Why Did Nation Media Group Fire Galava?

Mr Galava, who was suspended on January 6th, 2016, was fired today for “not following due process and endangering the group’s business.”

A significant portion of NMG’s “business” includes ad revenue from the Government of Kenya.

On January 2nd the Daily Nation’s main editorial page ran an uncharacteristically hard-hitting piece highlighting various shortcomings of President Kenyatta and his Administration. It later emerged that Mr. Denis Galava had solely penned the piece. This tells us a lot about the state of newsroom management at NMG. Who else saw the editorial before it ran? Does NMG want us to believe that they never collectively agree on what runs in their main editorial pages? When they say “we” in these pages, who are the “we”?

Of course, a more plausible explanation is that the editorial team at NMG is actually independent, and on January 2nd sought to channel middle class dissatisfaction with the Kenyatta Administration. It’s potentially minuscule political impact notwithstanding, the editorial got significant airplay precisely because its contents resonated with a significant proportion of the Kenyan middle class.

The NMG management then panicked, and in an attempt to protect NMG’s “business” dealt a serious blow to hard-earned media freedom in Kenya.

I can’t rule out the involvement of busybodies at State House in the firing of Mr. Galava. But I also don’t think that this is a decision that came from super high up in government. It was most likely an internal (NMG) foolish reaction to the massive airplay the editorial got (they wanted to protect their “business” and the close relationship between the Aga Khan and the Administration). To this end they may have been nudged by some overeager underlings at State House desperate to show the boss that they’ve got his back.

But was this really necessary?

Uhuru Kenyatta is the President of the Republic of Kenya. He and his Administration should not need to be protected from journalists who are simply doing their job. As the Galava case will soon demonstrate, such acts will only reinforce the perception that Mr. Kenyatta and his Administration are bent on taking Kenya back to the KANU days (I don’t think this is true, see here).

This is a step backwards for media freedom in Kenya. Shame on the NMG management.

Daily Nation suspends editor for strong criticism of President Uhuru Kenyatta

After a rather hard-hitting editorial appeared in the Daily Nation voicing criticisms of the Kenyatta Administration, the newspaper has suspended the editor behind it. An internal memo cited the reason for the suspension as:

The lack of consultation and review of the editorial on the material day – where one writer takes a strong position on such an important issue single-handedly without broad consultations – is a significant departure from established procedure…

Two quick thoughts:

  1. If we take the CEO at his word, it says a lot about the management of the Nation’s newsroom that such a piece could be published without robust internal review and consensus on both content and tone.
  2. What is more likely is that the paper’s editorial team wants to do independent journalism, but the NMG business team is worried about losing advertising revenue from the central government (does anyone know what share of the paper’s (or NMG’s) ad revenue comes from the government?)

This is rather embarrassing coming from one of the Continent’s most reputable news establishments. I am sure president Kenyatta has enough thick skin to weather criticism in the editorial pages. The matter could have been handled without making it clear that the government implicitly dictates the tone of the Nation‘s editorial pages — you know, media independence and all that…

It looks particularly bad as it comes right before Kenya gets into full election mode.

Moving on, it’ll be hard to be sympathetic with the NMG when Kampala or Dodoma harasses the The Daily Monitor or The Citizen.

Update: Here’s a comment from Macharia Gaitho, a former Managing Editor at NMG:

It’s true that at NMG Leaders on a sensitive topic must go through a consultative process. This ensures that they reflect the Group position rather than personal opinion, and that whoever needs to know is in the know. If procedures were flouted and the Group left exposed, it would best have been handled quietly and internally. As it is, action taken against an individual has doubly exposed NMG. For more than a generation the Group has struggled to counter perceptions that it is pro-government. Now it has reinforced those perceptions with action that will be widely interpreted, even if wrongly, as punishing an editor for espousing a view that angered State House. The damage will be almost impossible to undo. And never in the history of the Nation has an individual responsible for a Leader been publicly ‘outed’. The remedy here will prove more damaging than the original offense.