Full Statement: 8 Senior Nation Media Group Columnists Resign Over Media Freedom & Interference Of Editorial Freedom
Full text of the statement by eight senior Nation Media Group columnists who withdrew their columns from the East African media powerhouse over infringement of media freedoms in Kenya. One of the NMG columnists involved, Prof Nic Cheeseman (@Fromagehomme), summarizes the global reasons behind the unexpected action in this tweet affirming his resignation:
Vide this action, the eight Nation Media Group Columnists join other Morans that we’ve covered in the Morans section of this blog. Individuals from diverse fields: public health, literature, social change, environmental conservation and so on; who through singular or collective action strive to make the 21st century a better place for humanity.
WE REFUSE TO BE SILENCED
Statement by independent columnists
For many years, we have been privileged to contribute regularly to various publications of the Nation Media Group (NMG) as columnists . But sadly, and with regret, we now announce the immediate withdrawal of our columns from these publications.
We are deeply grateful to readers here in Kenya, throughout the region and around the world, who have granted us audience and engaged with our contributions to public debate on politics, policy, justice and human rights.
We are aware that the singular privilege to contribute comes with the tacit compact to promote and protect intellectual freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of information. which anchor freedom of the media.
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.
Two years ago, a number of us wrote to the NMG’s Board of Directors in an act of good faith to express our concerns about what we saw as a systematic process to constrain independent voices within the company, contrary to its stated editorial policy to promote diversity and freedom of the media. We feared the legitimacy of the Nation Media Group as a credible source of truth was being undermined by the management’s failure or refusal to safeguard the operational independence of professionals in its employ.
Notably, we cited the dismissal of Dennis Galava as Managing Editor for Special Projects and Investigations over the publication of an editorial critical of the presidency – especially since he had been threatened by such action from outside the Nation Media Group. Within weeks of that decision, the NMG’s management also allowed the contract of Africa’s foremost cartoonist, Geoffrey Mwampembwa, ‘Gado’, to lapse because of the discomfort his contributions were causing the Executive. Other, subsequent departures of senior editorial staff did little to assuage the moral dilemma we felt at our continued association with the NMG, whose respect for human rights and freedom of expression was then in question. We asked the company to change course.
Our view then, as it remains now, was 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 moths later, promised unspecified action, which never materialized
Page 2 of Statement by Nation Media Group Columnists
Last month, the NMG released from its service Linus Kaikai who, as Chair of the Kenya Editors Guild, had spoken out against collusion between the Executive and some media managers to censor reporting on the mock swearing-in of opposition leader Raila Odinga. Subsequently, the editors of the Saturday Nation informed one of the most-read and discussed columnists that his contract would not be renewed, and only after he formally inquired about his status.
Long before the communications, it was reported that discontinuing economist Davud 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 air.
A worrying pattern has emerged where it appears the Executive is able to influence who works for or contributes to the NMG. The Executive has had numerous opportunities and resources to tell its side of whatever story is being publicly discussed – and it has done so both through its spokespeople and through pro-government columnists, including in the Nation’s publications.
The Executive and NMG’s actions suggest state capture of the media. Censoring individual columnists signals official intolerance for 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 can have a voice in publicly accessed spaces. A media organization that tacitly supports such a position alienates itself from the public.
Two years ago, we opined that the judgement and leadership of some of the NMG’s editorial board and its senior management was questionable and engendered public suspicion about its political intolerance. The latest actions have, in our collective view, destroyed the public trust the NMG’s publications enjoyed. making our continued association with the NMG untenable.
We refuse to continue to clothe the loss of editorial independence and media freedom at the NMG with respectability.
Thankfully, public opinion is no longer in the sole grip of those who buy ink by the barrel. We are encouraged by the emergence of more egalitarian models foe accessing and sharing information, and will not be powerless witnesses to the silencing of even one voice, however disagreeable those in power might find it.
It is with regret that we hereby collectively resign as independent columnist from the NMG. We assure our readership that we intend to continue to be heard and to engage with readers through making use of such models for free thought and three free exchange of ideas.
- George Kegoro – Executive Director, Kenya Human Rights Commission and Sunday Nation columnist since 2011.
- I. Muthoni Wanyeki – Africa Director, Open Society Foundations and Saturday Nation/EastAfrican columnist since 2001.
- Fr. Gabriel Dolan – Catholic missionary priest and Saturday Nation columnist since 2008.
- Rasna Warah – Author and Daily Nation columnist since 2006.
- Maina Kiai – Co-Director, InformAction and coloumnist Sunday Nation 1997 – 1999 ; 2001 – 2003; Saturday Nation since 2011.
- Gabrielle Lynch – Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Warwick and Saturday Nation columnist since April 2014.
- Nic Cheeseman – Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham and Sunday Nation columnist since 2004.
- Kwamchetsi Makokha – Programme Advisor, Journalists for Justice and Daily Nation/ Saturday Nation columnist 1999 – 2003; 2006 – 2018