A row has erupted between the International Federation of Journalists
(IFJ) and Kenya’s leading media house over the recent sacking of 11
senior journalists, writes Eric Nyakagwa.

The IFJ had issued a statement condemning the sacking of the staff members intimating they were sent packing for belonging to the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ).But in a rejoinder, the Nation Media Group (NMG)’s editorial director Wangethi Mwangi said the allegations were blatant lies.

The IFJ had demanded that the journalists be immediately reinstated saying they had a right to unionise. It appealed to the media house’s proprietor, the Aga Khan, to intervene.But according to Mwangi, they were relieved of their duties as part of a restructuring programme.

“The facts could not be more different. NMG is currently restructuring, something it has done many times before. The restructuring has affected 11 journalists and 11 staff from non-editorial departments all over the company. The claim that staff who are members of the Kenya Union of Journalists are being ‘targeted’ for ‘harassment’ is, therefore, blatantly inaccurate and downright insulting,” he said.

He said that of the 11 journalists, five are members of KUJ, adding that if the aim was to remove union members, then non-unionised journalists would not have been touched.
“More critically, after these changes, there are still 28 unionised journalists in the Nation's newsroom,” added Mwangi.

He said it was misleading to state that Nation Media Group "has also instituted a clause in the contract of its employees that bars them from joining a trade union". The true position, he said, is that journalists and all other non-managerial staff can choose to be union members, in which case their terms can only be negotiated through the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Alternatively, they are placed on contract.

Previously, many staff were in a grey area, benefiting from union negotiated benefits when it suited them, and from contracts outside the agreement when the opportunity arose, he continued.“Also, several years ago, all journalists were ‘expected’ to be union members. What changed over the years is that the grey area was removed and the right of people to be members of a union was entrenched.”

“Right now NMG management is ready to renegotiate the CBA. However, the KUJ is split and no one knows which is the legitimate one. The IFJ, unfortunately, has acted on the complaints of one of the factions,” added the editorial director.

“NMG has had a long relationship with IFJ, so we are both appalled and disappointed that you rushed to issue a condemnation of us without cross-checking. We are only a phone call and email away and just a little effort on your part would have obviated the need for this recrimination.”

“Because of the patently erroneous position you have advanced, and the harm you have caused to our reputation, and for the sake of nurturing a harmonious relationship, we demand that you retract the press release and apologise to NMG. If, as you claim, you stand for fairness and justice, then you owe us this one,” concludes the letter.

The media house publishes several leading newspapers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and also operates radio and television stations in the region.