KAMPALA. Tom Mshindi is in town. So is Daniel Kalinaki. One to ensure that everything is okay as the other takes up a role tomorrow. The new role is a realisation of years of dream to merge operations of Monitor Publications Limited with that of NTV Uganda.
For years, recipe it was rumoured. Now it is a reality. Effective tomorrow, pilule Daily Monitor, seek NTV, Dembe FM and KFM will all be managed by one director: Kalinaki. After four years of being ‘brewed longer like a Carlsberg beer,’ Kalinaki is Nation Media Group’s choice for the responsibility of merging the operations of NMG media houses in the country—excluding The East African.
Last month, I asked parties close to Kalinaki after getting a tip that he had accepted to return and head the new dynamic vision that NMG was pursuing with its media interests in Uganda. Kalinaki had said he was seriously considering the offer to be closer to his children (family). The other family that Kalinaki has is Monitor.
The transformation of one of the country’s most respectable editors from one who was sad and sick that the paper he once led passionately needed an undertaker rather than a doctor to one who sat up and peered into the distance, and finally the one that has taken the offer, is complete.
Tomorrow, Kalinaki will take over his beloved Monitor again, overseeing the merger of operations of Daily Monitor, radio stations and television, under one management. NMG has, since the beginning of the year, been engaged in trimming staff as well as closing down or merging operations of loss-making entities in the region to cut cost.
Several staffers were laid off in Nairobi as part of the austerity measures before Monitor moved to do the same last month, laying off a couple of staffers, including veteran political editor Henry Ochieng.
Kalinaki’s new role will entails overseeing all news content for the TVs, radios and the newspaper, with Maurice Mugisha, who was earlier rumoured to be exiting NTV, and Charles Odoobo Bichachi, the Monitor executive editor, asked to work with and under Kalinaki’s guidance to turn around the fortunes of the NMG outlets. It is understood Kalinaki will also try to shower up the Daily Monitor’s collapsedcirculation figures which have nosedived this year under Bichachi with the Daily paper falling to below 15,000 copies the lowest ever in the history of the company. A circulation officer at the newspaper described the paper’s current predicament as “on life support”.
On May 3, 2013, then Monitor Managing Director Alex Asiimwe ended weeks of speculation on Kalinaki’s future by announcing to staff that the managing editor for daily editions had been relieved of his duties with immediate effective.
The circumstances behind Kalinaki’s sacking cum transfer to Nairobi as head of East Africa content at NMG remain secretive. However, his relations with Asiimwe was known to have deteriorated to a point where the MD, under pressure from some big advertisers and the State, openly lobbied for the sacking.
Reporting on the issue at the time, the African Centre for Media Excellence said impeccable sources in Kampala and Nairobi had told the media standards organisation that the decision to relieve Kalinaki of his duties was arrived at after Asiimwe canvassed NMG top leaders individually over several months and expressed strong concern that the editor was frustrating MPL’s business operation, particularly alienating major advertisers.
It is said that Asiimwe, ACME said, wanted the newspaper’s reporting to put into consideration concerns and interests of major advertisers such as OPM, NSSF, MTN and others.
So it goes that at the height of the Office of the Prime Minister financial scandal, many editors and reporters were called to pick envelopes to ensure favourable coverage in favour of one of the suspects in the scandal. Kalinaki was asked to help in that regard. He refused to cooperate. The MD was informed and he decided the time was up for Kalinaki to go since the OPM official had retaliated by cutting government adverts to Monitor.
When the MPL board sat that year, Asiimwe prepared his points. It was simple: outlining reasons why Kalinaki had become a liability to the company as far as he (Asiimwe was concerned). With the finance board sitting first, Asiimwe went to work. When Kalinaki turned up for the editorial board meeting as he was not party to the finance one, his fate had been sealed.
However, NMG directors were at pains at losing the young editor. They decided they would keep him at all cost. So a new role was created that would see him transferred to Nairobi and given everything he needed to be happy. But one thing NMG could not give Kalinaki was his motherland and keeping his family with him in Nairobi since the children and their mother had stayed behind.
NMG managers had firmly believed there would come a time when they would need Kalinaki in Uganda managing their franchise once more. The plans to merge NTV and Monitor operations started months after Kalinaki had touched base in Nairobi and several efforts were made by the directors to return but he wasn’t ready. He declined.
So what does the editor who started off in 1998 as an a teenage freeter from The Crusader before climbs the ranks through Sports Desk and later to news have to offer in his new role? NMG has its expectations. Turning the fortunes of the enterprises will be one. Monitor is said to be struggling on the newsstands.
The Namuwongo-based newsroom recently laid off some staff only to advertise for positions the same would have filled almost immediately. The paper is also planning another round of massive reshuffle that will see editors (they are called managing editors now) for different sections moved as it seeks to rejuvenate its productivity.
The State and Kalinaki
There is case of the OPM official who wanted Kalinaki out of Monitor more than a Musoga man craves roasted groundnuts. And then there is the State. Kalinaki is one of the editors the State has found most difficult to deal with in the last two decades of Daily Monitor (when Museveni’s grand dream of staying in power became an open secret).
That the NMG has allowed him to return means some concessions were made during the protracted negotiations. However, a source within the presidency has intimated to us that Museveni doesn’t see the immediate threat of Kalinaki at the moment. With the next elections four years away, the versatile journalist can be allowed to huff and puff for a while.
Monitor staffers upbeat
Daily Monitor staffers were yesterday upbeat as they await the return of Kalinaki. One of Kalinaki’s strongest managerial traits is being close to his staffers. During his tenure, there was Umuofia fraternity headed by Tabu Butagira and Don Wanyama. The members would meet regularly for de-stressing drinks, bites and dance and karaoke.
With Umuofia open to all staff, the regular Friday meetings was used to help staff bond and relax. Kalinaki and his associates always ensured that drinks flowed at such meetings.
Is that what the happy Monitor staffers are looking forward to again? Well, Kalinaki might be a totally changed man from the one who assumed leadership of Monitor newsroom in 2008, just ten years after arriving as a teenage freelance reporter.