The Standard Group has taken advantage of the fallout over alleged lack of independence at main rival, Nation Media Group (NMG), by recruiting most of the independent columnists who quit on March 27 this year.

In an advertorial, the Standard has announced that Catholic priest Gabriel Dolan,  Kenya Human Rights Commission Executive Director George Kegoro and  former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai, among others, have enlisted as columnists for its Sunday edition.

Dolan, Kegoro and  Kiai resigned alongside Muthoni Wanyeki, Rasna Warah, Gabrielle Lynch, Prof Nick Cheeseman and Kwamchetsi Makokha as they accused the NMG of a pro-government bias, declaring they could “no longer continue to clothe the loss of editorial independence and 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 for accessing and sharing information and will not be powerless witnesses to the silencing even of one voice, however disagreeable those in power find it.”

The columnists, some of whom had contributed for over 15 years, said they had two years ago written to the NMG Board of Directors “in an act of good faith” to express their concern in what they saw was a systematic process to constrain independent voices within the company.

“We feared the legitimacy of Nation Media Group as a credible source of truth was being undermined by its management’s failure or refusal to safeguard the professional independence of professionals in its employ,” they say in the statement.

“We refuse to continue to clothe the loss of editorial independence and 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 for accessing and sharing information and will not be powerless witnesses to the silencing even of one voice, however disagreeable those in power find it,” the columnists added at a j***t press conference in Nairobi.

They cited the dismissal of Nation Special Projects and Investigations Editor Dennis Galava two years ago over a strong editorial against the presidency as well as the pushing out of editorial cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa, alias Gado. The two later joined Standard but Galava was kicked out barely a year into the job as managing editor for weekend.

The columnists claimed the subsequent exit of other senior editorial staff left them in a moral dilemma of being associated with an organisation whose respect for human rights and freedom of expression was in question. “The board’s response, when it came two months later, promised unspecified action, which never materialised.” NASA columnist David Ndii’s Staurday column, which was critical of government, was subsequently suspended, a euphemism for stoppage.

READ: End of the road for David Ndii’s Saturday Nation column

Hitting at NMG, the Standard Group termed the trio’s capture as a case of “where the bright meet the bold.”It goes on to quote former Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Selassie who once said: “A well informed public opinion is more essential to the growth of political and social awareness. Only he is informed can comment intelligently in his nation’s development and only by such comment can errors be corrected and progress stimulated.”

In a statement issued after the mass resignation, NMG defended its stance, saying it has always respected their views and did not tamper with their positions except to correct basic errors.

ALSO SEE: Nation Media takes to crowdsourcing news

Last week, NMG chairman Wilfred Kiboro downplayed the exit of the columnists and top journalists, saying it has not affected the media house’s circulation figures.

 

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