Local-Language Radio Stations in Kenya: Helpful or Harmful?

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Today, Kenya has a vibrant media landscape, one of the most sophisticated in the region. In particular, vernacular radio—radio stations that broadcast news and entertainment in indigenous languages—is thriving. Vernacular stations have grown in popularity and there are now more than 30 airing across the country. However, critics have suggested that vernacular stations played a role in the 2007 post-election violence that killed more than 1000 people. This study, qualitative interviews with Kenyan journalists, set out to understand what role vernacular radio plays in the contemporary journalism landscape in Kenya. The results revealed that while journalists recognize their value primarily for cultural preservation and for rural communities to obtain information, which can lead to increased development and political participation, there are negative aspects. Journalists see the stations as contemporary contributors to the tribal divisions that still exist in the country. Analyzed from the lens of social responsibility theory—that being, that media organizations should operate with some level of concern for the public good—vernacular radio as a journalism practice presents unique implications for development and continued democratization, as well as for the media to fulfill its social responsibility.

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