December 14th 2017

Media / Watchdog

Nation Media retires 'best editors', low Safaricom revenues blamed for losses

A source in the group's accounts department told the Kenya Free Press that it was badly hit by mobile phone company Safaricom's decision in late 2016 to weight its advertising costs online rather than on the print editions.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comThursday, 12 Jan 2017 18:00 EAT

NMG chairman Wilfred Kiboro gives an investor's briefing. (Photo: Courtesy/Daily Nation website).

The Nation Media Group has let go of three top editors who were seen within the company and the larger journalism fraternity as carrying the most credibility with its readers, signifying a full-blown drift in favour of the Jubilee government in the run-up to the general elections scheduled for August this year. The newpaper division has retired Mr Eric Obino, managing editor of the Sunday Nation and Mr Erick Shimoli, the Daily Nation's news editor. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the Sunday paper's features editor Sammy Wambua had also left the company.

While the development was widely reported by the blogosphere as 'sackings', all three editors had served the newspaper group for decades and were ripe for retirement. The company is implementing a restructuring programme that involves merging departments, shelving others and letting go of top earners as a strategy of cutting costs. All three had reached the top percentile of highest earners in the editorial department. Other senior editors like Mutuma Mathiu, the DN's managing editor, his deputy Nganga Mbugua, Linus Kaikai of NTV and Ochieng Rapuro of the Business Daily are much younger.

However, from social media discussions on the subject, a perception was created that the company was releasing the editors only months before a tightly-fought August elections in which the media will play a central role. As the elite media company, the Nation Group's newspapers are widely seen as allied with the political currents in Central Kenya, and in the last two elections the company threw its weight behind Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta, the eventual presidents out of controversial elections against CORD leader Raila Odinga.

This notwithstanding, under Mr Obino's leadership, the Sunday Nation had established a reputation for independence and boldness, unearthing several financial scandals in the Jubilee government. The paper had been targeted by regime forces as a result, and last year the Nation Group sacked its two senior editors, Mugumo Munene and Andrew Teyie, who were key pillars in Mr Obino's leadership of the Sunday edition. Mr Shimoli, on his part, was a trusted hand in the Daily Nation's newsdesk.

Once one of Kenya's most solid listed companies, the Nation Group has suffered declined sales revenues for over a year. A source in the group's accounts department intimated to the Kenya Free Press that it was badly hit by mobile phone company Safaricom's decision in late 2016 to weight its advertising costs online rather than on the print media. The mobile phone company is Nation's top source of advertising revenues, a contribution for which it had extracted an unwritten commitment from the NMG never to publish its negative news.

However, as the media scene has changed in recent years of internet penetration, Safaricom's reliance on the Nation Group has come under stress, with the mobile company spending hundreds of millions of shillings on the media house even as its negative news was covered by independent bloggers and news sites. Last year, Safaricom shifted a substantial chunck of its media advertising to Google, which distributes the ads to local websites through an objective algorithm-driven system methodology.

The Nation has been warned by key advertisers in the banking sector that they would also gradually be channeling their advertising through Google, according to our source. The paper's reduced revenues are also attributed to a general downturn in the economy, and the longer the downturn lasts, the harder it will be to accrue the colossal revenues it had been used to for decades, and the more job cuts it will be forced to undertake. This website reported in November that both the Nation and Standard companies would be firing workers this year.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr Obino has not left the company. This fact was corrected in a subsequent report on the subject available here.

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