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Infighting erupts at Nation Media as Board delays naming of new CEO

Nation Media Group (NMG) headquarters in Nairobi. PHOTO/FILE

A fall-out has erupted among senior managers and editors at Nation Media Group (NMG), Kenya’s leading media company over the impending changes to shift its operations to a new tech-driven business model.
Editors and managers opposed to how the new business model is set to be implemented have instigated a smear campaign against new directors of the board and digital experts brought on board to implement the new initiative.
NMG recently started restructuring its operations to fit a new tech-driven business model by appointing a digital director in line with the digital-first approach initiated by former CEO Joe Muganda who left in February this year.
However, the new digital director Rashmi Chugh and Kanwar Deep Singh, the Lead- Business Development and Kudrat Sehgal, the Lead- Digital Products have run into headwinds from a cabal of managers and editors out to sabotage their mission.
Two board members Yasmin Jetha and James Montogomery who are in support of the team’s activities have also found themselves in the cross-fire.
A letter addressed to the NMG human resource department purportedly written by disgruntled employees of the digital division suggests that the digital gurus hired from HT Media India are incompetent and want the Ministry of Labour and Immigration Department to investigate them.
The attacks against the digital team and some members of the board come at a time the NMG board has delayed to name the new CEO after consultants hired by His Highness the Aga Khan board of directors from Aiglemont Estate, France from UK to restructure the company advised against the employment of the shortlisted candidates.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and His Highness the Aga Khan Nation Media Group majority shareholder. PHOTO/PSCU

Those in the know say the UK consultants want the CEO’s position re-advertised or a competent CEO with experience in implementing tech-driven media business models hired through head-hunting.
It has also emerged that a section of members of the NMG board want their chairman Wilfred Kiboro given executive chairman’s powers  to oversee the transition as the process to recruit a new CEO goes on.
Insiders at Nation Centre conversant with the emerging developments say the allegations against the new digital team is part of the emerging power struggles at one of Africa’s biggest media house.
Among the allegations leveled at the new digital team from India include shouting, playing of Gujarat music during working hours and loud laughing.
One wonders if the NMG digital division is the only place at Nation Centre where such scenes are experienced among employees and if such actions amount to incompetence.
However, those in the know say these allegations are part of a wide scheme to sabotage the implementation of the digital-first approach news gathering strategy.

“The implementation of the new digital news-gathering technology is going to eliminate the killing of stories and twisting of facts by editors because reporters will be uploading stories, pictures and videos in real time to NMG websites and some people want to stop this,” a journalist involved in the implementation of the new project said.

Related stories:
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They also add that new head of digital and the new CEO are supposed to spearhead a new tech-driven business model that will align both the print and broadcasting divisions of NMG to a digital-first approach.

News organisations around the world are investing in a digital future to fit into the changing media environment. Image/REUTERS INSTITUTE
According to NMG insiders the UK consultants have developed a new editorial structure for both the print and broadcast divisions where all the heads of different platforms will report to digital director.

“All this talk about the Indian gang at Nation Centre is a smokescreen as people are trying to resist change due to the impending changes,” an insider said.

The switch from a print to tech-driven business model  is expected to result in a new staff rationalization and restructuring programme at both broadcast and print divisions to fit in the new digital-first approach.
Local news organisations around the world are investing in a digital future, restructuring newsrooms and diversifying business models to fit into the changing media environment globally.
The transition from print to digital has presented challenges to media houses not only in Kenya but globally as they seek new sources of revenue and target new audiences.
The migration from print to digital-first approach is emphasizing economies of scale, pursued through the acquisition of a portfolio of different titles that, in aggregate, can draw the largest possible audience, which in turn are primarily monetized through advertising according to a new report by Reuters Institute.
NMG is looking for a CEO who is going to implement the new business model that will focus on generating most of its revenue from the Group’s digital platforms or online publications as compared to today where it relies 90 percent on its print publications for profits.
This decision has been informed by the realization that over-relying on the print section for advertising revenue has resulted in the Group losing its editorial independence due to media capture.
Related stories:
Fireworks at Nation Centre over conflicting headline and editorial
Nation Media signals shift to digital media as it hires new director
Media capture is a growing phenomenon linked both to the resurgence of authoritarian governments as well as to the structural weaknesses presently afflicting media markets.
In this environment, the political elite and economic barons are colluding to undermine the independence of privately-owned media through control of advertising revenue.
Currently, most media houses in Kenya get nearly 70 percent of their advertising revenue from both the national and county governments and other state agencies.
Since the government stopped directly advertising in local dailies and instead introduced My Gov, a publication of the Government Advertising Agency that is published in local newspaper once or twice per week, media houses profits have dwindled immensely.
When NMG released its 2017 financial results recently it revealed it recorded a 20.5 percent drop in profit before taxation (PBT) to Ksh1.95 billion, from Ksh2.46 billion in 2016.

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