Insider Speaks Out
The tragic tribal divisions that have almost driven the country on its knees have not spared the largest media house in East and Central Africa region – the Nation Media Group.
The loyalty of journalists and editors in NMG’s editorial department is sharply torn between bitter protagonists PNU and ODM camps putting into sharp focus the credibility and the accuracy of the news being fed to the public by the once-independent and reputable media house.
In principle, journalists all over the world are supposed to be professional, neutral and independent in their reporting, thinking and public conduct. Sadly, this is no longer the case in the Kikuyu-dominated and controlled Nation Media Group. The once-respected media house is fast evolving into another KBC.
As an insider, I can tell you that NMG has been rocked by deep tribal divisions in the run-up to last year’s General Election and the tribal tensions have reached fever pitch high in the on-going post-election violence that threaten to drive Kenya on the brink of a civil war.
Although NMG has been under the firm control of Kikuyus – looking at the appointments and promotions across all the ranks – tribal resentment was mute during the long tenure of Wilfred Kiboro. Things have taken a dangerous turn since Linus Gitahi replaced Kiboro.
The pro-Kibaki coverage of news by all the media outlets owned by NMG have been subject of public heated debate at homes, bars, offices and in matatus. It has been argued that NMG had lost its independence and credibility in the coverage of political events and other issues of great public concern. Nothing can be further from the truth.
I’ll attempt to give an insider’s view of what has been happening at the heart of our newsroom.
First, the independence of the Editorial Department has been greatly eroded since Gitahi took over from Kiboro. Gitahi, being from President Kibaki’s Nyeri District, set a very bad precedent by turning up in editorial meetings and placing calls to senior Editors with an intention of manipulating and dictating the content of news that was to be fed to the public.
For the sake of those who don’t know, Gitahi has never stepped inside a journalism classroom, therefore being less qualified to lecture trained and professional journalists on what they should write. He went up the corporate ladder at SmithKline Beecham previously GlaxoSmithKline.
Gitahi has never hidden his deliberate and systematic intentions to ensure only news content that was music to President Kibaki’s inner circles was churned out by NMG products since he arrived in Nation Centre slightly over a year ago.
In the run up to the Dec 27 General Election, Gitahi often banged tabled in editorial meetings when professional and seasoned editors differed with him or defied him on the coverage of political events. He often turned up in the meetings to ensure President Kibaki got better coverage over his rivals Raila Odinga of ODM and Kalonzo Musyoka of ODM-K.
Another wing headed by the Group Managing Editor, Mr Joseph Odindo, openly showed their loyalty was with Mr Odinga. Mr Odindo, who has a big title which lacks any portfolio (in fact, he was given the post when the Standard wanted to poach him and offer him the post of Editorial Director some three years ago), always hovered in the newsroom changing stories to ensure they favoured Odinga.
Most of the Luo editors and journalists and a few other colleagues from other tribes were fully behind him. Some of them are Jaidi Kisero (Managing Editor, The EastAfrican), Macharia Gaitho (Managing Editor, Investigations and Special Projects. Just like Odindo, his post has no portfolio but he owes it for being Odindo’s foot soldier), Lucy Oriang’ (Managing Editor formerly in charge of Magazines), Emman Omari (Political Editor), Owino Opondo (Parliamentary Editor), Odhiambo Orlale (journalist), etc.
However, Gitahi’s camp carried the day in pushing its agenda for President Kibaki. NMG’s Editorial Department, and most other departments within the group, suffers from imbalance in key appointments. Key posts within the Editorial Department are headed by the Gema.
Look at this: Editorial Director - Wangethi Mwangi (Murang'a), Managing Editor (Daily Nation) - Bernard Nderitu ( Kiambu), Managing Editor, (Sunday Nation) - Mutuma Mathiu (Meru), Managing Editor (Business Daily) - Nick Wachira (Nyeri), Managing Editor (Daily Metro) - Julius Maina (Central province) and Managing Editor (Taifa) - Wainaina Kiganya (Kangemi). NMG's only publication not headed by GEMA is The EastAfrican. With a strong tribal army like this behind him, Gitahi’s wishes flooded NMG publications.
Journalists from the minor tribes, who are also a minority in the newsroom and where I belong, have no say and we only just watch helplessly as the two camps try manipulate news to suit the ears of their preferred political godfathers.
