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Friday, February 15, 2008

Persecuted NMG Crime Editor speaks out

The big story last year was about the sex scandals and general rot at the Nation Media Group. The big story this year is about NMG going to bed with Kibaki's illegitimate regime. It is common knowledge that NMG is one of the pillars of that repressive regime and is not doing its duty of standing up for truth. Let's recall this letter by NMG's former Crime Editor detailing the evil being perpetuated by that once-respected media house. The signs were there all along, but we chose to ignore them because we "trusted" Nation so much...

February 18, 2007

Mr Linus Gitahi
CEO Nation Media Group

The Aga Khan Development Network
P.O. Box 2049
1-3 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

Kenya Union of Journalists

Commonwealth Press Union
17 Fleet Street , London EC4Y 1AA


The International Federation of Journalists
IPC-Residence Palace , Bloc C
Rue de la Loi 155
B-1040 Brussels
BELGIUM

H.E Michael E. Ranneberger
Ambassador of the United States of America in Kenya

H.E Adam Wood
British High Commissioner

Hon Raila Odinga

Hon Kalonzo Musyoka

Mr Maina Kiai
Chairman. Kenya National Commission on Human Rights

Mr Tom Ojienda
Chairman, Law Society of Kenya

Hon Paul Muite
Chairman, Parliamentary Committee on Administration of Justice and Legal Affairs

Dear All,

RE: RESIGNATION FROM NATION MEDIA GROUP

Until I resigned from Nation Media Group on February 2, 2007, I was the Crime Editor and I was in charge of matters to do with security, crime, corruption and terrorism.

I resigned after it dawned on me that I did not have the backing of my employer despite the risk that I exposed myself and my family to in discharging my official duties in the sensitive docket of security. I had was left with no option but to tender my resignation when it became evidently clear on February 1, 2007, that two of NMG’s top executives were openly colluding with the Commissioner of Police, Maj Gen Mohamed Hussein Ali, to frustrate my work and to compromise the coverage of security and crime stories.

It’s for this reason that I felt I was badly exposed and I had to resign for the sake of my security and that of my family. I have decided to write to you and to make this matter public in the event that anything bad happens to me or my family.

On February 1, 2007, I went to see NMG’s CEO, Mr Linus Gitahi, to raise concerns over attempts by the Group Editorial Director, Mr Wangethi Mwangi, and the Group Managing Editor, Mr Joseph Odindo, to censor, play down or kill crime and security stories. This followed concerns that had been raised to Mr Mwangi over a story I had written about two weeks earlier on the sharp rise in extra-judicial killings. I, therefore, went to see Mr Gitahi to set the records straight and put him in the picture how and why we published the story.

After I explained myself, Mr Gitahi excused himself saying he was going to summon Mr Mwangi and Mr Odindo so that he could clear the air over the story. In addition to Mr Mwangi and Mr Odindo, four other top executives –, Mr Dennis Aluanga (Mr Gitahi’s defacto deputy), Mrs Helen Mbugua (Group Human Resources Director), Mr Sam Koskei (Security Manager) and Mr Bernard Nderitu (Managing Editor-Daily Nation) – walked into the CEO’s office and he and asked me to explain the concerns I had raised with him.

To my surprise, Mr Gitahi brushed aside the genuine issues I had raised and asked me if I owned a tours and safaris company. I told him I owned one. He then asked Mr Koskei to tell the top executives the findings of an investigation he had been doing against me. Mr Koskei mentioned the tour firm I owned and a vehicle I’m alleged to have bought from the Kenya Police through a public auction. The issue of the vehicle is explained in detail in the letter I have attached marked SM3.

I strongly believe the issues of the vehicle and the tour company were only excuses used by Mr Gitahi, Mr Mwangi and Mr Koskei to force me out of NMG.

I believe they were only fulfilling a long-time desire of Maj Gen Ali who has been waging a vicious campaign against me since early 2005 due to by boldness in the coverage of security and crime stories and for turning down his various efforts to arm-twist me play down or kill such stories.

The police commissioner started arm-twisting me by summoning me to his office. And when that failed, he started using Ms Rose Kimotho, the proprietor of Kameme FM to call my bosses to prevail upon me to tone down exposing the growing wave of crime. When that did not work, Maj Gen Ali started calling NMG bosses himself and invited them for lunches with an intention to influence their decisions. Some of my bosses tried to prevail upon me to tone down but backed off when I questioned their motives. This frustrated Maj Gen Ali and he resorted to writing threatening and scandalous letters to my bosses and other media houses raising serious and unsubstantiated claims against me. The intention was to portray me as dishonest and he did not hide his wishes in his letters – he wanted the NMG management to take serious action against me. With the backing of my immediate boss, Mr Bernard Nderitu, and my fellow editors in the newsroom, I continued to discharge my duties undeterred. But I realised I was losing the battle when both Mr Mwangi and Mr Odindo instructed Mr Nderitu not to be publishing my stories until they cleared them. It’s for this reason I visited Mr Gitahi in his office on February 1, 2007. The issues are explained in details in the letter marked SM1.

