Journalists’ unions are urging regulators to investigate the crisis at Standard Media Group, which has left Kenya’s oldest news organization with unpaid employees for over six months. The Kenya Union of Journalists, the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), and the Association of Freelance Journalists – Kenya have called upon the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) to launch an inquiry into allegations of mismanagement that have pushed the company into a financial crisis.
Eric Oduor, the Secretary-General of KUJ, emphasized the need for state officials to investigate the mismanagement of the company and hold the board and top management accountable. He stated, “Sasra has already investigated the case of the company Sacco, but what has not happened is implementation. The Capital Markets Authority must also step forward and take action. Is there a board of directors at Standard overseeing this?”
Kenyan media has failed to transition into the digital era losing advertising revenues and struggling with huge logistics and personnel costs that has dragged down profitability in the sector. Pending bills especially from the government and private sector has also been blamed for the current crisis in the industry.
Standard media has had its fair share of industry problems coupled with internal mismanagement that saw the company spend its limited resources on shoddy procurement and unsuccessful acquisitions that bled the company’s limited resources.
In 2022, former Standard Media Group CEO Orlando Lyomu, who blew Kes17.2 million shillings buying Mt Kenya Star and Pambazuko newspapers, faced a fine of up to Kes10 million from the competition watchdog for closing the deals without notifying the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK).
Insiders also say, the company bought digital systems that failed to deliver and witnessed procurement fraud as some employees colluded with supplies to inflate operations and maintenance costs.
Over the last decade, Standard Media only made profit twice over 10 years and it has been trimming its workforce to about 871 last year. The company has gone months without paying its journalists raising concerns how a listed firm was allowed to operate with lax corporate governance while fellow media houses, unions and civil society watched.
Struggle paying correspondents
In some of the most heavily edited stories in newsrooms, company results were often glossed over, while the company initially grappled with paying correspondents—contract writers compensated based on the length of their published stories. The industry’s silence persisted even as the issue of delayed salaries eventually affected permanent staff, and this problem has persisted for the better part of this year.
Mr. Oduor mentioned that they have been in discussions with the company’s former boss, Mr. Lyomu, and the current acting manager, Joe Munene, who have frequently promised to pay the journalists only to later backtrack on their commitments.
He stated that they plan to rally journalists to stage a protest at the media house located on Mombasa Road, demanding justice for journalists.
The company was recently evicted from the I&M Building, where they previously had a town office, and currently, Standard Media Group journalists in the city now work from hotel lobbies to file their stories.