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Nation columnists resign, say group lacks independence.

The Nation Media Group yesterday suffered a major blow when eight of its top columnists resigned over what they called lack of editorial independence.

In a joint press statement, the independent columnists said they had terminated their contracts because they believe the company has been compromised. 'NMG has been compromised and we don't want to be part of a company that makes money by telling lies to people. Nation has been struggling but has finally joined the wrong side. They have to redeem themselves before they sink completely,' Maina Kiai said.

The columnists include Kiai, Kenya Human Rights Commission executive director George Kegoro, activist Muthoni Wanyeki, Fr Gabriel Dolan, Rasna Warah, Gabrielle Lynch, Nic Cheeseman and Kwamchetsi Makokha.

They said they had written to the company's Board of Directors in 2016 after they saw a systematic trend of constraining independent voices within the company, but it bore no fruit, even after the company promised to take unspecified action.

'NMG's management allowed the contract of Africa's foremost cartoonist, Godfrey Mwampembwa, 'Gado', to lapse because of the discomfort his contributions were causing the Executive,' they said in the statement.

They also cited the dismissal of former special projects managing editor Dennis Galava over an editorial that angered State House and that of Linus Kaikai who, as chair of the Kenya Editors Guild, had raised alarm over the plan to clamp down on media coverage of the January 30 swearing-in of Nasa leader Raila Odinga.

Kaikai had issued the statement after a meeting of editors from the main media houses on January 29, but he was vilified and trailed by state security. He finally left the firm at the end of February for Royal Media Services but his appointment was blocked.

Warah said they have not received threats as columnists but they can't sit back and watch as their colleagues get intimidated and silenced.

Kegoro said they have taken the decision to resign to end the pretence that Nation is an independent media house.

'When they go for one of us, we are sure they will come for us too one day, just that they can't fire all of us at once due to shame,' Dolan said.

They called on Kenyans to continue with citizen journalism and keep reporting what they see and think is not being done in the right way.

Columnist Kwamchetsi Makokha said they had agonised over the decision since January. 'We decided that since we exploit the public space, we have have a moral obligation to make a statement for the public.

'Editorial opinions are made in newsrooms, not in State House or Opposition rooms,' said Kiai, a human rights activist and former UN rapporteur.

In a hard-hitting statement, the columnists said they had refused 'to clothe the loss of editorial independence and media freedom at the NMG with respectability'.s

They added that discontinuing economist David Ndii's column was one of the Executive's conditions for the reinstatement of the NMG's broadcast frequencies, which had been unlawfully switched off.

This is a clear indicator that the state has captured the media, they said.

'Censoring individual columnists signals official intolerance for dissenting views. Any media house that supports the desire by the Executive to decide who contributes in publicly accessed space alienates itself from the public,' they added.

Sources said the resignation of the columnists was likely to be followed by other departures of disgruntled staff from the broadcast division.

'The standards of censure are not clear, so journalists live in dread of the unknown. We agreed those who can leave do so, but there is likely to be another wave,' said one columnist.
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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:Mar 28, 2018
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