This article examines how the media could enhance the conduct of elections. It also discusses the implications of the 2007 elections on public assessment of Nigerian democracy. The outcome of the 2007 elections was particularly worrisome following the electoral irregularities that occurred during the elections. The internal and the external observers that monitored the elections noted these irregularities, which were later confirmed by the Nigerian Judiciary when the results of the elections earlier approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission were later canceled by the court. The article used the content analysis approach to review the Nigerian press coverage of the elections and used the social responsibility media theory to argue why the media should support the government to conduct free and fair elections. The findings reveal that although the media gave adequate publicity to the elections, the public and the private media disagreed regarding the credibility of the results of the elections. The public media supported the Federal Government’s position in the elections, insisting that the elections were free and fair, notwithstanding the report by the Election Observation Mission that confirmed that the elections were rigged. The article recommends among other things, that the Nigerian press should report more objectively on election activities.
- political communication
- Nigerian journalists
- elections and African democracy
The crisis arising from elections seems to be the major problem confronting the development of African democracy. Notably, although Africa comprises sovereign nations, not all the countries in the region are able to organize credible elections. The media being the Fourth Estate of the Realm have a duty to hold the leaders accountable to the people for the crises emanating from elections in the region. Gordon (2006) rightly observed when he stated, “I frequently feel that other people would be better off if, instead of doing as they wished, they followed my advice; but in a democracy, there is not much we can do about imposing our views upon the people” (p. 37). Unfortunately, many countries in Africa are yet to conduct very successful elections without the support of the Election Observation Mission. For instance, in some African countries, if elections are free and fair, people are surprised. Hence, Smith (2009) observed that
the peaceful conduct of Ghana’s very close national elections in late 2008 was unusual in that it did not lead to any sustained questioning of the outcome unlike in some other countries in the region. In contrast, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Kenya each has witnessed a degree of post-election violence in their recent elections. (p. 868)
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) confirmed that the 2008 Ghana elections were held in line with the international and regional standards for conducting elections. The presidential and parliamentary elections took place under an open, transparent, and competitive atmosphere, where the parties and the candidates for the elections had equal opportunity to solicit for public support to win the elections notwithstanding their different political affiliations. The electoral commission, the judiciary, and the security forces played an impartial role in ensuring that the elections were conducted with transparency and openness (EU EOM, 2009). Apart from Ghana, other African countries that have a good reputation for conducting free and fair elections are South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia. A study of the democratization process of eight countries in the East and South Africa (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and South Africa) by Kalyango (2011) reveals,
As far as the procedural elements of democracy are concerned, the only exceptions are Tanzania and South Africa. The two countries have successfully regulated their parliamentary and presidential elections, and have institutionalised their electoral commissions, which are regarded as autonomous from government interference . . . The data show that South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia (in that order of preponderance) placed regular contested elections at the core of procedural democracy. (pp. 59-60)
Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Nigeria are among the African countries that are yet to conduct successful elections without external supervision. This is because of the possibility of the governments influencing the results of the elections in favor of the members of the ruling parties. When a candidate uses a fraudulent means to secure a seat in government or parliament, that person is likely to be among the people who would lay the foundation for injustice and oppression in the society, and such individuals would not have the interests of the public at heart. In such countries, the government can abuse the fundamental human rights of the citizens without any possible redress. Furthermore, the corporate image of the countries concerned may suffer a loss of dignity in the estimation of other members of the community of nations. Commonwealth of Nations (2007), maintains in its Report of the 2007 Nigerian elections as follows:
If indeed the Nigerian people are demonstrating disenchantment with the democratic process, this must be a matter of concern to us all. Losing faith in democracy would be a serious setback for Nigeria. It is something this nation-indeed, Africa, the Commonwealth and the entire international community- can ill-afford. (p. 1)
The results of the 2007 Nigerian elections were embarrassing because of the electoral irregularities that occurred during the conduct of the elections. The Nigerian judiciary later canceled most of the results of the elections that were earlier approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This confirmed that the elections were actually rigged as alleged by both the internal and the external observers that monitored the elections. The Nigerian press being the Fourth Estate of the Realm has a duty to hold the government accountable for the conduct of the 2007 elections. McQuail (2005) quoted Edmund Burke who used the term “Fourth Estate” to describe the political power possessed by the press, which is equivalent to the other three estates of power in the British realm: Lords, Church, and Commons (p. 169). Unfortunately, the public and private media failed to take a uniform position in condemning the irregularities that occurred during the elections, thus, explaining the rationale for the study. The role the media played in the 2007 elections was similar to the contributions the press made toward the 1964-1965 postelection crises that later culminated in the collapse of the Nigerian First Republic in 1966.
