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Eight columnists quit Kenya media giant citing 'meddling by gov't and management'

Eight columnists quit Kenya media giant citing 'meddling by gov't and management'

Kenya

Eight prominent columnists working for Kenya’s biggest media group quit Tuesday over what they said was increased meddling by government and interference in journalistic freedom by the paper’s management.

Some of the columnists have written on politics, human rights, policy and justice for the paper for over 10 years.

The columnists include George Kegoro, executive director of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission; Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki, Africa director of the Open Society Foundation; and Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy at Birmingham University.

A worrying pattern has emerged where it appears the government is able to influence who works for or contributes to NMG.

“I resign to protest the growing infringement on media freedom. I resign to show solidarity with the voices that have been silenced. I resign because we must live our beliefs,” Cheeseman wrote on Twitter.

In a joint statement, the eight highlighted several incidents in recent years that they said pointed to meddling in the independence of the Nation Media Group (NMG).

These included the firing of a managing editor after an editorial critical of the presidency and failing to renew the contract of popular cartoonist Gado who regularly took aim at government.

“A worrying pattern has emerged where it appears the executive [government] is able to influence who works for or contributes to NMG,” read the joint statement.

Recently, a leading economist and political commentator David Ndii was also dropped by NMG.

“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.”

Last month, NMG fired the manager of its NTV station, Linus Kaikai, after he said there had been collusion between media owners and government to censor coverage of the mock swearing-in of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who maintained he won elections last year.

NTV and two other television stations were pulled off air for a week, despite court orders directing they are switched back on.

The media suspension was criticised by the United Nations, the United States and rights watchdogs.

The NMG is the biggest private media house in East Africa, operating in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

NMG has since issued a statement acknowledging the resignation of its columnists and reiterating its commitment to media freedom.

Kenya is recovering from an ethnically divisive election season in 2017 which saw a first vote overturned by the Supreme Court, and a second boycotted by Odinga who claimed the election would not be free and fair.

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