NMG’s publications or media outlets, despite the fact that it normally has ample opportunity to voice its side of the story through its top personnel.
The statement said: “The Executive’s and NMG’s actions suggest state capture of the media. Censoring individual columnists signals official intolerance of dissenting views and suggests Executive willingness to go to any length even co-opting editors to achieve its aims. It is unacceptable that they should also be deciding who should have a voice in publicly accessed spaces. A media organization that tacitly supports such a position alienates itself from the public.”
They say that two years ago they pointed out that the judgement and leadership of some of the company’s editorial board and some of its top management was questionable and engendered public suspicion about its political independence. “But the latest actions have destroyed the public trust the NMG’s publications enjoyed making our continued association with it un-tenable,” it adds.
The Columnists stated that they refused to continue clothing the loss of the NMG’s editorial independence and media freedoms through their continued writing for its publications adding that public opinion is no longer in the sole grip of those who buy ink by the barrel.