DSM Place, the Mediamax Network Ltd, headquarters along Kijabe Street, Nairobi.

Former Nation Media Group Weekend Editor Eric Obino has been hired by Mediamax Network Ltd, a media house associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, to take up the newly-created position of Editorial Director, Business Today can exclusively reveal.

The move will come as a shocker for the Standard Group, which had targeted Obino to replace Joseph Odindo, who retired last year but took a low-profile exit last month as the company grappled with getting his successor. It is understood that Standard had settled on Obino, but slowed down after he put up “some tough conditions” before taking up the job.

Obino, a calm but firm journalist who maintains a clean-shaven head, is known to be a very independent journalist who fell out with top editorial management at Nation Centre, where he headed the weekend editions. He starts working for Mediamax on April 1st.

He was pushed out last year after publishing a story on sugar importation touching on big players in the industry. It was the second time he was exiting the twin towers having first been sacked in January 2017 as Group Managing Editor, Weekend Editions, before the board of directors intervened and was returned as Head of Production.

It remains to be seen whether Obino will be able to operate independently at DSM Place, the Mediamax head office on Kijabe Street, especially given that Ruto, who currently holds a majority stake in the company, is keen on taking over from Uhuru when he exits State House in 2022. He will find himself a rock and a hard place balancing the political interests of both shareholders.

As Editorial Director, he will not only be responsible for editorial functions but also developing strategic plans for marketing and sales as well as project development. Before the creation of the Editorial Director’s role, Editor-in-Chief Peter Opondo was the highest ranking journalist at the media house. The entry of a new position above him will certainly clip his powers and influence at Mediamax.

The hiring of Obino is the latest indicator of Mediamax’s ambitions to take the competition to its rivals. When it rehired Opondo last April, sources had indicated he was given a free hand to restructure the business to a level where it can rival its competitors – Nation Media Group, Standard Media and Royal Media Services – and deliver profits to investors.

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As part of the strategy, the media house hired top names in the industry, among them, Betty Kyalo for K24, Alex Mwakideu, Felix Odiwour aka Jalang’o and Francis Luchivya (for Milele FM) from the Standard Group and Royal Media Services, among others, to boost the broadcast platforms.

Obino’s first sacking at Nation came at a time State House was said to be piling pressure on NMG 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. He later joined Standard.

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. Sunday Nation news and investigative editors – Mugumo Muneno and Andrew Teyie, respectively – were also bundled out in unclear circumstances.

Sources at Nation Centre say the circumstances of the journalists’ exits were part of the reasons the board resolved last year to part ways with Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi, who was also shown the door in December. He was said to have had an unease relationship with the Sunday Nation team which, it was said, often rejected his overtures to influence editorial decisions for both personal and political reasons.

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