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Columnists silenced themselves at great cost to their readers

Saturday April 7 2018

MEDIA

Former Nation Media Group columnists from left: Gabriel Dolan, Maina Kiai, Rasna Warah, George Kegoro and Kwamchetsi Makokha address a press conference in Nairobi on March 27, 2018. They resigned as columnists. PHOTO | FAITH NYAMAI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

MAGESHA NGWIRI
By MAGESHA NGWIRI
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The orchestrated group resignation of Nation columnists a fortnight ago was a capitulation, which robbed the newspaper readership of a wealth of sagacity, experience and advocacy.

In my view, it should not have happened the way it did, and it wouldn’t have, were it not for being pushed by a few people with a specific agenda of protest and disruption.

However, newspaper columnists, including yours truly, come and go and the world moves on, which means in the end, the “mass action” will have been futile.

I am not in any way holding brief for the media house’s ownership or management.

EDITOR

My only interest in this issue is that I have at one time or the other edited the contributions of many of these writers, and I have not come across a better informed group of people, especially on politics and related subjects.

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What piqued my curiosity is how eight individuals who do not speak at all in one voice, can organise themselves into a protest group, shout that they won’t be silenced, and end up creating a veritable squall when they probably expected an earthquake.

In a sense, nobody should fault the opinion writers for taking a stand against unnecessary editing of their contributions, and any attempt at making them politically correct must be condemned.

A writer is a creator, while the job of the editor should be to put the finishing touches.

OPINIONS

If an editor purports to slant the views of a writer towards the conventional, then he or she is doing a disservice to the profession.

But on the other hand, it must be understood that an editor has the unenviable job of ensuring the rules of fairness and natural justice obtain at all times.

So when a writer takes it upon himself to go hysterical every weekend in the belief he is making an impression, then he is living in cloud cuckoo land.

No government is perfect, but then again, no individual is.

On the other hand, no editor should behave as though he is all-knowing.

People should be allowed to express their opinions freely so long as they do not offend the sense and sensibilities of readers.

CRITICS
In my view, writing is an individual undertaking; it should not be a group thing. So what goes on here?

The first thing is to find out the link between the individual writers.

To start with, most of them are brilliant expounders of current affairs with a decided preference for knee-jerk, scathing criticism of the current government, and in a few cases, against any government since 1963.

This is allowable. Governments of any hue deserve criticism for they are all, to one degree or another, highly predatory and dictatorial.

In some cases, they become total impositions.

REBELS
What does not sound right is for a group of people to purport to know better than everyone else how a country should be governed.

It is not funny for newspaper readers to be regaled every weekend with accounts of the iniquities of government.

This kind of thing can become pretty tiresome, and betrays a propensity to push a certain agenda for uncertain ends.

The only other mystery is that some eminent writers whose views are on the whole amusing, enlightening and balanced should have been induced to join a cabal of rebels without cause.

What could have prompted them to join the bandwagon of naysayers?

The second link, in my view, is that most of these individuals have direct ties with civil society.

HUMAN RIGHTS
They head non-governmental organisations that concentrate on defending human rights, exposing socio-economic injustice and lately, electoral injustice.

And why they should be so unrelentingly angry with the government is, in a sense, understandable — they must earn their keep.

But is ceaseless negativism the only way to go about it?

My problem, however, goes beyond any criticism I may have against these senior writers for their costly gesture.

What I rue most is the sheer waste.

READERS
Many of them have greatly helped make the Nation Media Group what it is today — a house of peerless publications throughout the region.

Their departure will definitely make a difference in the short-term.

But though I feel the move was downright insensitive to the wishes of readers, if their departure means that there will be a balance in the opinion pages of Nation publications, it was probably the right thing to do.

Magesha is a consultant editor. [email protected]

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