Wednesday 12 March, 1997 -- The newspaper that serves the nation

Another milestone for Nation Group

Today the Nation newspaper group takes a bold step into the future, one which enhances its reputation as the leading media house in East and Central Africa and underlines its commitment to development in the region.

The group is inaugurating a Sh750 million state-of-the-art printing press and complex on the outskirts of Nairobi. The ceremony will be carried out by President Moi in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan, the principal shareholder, and many distinguished guests.

The facility represents a significant financial investment in the media (and by extension education) and expresses the group's confidence in the continued stability and potential of our country and the region. An investment on this scale underscores confidence that Kenyans will sustain this stability and is an encouragement to them to do so. The press is the most modern in Africa, capable of printing 60,000 copies an hour, 56 pages in a single run with eight pages of full colour.

The Nation group has invested in the cutting edge of the new technology to handle the continually rising circulation and pagination of the Daily Nation and Sunday Nation, which far exceed those of their competitors. It is a commitment to excellence that has seen the group grow from that day in 1959 when His Highness the Aga Khan bought a Kiswahili weekly called Taifa which became a Swahili daily, Taifa Leo, and which spawned the English-language Sunday Nation and Daily Nation in 1960.

After vigorous attempts over the years to extend its reach into Tanzania and Uganda, efforts often nullified by border disputes, the principal shareholder and the group approved the launch in 1994 of a new addition to the Nation stable: the upmarket, business-oriented regional weekly, The EastAfrican. This was a newspaper born in comparative luxury. A few years earlier, the Nation moved from its modest quarters at Nation House on Tom Mboya Street to the ultra-modern, multi-storey Nation Centre on Kimathi Street, further consolidating its reputation as an organisation that seeks always to be at the forefront of progress. Even back at Nation House, staff had long adopted computerised editorial techniques.

Coincidentally, Nation Centre houses the Nairobi Stock Exchange on which Nation Printers and Publishers was quoted for the first time in 1973. Then a public offer of 1.2 million shares at Sh5 each was made and was twice over-subscribed. Another offer was made in 1985 that raised the public shareholding to 55 per cent. On Monday of this week, shares were selling at Sh109.

The confidence readers and advertisers have demonstrated in Nation publications is best reflected in their outstanding performance over the past five years, with group turnover more than doubling to Sh1.5 billion in 1995 from Sh0.7 billion in 1990. Over the same period, profits before tax increased fivefold to Sh300 million and profits attributable to shareholders improved 6.5 times to Sh200 million.

The inauguration of the new press comes at a time of lively and increasing activity in the publishing field. This is true not only in Nairobi, with the entry into the market of weekly political and business newspapers and new trade journals, but also in Kampala and Dar-es-Salaam where independent newspapers and magazines have burst vigorously onto the media scene. The new competition is welcomed as healthy, but knowledgeable people in the industry are keenly aware that the technologically advanced stand in better stead to survive and prosper.

A word about the relationship between the media and Government is in order. This group has a continuing and unswerving loyalty to the Republic of Kenya and its national institutions, as it has demonstrated time and again over the past three decades and more. This is not to pretend that relations have always been amicable between our publications and the ruling authorities. We have made errors of judgment and fact, which we regret. We have also been falsely accused on occasions and our editors and reporters have been subjected to vilification, intimidation and physical violence by men of power.

While noting in passing that errors become inevitable in a large news organisation processing millions of words under considerable pressure, what we wish to stress is that our errors have been honest ones made without ill-will or conspiratorial intention and once detected, they have been acknowledged by prompt apology. This will continue to be Nation policy: Objectivity, loyalty and honesty in the prosecution of our profession.

A cartoon in the very first issue of the Nation remarked that the new baby was a cute little fellow, but would he behave? That depends which angle you are coming from. Certainly, the little fellow has grown into a sturdy adult, with the group dominant in the market, its publications regarded as the newspapers of record. The challenge is to sustain editorial integrity and remain healthily competitive. It is one which we eagerly embrace.

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