Nation Media poised for major shakeup

Nation Media Group (NMG) is bracing for a major overhaul that could see several top manages axed, Business Today has learnt. According to sources familiar with on goings at Nation Centre, principal shareholder His Highness The Aga Khan, has assembled a team to review the media house’s operations in the wake of a massive decline in its earnings.

Some insiders says Managing Editor, Weekend Editions, Eric Obino, who was retrenched in January only to make a surprise comeback, could be headed for bigger things after the ongoing review, which is being overseen by a team from France, where the Aga Khan, who holds 44.66% shareholding in NMG, is based. Obino had been demoted to production editor in an earlier reshuffle.

The company’s board has also been working on a report on its financial situation for discussion with the Aga Khan. The company has been in the spotlight in recent years for taking an open pro-government posture, in the process axing key editors and writers who are seen as radicals.

The latest to exit have been NTV General Manager Linus Kaikai, who was sacked, and outspoken news anchor Larry Madowo, who resigned to join BBC, barely two days after eight independent columnists quit, accusing the media house of suppressing their voices.

Madowo is known to be a very independent journalist, who never keeps silent, while Kaikai was accused in some quarters of having a dalliance with NASA leader Raila Odinga, though no proof has ever been provided save for his decision to defy Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi, who wanted NTV not to live stream his mock installation as the people’s president. It is believed the decision led to his exit from the twin towers.

Protests by NASA that the media house has been giving them skewed coverage is said to have led to a huge decline in print sales.

Block 5

However, whoever is behind the targeted coverage appears unmoved. On Sunday, the media house went to town with a page one splash headlined “Why Miguna is in trouble with Kenya” in which it highlighted remarks made at a meeting in Dallas, Texas on March 10, during his so-called global mobilisation and recruitment tour in which he outlined how he will oust the Jubilee government by sending five million people to the streets.

The paper said many believe Miguna might have just been bluffing his way to infamy, carried away by his own sense of self-importance, but concluded it is part of the reason he landed in trouble at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport despite contradictory assertions by government.

British university don Prof Nick Cheeseman, who is among those who severed ties with NMG, also revealed a commentary that was meant to be published in the previous week’s Sunday Nation, was dropped and later edited to remove some sections touching on staff exits from Nation Centre. He, however, said it was not the sole reason he chose to quit.

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According to some sources, the sales of the Sunday Nation, the media house’s best selling paper, have dropped from more than 320,000 to less than 200,000. Daily Nation circulation is said to have declined from 180,000 copies per day to less than 100,000 while Saturday Nation print sales have dropped from more than 260,000 copies to less than 160,000.

Coupled with declining government and corporate ad spend, NMG is said to be doing badly financially. The company, which is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, is yet to release its 2017 annual financial results, which are believed to have sharply declined compared to 2016 when it recorded a 9.7% in net profit to Ksh 1.68 billion  compared with Ksh 2.22 billion a year earlier.

While the company reported in had posted Ksh 825.6 million profit after tax in the six months to June 2017 compared to Ksh 785.4 million in the same period last year, a 5.12 per cent growth, the second half is believed to have been hit by the heated political environment in the country.

The company was forced to postpone its staff rightsizing exercise to this year to avert a situation where it would have been forced to issue a profit warning for the year ending December 2017. To underline how things have changed at NMG, it has not issued staff with generous yearly bonuses equivalent to one or two months salary since 2013 and instead restructuring has become an annual ritual at the twin towers.

Other sources intimate the review could be part of preparations by the Aga Khan to sell his stake to Central Kenya tycoons, among them, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family.

READ: Lands CS Farida Karoney poaches top Citizen editors

The company is yet to appoint a substantive CEO following the sudden exit of Joe Muganda at the end of January this year. NMG’s share price, which has been on a downward spiral, has made gains in recent days reaching Ksh 112 at Tuesday’s trading (see graph above).

However, investors appear to be worried about events at the twin towers.

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