One of Kenya's largest dailies, the Kenya Times, has been forced to
suspend publication for several days after staff launched a strike over
unpaid salary arrears running into millions of Kenya Shillings, writes
Dennis Itumbi for journalism.co.za.
Senior journalists we spoke to say they have not been paid for over a year and cannot work any more unless their demands are met. They say their individual arrears amount to over Shs.180 000 ($1 600) each.
"First they pay us badly and we have never had salary reviews for the last four years and then they do not pay even the bad salaries, we will not get back to work and we will not leave until we are paid all our monies," a long-serving journalist in the features department said.
The strike began on March 27. Staff were due to send a protest letter to former President Daniel Moi to intervene on the matter.
Insiders said that Andrew Sunkuli, a younger brother of Kenyan Ambassador to China Julius Sunkuli, had held two fruitless meeting to appeal to staff to resume duties.
"We have heard these promises before. This time we want action, how do we pay our bills and maintain our independence in coverage if we cannot fund our basic operations?" an editor said when contacted on phone.
Sunkuli was the executive secretary of the former ruling party, Kanu, when it was in power.
The paper, owned by Kenya Media Trust company, is also locked in a controversy over who their shareholders are.
Kenya Times was the third daily newspaper to launch in Kenya after the Standard and the Nation, but has since been overtaken in popularity by the Nairobi Star and The People Daily.
The latest Steadman media ratings show that the Kenya Times remains the third in terms of size, but ranks as the seventh in terms of readership.
The paper started as a propaganda outlet for the then ruling party Kanu, headed by Moi, before the paper changed hands toÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â a team led by Agriculture Minister William Ruto. He lost a crucial ownership case in court two years ago.
A fast-growing local company, TranCentury holdings – owned by a group of businessmen with close links to President Mwai Kibaki – who have been negotiating to buy the paper are said to have dropped their intention in favour of attempting an independent initiative.