Right from the time Maj Gen Ali arrived at Vigilance House, it has been his desire to pocket and muzzle the media by ensuring that damaging crime and security stories were given a blackout or were played down. By doing so, it would then look like crime went drastically during his tenure. But my firm believe has been that the media being the watchdog of the society can’t look the other way when crime is skyrocketing and innocent people are being killed by criminals everyday at the expense of pleasing the desires of the Commissioner of Police. Maj Gen Ali succeeded in silencing the other media houses and their crime reporters. But his only remaining thorn in the flesh was me for I refused to compromise my professional ethics.

Soon after he was appointed the commissioner of police, Maj Gen Ali and I struck a good working relationship. But I soon realised he was taking advantage of our closeness and he wanted to influence the way I covered crime and security stories. We parted ways when I told him in his office that I could not ruin my career and my reputation to satisfy his personal ambitions and desires. This triggered hatred I have never witnessed in the five predecessors of Maj Gen Ali, whom I was close to and none of them attempted to blackmail me to tone down my reporting. What is so special with Maj Gen Ali that the media should treat him with kind gloves that were unavailable when the other commissioners were in office? For instance, when the wife of former Chief of General Staff, Gen Joseph Kibwana, was carjacked on Mombasa Road , Maj Gen Ali called me and told me there was a rumour in town that such an incident had happened and asked me to ignore it. Had I listened to him, NMG would have looked like fools for all the other newspapers had splashed the story the following day. I informed Mr Mwangi and Mr Odindo about this incidents and the others I’m going to mention below. Maj Gen Ali had formed a habit of summoning me to his office when he was faced with a major crisis and he always wanted me to help him by misleading the public or playing down the crime situation. My refusal to be pocketed by him is what has cost me my job at NMG.

I’ll give a few incidents Maj Gen Ali wanted me to play down:
The spate of killings in Ngong and Ongata Rongai in 2004 and 2005 which were threatening to trigger a mass exodus by hard-working Kenyans who invested their hard-earned savings to put up their own homes.

Police shooting dead three children and a milk vendor in Kisumu during the 2005 referendum campaigns. The commissioner called a press conference and claimed police had killed rioters who wanted to overrun Kondele police station. And he said he had no apologies to make for the fiasco. But we exposed his lies when we reported that police had killed school children and a milk vendor who had nothing to do with riots. The commissioner wanted me to conceal the truth. Although he publicly quoted saying two police officers were arrested and nine others were being sought over the killings, not a single person has ever been charged with the killings.

Maj Gen Ali wanted us to give blackout to stories on murders, bank robberies and killing of security officers, arguing they were giving the country a bad name.

He was against the media publishing stories on terrorism and arrests made by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit. He wanted the arrests and activities of the unit to remain secret.

He made desperate and futile attempts to prevail upon me to help him cover up on the scandal that had been exposed by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission on the recruitment of police constables. Although he called a press conference and claimed that 175 officers in charge of the annulled recruitment had been interdicted, the fact to this day remains that none of the officers was sent home. He was so furious when I exposed this. For my own security reasons, I deliberately refused to reveal the beneficiaries of the graft-riddled recruitment and this issue has always troubled Maj Gen Ali for he knows I know some of the top beneficiaries. Mr Mwangi and Mr Nderitu are aware about this matter and the attempts by Maj Gen Ali to have me kill stories on the scandal.
I kept briefing them.

I discharged my duties under very difficult circumstances. NMG top management is aware of what I was going through with Maj Gen Ali since I briefed them on every new development. But to my surprise, Mr Mwangi and Mr Gitahi opted to sacrifice me for their personal reasons other than the two issues of the vehicle and the tour firm.

My troubles with Mr Mwangi dates back to January 2005 when the Anglo Leasing scandal started rocking the Kibaki Administration. I wrote a story that former Internal Security Permanent Secretary, Mr Dave Mwangi, was one of the top figures in the Kibaki Administration lined up for questioning by KACC. I had been given this information by KACC’s depurty director in charge of investigations and assets recovery, Dr John Mutonyi. By the time I left for home, the story had been edited and placed on the layout as the headline for the next days newspaper. I got a rude shock the next day when I found the story had been killed and it was not anywhere in the newspaper. When I demanded from Mr Nderitu why the story had been killed, first told me it had been removed to pave way for another stronger story. He asked me to do a follow up but I told him I would only do it if he assured me it was going to be used. He gave me his assurance.

