How Transparent Is The Media?
CEO Nation Media Group and board member of the Africa Media Initiative
“We exist to serve all without discrimination”
Founded by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1959 The Nation Media Group (NMG) Kenya has become the largest independent media house in East and Central Africa. It has been quoted on the Nairobi Stock Exchange since the early 1970s and is now the leading multi-media house in the East African region. Linus Gitahi the group’s chief executive officer says it has maintained high standards of governance over the past few years pursuing the group’s dream to be the media of Africa for Africa. “Nothing matters more in journalism than integrity, transparency and balance” he says.
In late 2010 Sarah Hermitage one of the British investors in the Silverdale Farm case in Tanzania provided information in the public interest to Mr. Amadou Ba, chief executive officer of the African Media Initiative (AMI). The Silverdale Farm case is a case where British investors were forced from Tanzania by harassment, corruption and abuse of law instigated by Moshi Hotelier Benjamin Mengi and facilitated by the police, judiciary and state institutions within Tanzania.
The information provided to Mr. Ba concerned the conduct of IPP Media in Tanzania (and the abusive use of newspapers owned by the group to defame the British investors) and was entirely within the ambit of the organisation i.e. to strengthen a private and independent media, promote social and economic development and hold governments and other institutions to account.
Linus Gitahi, also a member of AMI’s board of directors was copied the information and expressed the view to Mr. Ba that Sarah Hermitage and the information should be ignored.
Fellow AMI board member Eric Chinje concurred with this view stating the following to remainder of AMI’s board members:-
“No more direct correspondence with Ms. Hermitage. She will always find reason to keep you (and the rest of us) focused on her case. I am also of the view that we should quickly put our heads together and, if need be, seek legal counsel on a way forward.
This woman will not stop: AMI affords her an important regional platform to air her grievances. We must avoid playing into her hands.I suggest we quietly take up the matter with concerned authorities in the UK and Tanzania, rejecting the notion that this regional initiative can be held hostage by any individual, be they a rich taxpayer from a donor country.
The arrogance is baffling! (I was at the ICFJ yesterday and this subject came up, especially with regard to Joyce's role as co-chair of AMLF 2010. I detected a certain level of concern about the whole issue and interest in how we planned to handle it.)
Can a conference call be organized on Friday to agree on the outlines of a strategy to deal with this? I will not be surprised to find others with similar grievances lurking in the outfield and wanting to resort to the same tactics.
Du courage! Eric
Former Head of the Global Media Program at the World Bank Institute
( Mo Ibrahim Foundation in London)
“I suggest we quietly take up the matter with concerned authorities in the UK and Tanzania, rejecting the notion that this regional initiative can be held hostage by any individual, be they a rich taxpayer from a donor country.”
Eric Chinje, as well as being an AMI board member is currently head of the Global Media Program at the World Bank Institute (shortly to move to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in London). He was formerly the External Affairs and Communications Manager in the World Bank’s Africa Region and was the institution's spokesperson on Africa.
The World Bank and the AMI are organisations supported by donors who are under financial pressure, and who are accountable to taxpayers - both rich and poor - increasingly resentful of spending aid monies, notably in Africa, which do not meet stated and agreed objectives. Those taxpayers would no doubt be very unhappy to discover the World Bank's employees freely discussing how to bury grievances, particularly if those grievances were against an organisation whose objectives include the promotion of "free access to public information for all citizens" such as the AMI.
Mr. Chinje is quite close to, if not already over, the line whereby he encourages the cover up of unwelcome complaints not only from Ms. Hermitage, but from "others with similar grievances" (who are they, one wonders?).
Similarly, shareholders of NMG may be surprised to see their CEO Linus Gitahi a man rhetorically committed to transparency, integrity and balance failing to hold onto Eric Chinje’s coat tails to prevent him crossing the line as well as concurring with the view that the information provided, clearly in the public interest, should be ignored.
An article published by the Citizen newspaper (owned by NMG) in August 2011 in Tanzania inferred that Moshi Hotelier Benjamin Mengi, brother of IPP Media CEO Reginald Mengi, owned the lease to Silverdale and Mbono Farms when it was well known and legally evidenced that he had sold it to British investors Stewart Middleton and Sarah Hermitage in 2004. The article can be read at the link below.
Ms. Hermitage wrote to the Citizen Newspaper and asked for the article to be retracted and for a right of reply. The Citizen ignored the request and she then wrote directly to Linus Gitahi. Mr. Gitahi issued an instruction to then Citizen chief executive officer Mr. Sam Shollei to give Ms. Hermitage a right of reply: “We exist to serve all without discrimination. Please ensure she is heard” he said.
No reply was given and Ms Hermitage referred the matter to Wilfred Kiboro, the Chairman of NMG’s Board of Directors. Mr Kiboro refused to give a right of reply stating “we regret our inability to publish your commentary; lawyers have warned that if we were to publish it we would be exposing ourselves to libel suits and we could even be held in contempt of court as some of the matters in your letter are already in the Tanzanian courts.
Commenting from London Ms Hermitage states, “We have not issued any legal proceedings in Tanzania. However it is continually being stated that we have as an excuse not to talk about this case and tell the truth. Nation Media Group has been supplied with the legal documentation in respect of our ownership of the lease to Silverdale and Mbono Farms. Until such time as a Tanzanian court states that ownership is unlawful, it is incumbent upon NMG to respect our rights and uphold the law in respect of that lease holding. It has chosen not to do that and has resorted to the obfuscation of the facts in order not to tell the truth”
In July 2011 East African Community Secretary General Juma Mwapachu lauded Mwananchi Communications (a subsidiary of NMG) for empowering the citizens of East Africa through knowledge. The then Mwananchi Managing Director Sam Shollei stated the Citizen’s publications will remain independent, bold and fearless, and continue to champion the ideals of democracy such as good governance, accountability and transparency.
At the African Media Leaders Forum in Tunis in 2011 Eric Chinje emphasised the need for a professional media in Africa. In the same year Linus Gitahi was voted one of the five most powerful African media moguls by Forbes and together with Wilfred Kiboro is the custodian of immense media power in east Africa. All three men are amongst the most influential media personalities on the African continent.
Wilfred D Kiboro
Chairman - Nation Media Group
“Matters are in the Tanzanian courts”
Chairman of the Board of Directors at NMG Wilfred Kiboro refuses to offer a right of reply in this case stating "I am sorry that you still feel let down by The Nation Group in failing to expose "the truth" - this will expose the Group to legal suits from some parties as well as putting the Group in contempt of court on matters that are currently before Tanzania Courts. As chairman of the Group it is my duty to protect the interests of the shareholders,the company, and other stakeholders . Disregarding advice of our lawyers on this matter and putting the Group to a huge financial risk which could run into millions of dollars in court fines would be both unwise and reckless.
The British investor has no cases in court in Tanzania or anywhere else. By implication therefore, Mr. Kiboro and the NMG is failing to uphold the laws of Tanzania and an honest editorial policy that offers a right in reply in the face of vicious and deliberate defamation.
The failure of the Nation Media Group to print this simple right of reply in the Silverdale Farm case paints a worrying picture of the transparency of African media for those that expect the media to play a prominent, accountable and transparent role in the promotion of sustainable development and civil society in Africa.
How transparent is East Africa’s media? The reader is left to decide.
Linda Levy UK. Freelance Journalist