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The tension between ethics and ethnicity: Examining journalists’ ethical decision-making at the Nation Media Group in Kenya

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This article analyses how ethnicity influences the ethical decisions of journalists at the Nation Media Group (NMG) in Kenya. Ethnic identity is regarded as one of the key factors that shape the political beliefs of Kenyans in general, and for journalists and media practitioners in particular ethnic identities also influence their normative positions. The conflicting loyalties between ethnic belonging and journalistic norms of professionalism and independence especially come to the fore during democratic processes such as general elections and national referenda. Based on Shoemaker and Reese’s Hierarchy of Influences Model, the article draws on qualitative interviews of journalists at the Nation Media to argue that the highly ethnicized publics as audience and the media institution at the macro level and individual journalists at the micro level act as key levels of ethnic influence in the news production process at the NMG in Kenya. Shoemaker and Reese in their model argue that the power to shape content is not the media’s alone, but is shared with a variety of other sectors in the society, including the public. The article then proposes the inclusion of ethnicity as a ‘key level of Influence’ in Shoemaker and Reese’s model, especially when applying the model to the African media context. The article will address the following questions: How does ethnicity at the micro level of individual journalists and at the macro level of the media institution influence the ethical decisions of journalists at the NMG in Kenya? How do the highly ethnicized publics in Kenya influence the decisions of journalists at the NMG? How does this ethnic level of influence impact on the Nation Media’s capacity to fulfil its democratic roles in the society?

Keywords: Kenya; Nation Media Group; ethnicity; hierarchy of influences; journalism ethics; political economy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Rhodes University

Publication date: June 1, 2014

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