“We refuse to be silenced,” the eight columnists proclaimed at the head of a joint statement explaining their decision to stop writing for the Nation Media Group (NMG). “I resign to protest the growing infringement on media freedom,” one of the columnists, university academic Nic Cheeseman, wrote in a tweet.
Denying the charges, NMG insisted in a statement that, “we have honoured our obligation to respect their views and did not tamper with their positions except to correct basic errors.”
The collective resignations followed a series of incidents of which the latest was NMG’s refusal to renew the contract of the Linus Kaikai, the general manager of the NMG-owned TV channel NTV in January. Kaikai had denounced collusion between the government and the owners of media outlets that failed to cover the mock swearing-in of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims to have won the 2017 presidential election. Four TV channels that did cover the event, including NTV, were closed by the authorities.
“These mass resignations should give pause to the Kenyan authorities and NMG’s management,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “All these columnists chose to leave of their own free will in protest against the frequent political pressure. The independence of NMG’s 17 media outlets is at stake.”
Several columnists already sounded the alarm two years ago in a letter to NMG’s management accusing it of bowing to political pressure when it fired Denis Galava, a well-known editorialist and editor at the NMG-owned Daily Nation newspaper, after he denounced President Kenyatta’s mishandling of the economy in an editorial.
A few weeks later, NMG refused to renew the contract of Gado, a cartoonist who had worked for the group for 20 years but had been the subject of a complaint from Kenyatta, often the target of Gado’s cartoons.
Media independence is often curtailed in Kenya, especially during elections. In January, the Kenya Editors’ Guild said it was “gravely alarmed over a developing trend by the government to gag or threaten the media over coverage of the current political events in the country.”
Kenya is ranked 95th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.