Kenyans watch Barack Obama on television in Nairobi, 2011. Photograph: Sayyid Azim/AP
East African’s largest media company has announced it’s shutting down three of its radio stations and one television channel in a move that has shocked the region’s media industry.
Kenya’s Nation Media Group (NMG) announced the decision in a statement sent to employees on Thursday. It said the company needed to move to a more digital and mobile-friendly business model.
“We are reorganising ourselves with the objective of transforming the group into a modern 21st century digital content company embracing a digital/mobile first business model,” the statement read.
With 1,800 employees spread out across its 21 print, broadcast and online divisions in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi, NMG is one of Africa’s largest media organisations.
The Kenyan Union of Journalists has written to NMG asking it to rescind the decision, suggesting the move is in contravention of the country’s labour laws.
“It is not the employees who have become redundant but it is your institution,” the union said in a letter.
Internet penetration and mobile phone use has risen rapidly in Kenya, with the number of mobile data subscriptions rising by 10.6% to 23.9m subscriptions in 2015/16. But as a result, media companies in Kenya have struggled to keep up with digital news offerings from sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Over the past year, NMG’s share prize has fallen by 27% with revenues for 2015 shrinking by 7% to sit at £90m, compared to the £98m over a similar period in 2014.
Early last year, the three leading television stations lost hundreds of millions of Kenyan shillings in revenue after being taken off air for three weeks over wrangles between media owners and the government over the country’s plan to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting.
The Kenyan media has further faced attack from the government with the Committee to Protect Journalists accusing President Kenyatta’s government of restricting media freedom, using punitive legislation to arrest and intimidate bloggers and journalists.