His Highness The Aga Khan. Nation Media Group majority shareholder. PHOTO/COURTESY
By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN
Panic has gripped senior editors and managers at Nation Media Group (NMG) after the company’s majority shareholder Aga Khan deployed a special team from Aiglemont Estate, France to probe activities in Nairobi.
Aiglemont Estate, France is the global headquarters of His Highness The Aga Khan and it is the seat of the Board of Directors that oversees his business activities around the world.
The recent reinstatement of, Mr Eric Obino, as the Executive Editor in charge of Weekend publications after he was previously demoted as production editor and later retrenched in January is said to be part of the re-organisation being spearheaded by a special team from Aiglemont.
Insiders at NMG say the company is undergoing difficult financial times. The company’s financial reserves that stood at more than Sh 3 billion have been depleted under suspicious circumstances, its share value has dropped from a high of more than Sh 300 in 2014 to now slightly above Sh 100 and its advertising revenue has dipped by more than 40 percent.
The company has not paid its employees a bonus since 2013, yet they used to get a bonus equivalent to their two or one month salary in the previous years.
The company even pushed forward its retrenchment programme to this year a situation where it would have been forced to issue a profit warning for the year ending December 2017.
Tom Mshindi the Editor-in-Chief at Nation Media Group. PHOTO/NMG
Due to public perception that NMG has gone to bed with the government, circulation of its money-minting print products that include the Daily Nation, Saturday Nation, Sunday Nation has shrunk at alarming levels.
Reports indicate that the circulation of Daily Nation has dropped from an all high of 180,000 copies per day to less than 100,000, Saturday Nation circulation has dropped from more than 260,000 copies to less than 160,00 while the Sunday Nation which used to have a circulation of more than 320,000 is now doing less than 200,000.
Recently, eight leading columnists for different NMG publications resigned citing lack of editorial independence. The columnists who resigned are KNHCR deputy chairperson George Kegoro, Muthoni Wanyeki, Gabriel Dolan, and Rasna Warah.
Others are Maina Kiai, Gabrielle Lynch, Nic Cheeseman, and Kwamchetsi Makokha.
The writers accused Nation Media of systematically placing constraints on independent voices contrary to its stated editorial policy.
Some of the columnists when they announced their resignation. PHOTO/COURTESY
Insiders at NMG suspect there is a scheme by some NMG managers to bring down the publicly listed company through ‘weeding out of perceived anti-establishment reporters and editors via the now annual vicious circles of retrenchments.’
“This annual vicious retrenchments are used by managers to victimise employees they hate or do not follow dubious instructions and not because of their performance making NMG a once trusted employee to face staff exodus,” one staffer said.
As a result of the dubious retrenchments many NMG employees are fleeing to look for greener pasture elsewhere. Recently NTV lost Larry Madowo to BBC.
In January, Madowo was engaged in a public altercation with then CEO Joe Muganda, at a staff meeting, accusing management of not defending media freedoms. Other NTV editors Jamila Mohamed and Pamela Asigi have joined Citizen TV. Another exodus has also been experienced in the print section.
Kenya is today suffering from an emerging global phenomenon called media capture.
Former Nairobi Deputy Governor Ploycarp Igathe and and former Vision 2030 director general Mugo Kibati are among those shortlisted for NMG CEO’s job.
Media capture is a growing phenomenon linked to the resurgence of authoritarian governments as well as to the structural weaknesses presently afflicting media markets.
In this environment, political figures and economic elites are colluding to undermine the independence of privately-owned media.
According to research by South East European Media Observatory, “Financial engineering for state and media capture”, the state and its institutions, utilized by ruling political elites, are becoming the most significant factor in how corrupt relationships are shaped and protected in the media.
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The concept of media integrity helps in understanding and explaining the workings of the economy of influence, in which media are one of the strongest trade currencies.
However, the biggest threat to journalism in Kenyan today is not even state or advertisers control, but having editors of publicly listed media houses deciding to use their influence for personal gain by becoming ‘tenderpreneurs’ or government tender-chasing businessmen instead of protecting public interest.
Some editors and managers at Nation Media Group have become ‘tenderpreneurs’. One editor is said to be a shareholder in a company called 360 Degrees Media Consulting that is among the companies linked to contractors of the now infamous Cambridge Analytica.
No journalist can hold the powerful accountable if he is a ‘tenderpreneur’.
Recently, Britain’s Channel 4 News exposed the role of Cambridge Analytica in 2017 Kenya General Election. Channel 4 News showed one of the company’s top bosses, Alexandar Nix, bragging on how they run the 2013 and 2017 campaigns in Kenya for TNA and Jubilee parties.
Nation Media Group is yet to release its financial statement for the year ending 2017 which it has religiously released over the years before the end of March.
Word has it that the delay in releasing its financial statement is related to new Capital Markets Authority (CMA) financial reporting standards.
The standards among other things requires that companies disclose the remuneration policies and procedures of board of directors in their annual report, puts an age limit of 70 years on board members and puts the tenure of an independent board member not to exceed a cumulative term of nine years.
The new Corporate Governance Code is based on an ‘apply or explain’ principle, a change from the ‘comply or explain’ approach of the preceding Guidelines on Corporate Governance Practices by Public Listed Companies in Kenya.
While traditional news reporting is losing its relevance, serious investigation now requires more than basic journalistic skills. To do this we require a lot of resources.
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Nelson Mandela once said: “A critical, independent, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
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