Press Law Debate in Kenya: Ethics as Political Power

David N. Dixon


Journalists in many African countries have long been caught between differing ideals in their relationship between press and government. Two models vie for dominance--the western, libertarian and development journalism models. This article uses Walzer's (1983) theory of distributive justice to illuminate the ethical significance of this debate. At issue is political power. A case study of the 1996 proposed press law in Kenya illustrates the ethical arguments mounted for each press model and how the arguments are marshaled not necessarily for moral purposes but to gain political advantage. Finally, a viable third alternative avoids a false dilemma between the libertarian and development journalism models. Communitarianism preserves the independence from government so central to the libertarian model while providing a basis for activist journalism.