The follow up story did not live to see the light of the day. When I demanded the truth from Mr Nderitu, he told me he was ordered to kill the stories by Mr Wangethi Mwangi because Mr Dave Mwangi had been mentioned. I became so furious and I wrote a memo to Mr Odindo and Mr Nderitu demanding to know why some powerful forces were killing stories to please outsiders. In the same memo, I explained the actions of the powerful individuals made a mockery of NMG’s reputation and integrity and I explained how I and other reporters writing Anglo Leasing stories had been approached by our colleagues to drop the names of some of the key suspects in exchange of hefty bribes. They were offering more than Sh500,000 to drop every single name. Such hefty bribes are very tempting to the poorly paid journalists. But on my part, I declined the cash and I also mentioned all the suspects in every story I did on the Anglo Leasing scandal. By killing the stories, I told Mr Odindo and Mr Nderitu that we were giving an impression to the Anglo Leasing suspects that the cash they had given the brokers in our newsroom had been delivered.

I was later summoned by a furious Mr Mwangi to his office when Mr Nderitu took his memo to him. Mr Odindo was also summoned. Mr Mwangi tried to intimidate me to reveal who the powerful figures I had talked about were. I told him my memo was self explanatory and it did not require further explanation. He then demanded to know who the newsroom brokers were. I told him I could not reveal the small fish until he first dealt with the powerful forces that were responsible for killing stories. Mr Mwangi has never forgiven me for the sting I gave him that day and he has always harboured deep personal grudges against me. I believe that is why he seized the opportunity for revenge when Maj Gen Ali started complaining about my stories and their motives. All the stories I wrote, just like for other writers, were first discussed by a meeting of section editors during a daily 9.30am meeting in the Editorial meeting room. Mr Nderitu chairs the meeting. All the stories I wrote and we published had the full mandate of the meeting and there minutes to prove that. The stories were a collective responsibility of all the editors who attend but Mr Mwangi deliberately ignored the collective responsibility and took issue with my stories.

Just like Maj Gen Ali is paranoid when the real crime situation in the country is exposed by the media, Mr Mwangi is so paranoid when the name Dave Mwangi is involved. Most journalists take flight when they have to do a story involving Mr Dave Mwangi fearing the wrath of the Editorial Director. The relationship between the look-alikes Mr Mwangi and Dave Mwangi is a mystery. Although they both studied and stayed in the same room at the University of Nairobi , no one knows if they are related by blood or they are just friends.

Mr Gitahi jumped into a bandwagon of Maj Gen Ali and Mr Mwangi without caring to know the historical perspective. This is a case of pure malice and personal vendetta and it has nothing to do with the alleged vehicle and the tour firm.

My journalism work speaks volumes for itself and no amount of mudslinging will ever discredit it or ruin my reputation. I have been one of NMG’s top performers. In the annual appraisals by my seniors, I always got the highest grade. I got Grade Two on a scale of Six. Its for this reason that I was the only journalist from NMG who was nominated by Mr Odindo for a training course on investigative journalism sponsored by the US Government in the Southern Illinois University Carbondale in March/April last year. I was also nominated by Mr Odindo for the online management course on newsroom management sponsored by the Commonwealth Press Union. Am doing the last Unit Eight to complete the course.

Kenyans have a right to question the motives of Mr Gitahi and Maj Gen Ali. I have been sacrificed for my hardline stance of demanding that NMG’s top executives must guard the independence of the editorial from manipulation by self-seekers like the Commissioner of Police. The role of NMG being the watchdog of the society has severely been compromised.

Already, NMG is facing the worst crisis ever after anonymous letters from the Editorial staff accuse top editors of unfairly promoting some female staff in exchange of sexual favour or victimizing others after they refused to compromise their integrity. Instead of dealing with these critical issues that have created major conflicts in the Editorial, Mr Gitahi has embarked on a campaign of weeding out staff members he regards to be critical and uncompromising. Does he want to say he prefers to work with the tainted?

Although the NMG management is well aware of the networks of corruption in the Editorial, no serious steps have ever been taken to rid the company of corrupt reporters and editors. This is why I have seriously questioned Mr Gitahi’s motives right from the time he arrived at Nation Centre on November 1, 2006.

The actions of Mr Mwangi and Mr Gitahi have seriously undermined the position NMG had taken for many years as the most independent and reliable media house in East and Central African region. It’s evident that a powerful outsider can now call NMG managers demanding the instant sacking of a journalist knowing their wish would be granted. I have never been offered any protection by the NMG management in the face of unwarranted provocation by Maj Gen Ali. Instead, they sided with him and forced me to resign under duress.

The madness in Nation Media Group must be brought under control by all people who mean well for this great company and the journalism profession. The time to save the media giant is now and not tomorrow.

I fear that now that out of NMG, I and my family have been left badly exposed. I look upon God and friends of the journalism profession to protect me and my family for anything bad that anyone with an evil mind might be plotting against me and my family. That is why I have decided to go public on my predicament.

Stephen Muiruri
Former Crime Editor NMG

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