The consequences are clear – the Circulation Department has been reporting a marked drastic drop in sales of newspapers. Daily Nation’s rival, the Standard, has taken advantage in the tribal infighting within NMG and gained a big market share in Nairobi, Rift Valley, Coast, Nyanza and Western provinces. Readers predominantly ODM regions prefer buying the Standard rather than the Daily Nation.
The worst manipulation of news by the Gitahi-Wangethi axis has taken a dangerous precedent in the post-election period. Gitahi and Wangethi have taken it upon themselves to go through stories before they are published to ensure President Kibaki’s interests were taken care off. We have seen a deliberate and shameless campaign to misinform the public by doctoring the real truth on the ground or the number of ODM supporters and other innocent people shot dead by the police.
The news gathered by reporters on the group is doctored with the direct instructions of Gitahi and Wangethi to cover up the truth. There’s already an unofficial policy that the figures of the dead published by NMG must be those from the deceitful Kenya Police!
Even in cases where our colleagues were in the field and witnessed first-hand police shooting people and did their own tally, such news can’t be published in NMG until the police gave their own doctored figures. For instance, there a day Daily Nation and NTV journalists counted 14 bodies of victims shot dead by police in Kibera. Wangethi insisted that journalists had to call the police spokesman. Know what? The spokesman gave a figure of ONE person being killed and that is the story Daily Nation published!
There has been talk in the newsroom that Gitahi has been holding frequent meetings and is in constant telephone communication with Police Commissioner, Maj Gen Hussein Ali, and Kibaki’s ruling elite to help them play down the insecurity situation in the country. We understand all the other media houses have been co-opted into this scheme.
Significantly, Gitahi has been prevailed upon to ensure NMG outlets carried few figures, or nothing at all, of the ODM supporters being executed by the police to ensure the other tribes don’t rise up against the illegitimate Kibaki regime and his Kikuyu tribe. It’s feared the rest of Kenya would rise up against the Government if the real death toll – which reliable police sources now estimate to be above 2,500 – was made public.
On the other hand, Odindo and his camp have been rejoicing every time non-Kalenjins, especially the Kikuyus, are reported butchered in parts of the Rift Valley province by ODM supporters. Odindo and his Co. have taken it to be their responsibility that news that paint ODM negatively in the ethnic cleansing was muzzled or killed. Odindo and his camp could not hide their disgust when Kibaki was declared winner on Dec 30 through a stolen election.
In fact, a few journalists from the Kikuyu community have been accusing Odhiambo Orlale of acting like the spy boy for Odinga and ODM. They accuse him of reporting Editorial’s in-house matters directly to ODM. The Kikuyus openly complain that Orlale’s action posed a serious threat to their lives in case the rowdy ODM hooligans decide to strike.
This problem is not confined to NMG only. Odinga has recruited spies in all the newsrooms and he gets a first-hand account of what goes on there.
The sad state of affairs in NMG came just months after it suffered a serious moral credibility after some of our colleagues exposed shocking sex scandals involving Gitahi, Wangethi, Odindo and other top managers.
The fall out in the top NMG ranks over the sex sleaze leakage has been severe and some of the key figures linked to the scandal have left NMG in mysterious circumstances. But Gitahi, Wangethi and Odindo are still hanging on and the reputation damage they have done to this company will take years to recover.
The wounds inflicted by the sex leak are far from over from healing. However, journalists behind the sex leak made a major achievement since the management was forced to improve better terms for journalists – especially the correspondents who had been turned into modern slaves by NMG despite making huge profits.
All news correspondents in Nairobi were given a minimum monthly retainer of Sh17,000 while their colleagues in the bureaus got Sh12,000 plus a medical cover. The rate for paying stories published by the correspondents was also improved. A number of long-serving and qualified correspondents were given permanent jobs.
Previously, most correspondents didn’t have a retained and they only relied on the poor rate that was paid for every story published. A majority of them earned an average of Sh5,000 every month.
The on-going tribal animosity in our newsroom is sickening and it’s time to lift the lid and let the entire world know the lack of impartiality in news coverage. Should Kenyans and the world continue relying on distorted news being churned out by Nation Media Group?