Tension among Nation Media Group (NMG) employees has hit feverpitch, after one of the managing editors was served with a redundancy letter, with two other senior editors targeted for sacking.
Sources at Nation Centre, the company’s head offices, indicate that Sunday Nation managing editor Eric Obino was yesterday given his letter by the human resources office. This is a pointer to things to come as the media house embarks on trimming its payroll to save costs. A board meeting is under way to review the planned changes.
Mr Obino, a calm but firm journalist who maintains a clean-shaven head, has led the Sunday Nation for many years and has also been the overall head of weekend editions. He is known to be a very independent journalist and according to sources, he was “in the bad books” of the top editorial management at Nation Media. It is not yet clear who will take over from him, but insider candidates are not in short supply.
As Nation Media comes to terms with this news and more impending sackings, it is emerging that State House could have a hand in Obino’s sacking, though some say the newspaper he heads has suffered massive circulation drops in the past few months and the company is out to try new hands on Sunday.
Incidentally, State House operatives have been keen to silence critical voices at Nation Media Group’s newspaper division. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy President William Ruto are said to have been piling pressure on Nation management to get rid of journalists perceived to be critical of the government. They started off by having award-winning editorial cartoonist Gado pushed out of Nation. (Gado later joined Standard last year).
The clinical scheme to neuter journalists targeting the weekend editions is now an open secret.
Gado’s exit was followed by the unceremonious sending away of Special Projects Editor Denis Galava, who was accused of sidestepping editorial procedure to publish a scathing editorial against the Jubilee administration early 2016. Not surprisingly, the editorial was never pulled down from Nation’s website nor did the media house retract it or issue an apology.
It is worth noting that Galava, who now heads Sunday Standard, had been moved from the influential Saturday Nation to special projects in what turned out to have been a fattening process for his sacking. Sunday Nation news and investigative editors – Mugumo Muneno and Andrew Teyie, respectively – were also bundled out in unclear circumstances.
What’s common among all these journalists is the fact that they were anti-government in their work. Mugumo joined Oxygene, a PR and communications agency co-owned by former Nation CEO Linus Gitahi and former Business Daily Managing Editor Nick Wachira and a group of other journalists and investors.
Media observers say Nation Media is yielding to government pressure, especially after NMG’s principal shareholder His Highness the Aga Khan was feted at state house by President Uhuru Kenyatta last year. The timing of Mr Obino’s sacking raises eyebrows, coming just seven months to the general elections, perhaps calculated to edge him out and have someone who can play to the tune of management’s political and commercial interests.
Editor in Chief Tom Mshindi has also not liked the Sunday Nation team which, it is said, has often rejected his overtures to influence editorial decisions. “Mshindi runs a PR company and uses the Nation newspapers to get publicity for his clients, but Obino has been blocking his articles,” someone familiar with the two told Business Today.
The bad-blood has been such that there are cases where Mshindi, for instance, would ‘kill’ an article only for it to be published the following week.
Meanwhile, sources say two senior editors on the news desk could also be sent home in the restructuring that targets 25 journalists. Employees are anxiously waiting the final list to know whether their jobs are secure.