Kenya Newspaper Columnists Resign, Alleging Lack of Freedom

(Bloomberg) -- Eight columnists with East Africa’s biggest newspaper organization resigned, accusing Nation Media Group Plc of failing to allow writers freedom of expression including criticism of the Kenyan government.

The contributors of regular opinion pieces for Kenyan newspapers such as the Daily Nation and Sunday Nation announced the move Tuesday, alleging a “worrying pattern” where it “appears the executive is able to influence who works for or contributes” to the publications.

“We refuse to continue to clothe the loss of editorial independence and media freedom at the NMG with respectability,” they said in a statement forwarded by Maina Kiai, one of the columnists and a former special rapporteur with the United Nations’ human-rights commission.

Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, held protracted elections last year in which President Uhuru Kenyatta was ultimately declared winner. As the opposition disputed the result and vowed a defiance campaign, authorities cut off TV stations airing an opposition ceremony and deported a prominent lawyer, raising fears of a crackdown on dissent.

The NMG’s editor-in-chief, Tom Mshindi, said by phone that the group operates within “fairly strict but public editorial policy guidelines.” He said that none of the columnists “can cite an incident when their commentaries or views were rejected or contradicted,” but they were free to resign.

In a separate statement, NMG said it continues “to be committed to media freedom whilst delivering value in line with” readers’ expectations. A spokesman for the presidency, Manoah Esipisu, said it doesn’t comment on statements from columnists.

The other writers who resigned were executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission George Kegoro, Africa director with Open Society Foundations Muthoni Wanyeki, Catholic priest Gabriel Dolan, author Rasna Warah, U.K.-based academics Gabrielle Lynch and Nic Cheeseman, and Kwamchetsi Makokha, program adviser for Journalists for Justice.

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