The theoretical framework that is most appropriate for this study is the social responsibility media theory being one of the four normative press theories evolved by Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm (1956, cited in Folarin, 2002, p. 27). The normative press theories explain the different ways society can influence the activities and the editorial content of the mass media. The authoritarian media theory explains the perspective from which the early press reported on the activities of the monarchies and the Church of the previous centuries of modernity. The idea was to protect the monarchies and the Church against dissident publications (Oboh, 2014). Censorship of the media was one of the methods the authoritarian governments used earlier to limit the freedom of the press. But following the criticisms that trailed the application of the authoritarian press theory, many countries, including the United States, decided to accord legal recognition to the role of the media in society on the argument that it was the duty of journalists to protect the rights of the citizens and not for the press to protect the government against public criticisms. In the First Amendment to the American Constitution, it was emphasized that the Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press and the right of the people to express and publish their views and sentiments on the events and issues that occurred in society (Keane, 1991). The inclusion of press freedom in the constitutions of many civilized countries later led to the emergence of the era of the free press, which is encapsulated in the libertarian media theory. But following the excesses by journalists in the exercise of this freedom, the U.S. Government decided to set up the Hutchins Commission which submitted its report in 1947 on the review of the concept of a free press. The recommendations made by the commission led to the emergence of the social responsibility media theory that Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm later conceptualized into a theory. Unlike the libertarian press theory that offers an open-ended freedom to journalists to report on issues and events in society, the social responsibility press theory cautions journalists to always remember that press freedom is a moral right which journalists must exercise in the interest of the public. According to Middleton (2009),
The social responsibility theory was presented as the third theory . . . alongside Authoritarian, Libertarian and the Soviet-Communist theories. One of the pivotal characteristics of their view is an emphasis on the media’s responsibility to use their powerful position to ensure appropriate delivery of information to audiences. . . . If the media fail in carrying out this responsibility, it may be relevant to have a regulatory instance enforce it. (p. 4)
The argument by the Hutchins Commission was that the press plays an important role in society, and as such, it would be necessary that the commitment of social responsibility be imposed on the media. This is because journalists are expected to have the moral obligation to consider first the interest of the society when making editorial decisions on what to report about regarding the events that occurred in society. According to Daramola (2003), the media have the right to print, but do not have the right to libel. This perhaps is why it is necessary for the media to evaluate their reports and provide adequate information for citizens to make good decisions on matters regarding public interest. The Hutchins Commission in its recommendations drew attention to public distaste for powerful media and commented on the growing expectation of the public for social change regarding the way the media were deployed by the elites to serve personal needs (Nerone, 1995). The commission recommended that if the press fails in its commitment to social responsibility, then the society could demand that the government regulate the activities and the operations of the media using approved regulatory agencies and professional bodies. This is because the media as corporate citizens are not immune to the rules and regulations guiding the other members of the society. Media organizations operating from the perspective of the social responsibility media theory are likely to be more public oriented in their pursuits than the newspaper houses that use other normative press theories as the basis for determining how and what to report among the events that occurred in society. Social responsibility theorists expect the media to report the true accounts of events and also be mindful of the implications their reports will have on the peace and development of the society.
It is worth noting that African leaders originally acquired the mass media as catalyst to facilitate the socioeconomic and the political development of the region. To the Western world, the media were parts of the discoveries that came into existence long after the societies had been established. So, the African media system has a duty to support the leaders to conduct credible elections. But ironically, the media often criticize the government for failing to organize free and fair elections, not considering the fact that social responsibility thrusts upon the media the duty to provide the information framework that would make it relatively impossible for politicians to rig elections in the region. This accounts for why the study examined some of the ways the media could more effectively be deployed to facilitate election campaigns, voting exercise, and the release of election results. Where there are cases of electoral irregularities, social responsibility requires that the media raise the conflicts arising from the electoral misconduct to the platform where the members of the public will have the opportunity to express themselves and contribute toward resolving the issues surrounding the elections. Unfortunately, the public media have always supported the position of the Nigerian Government in every election, notwithstanding whether the stand of the government contradicts the reports by the internal and the external observers that monitored the elections. The 1999, 2003, and 2007 elections were marred with cases of electoral irregularities, and yet the public media supported the Federal Government, claiming that the elections were free and fair until the Nigerian judiciary canceled some of the results of the elections that were earlier approved by the INEC (Saliu, 2008). The functions of the media in elections would be to provide adequate publicity on election activities and educate the government and the citizens regarding their role in elections.
The Role of the Media in Elections
In the nature of modern politics, it is impossible for politicians to reach all the voters in their constituencies and to solicit their support to win elections without the help of the media. Thurber, Nelson, and Dulio (2000, cited in Swigger, 2012, p. 367) noted that television advertisements have become ubiquitous features in American political campaign at every level of government, and it is also one of the most expensive tools of a political campaign. The news media are now the modern platforms from which party candidates disseminate information to voters and solicit their support to win elections. According to Kurfi (2010), “It is arguable that without access to the full range of information about their world, citizens cannot fulfil their roles, and democracy will wither” (p. 295). Nevertheless, the aims and objectives of the media are sometimes different from what politicians actually use the media for during elections. Balkin (1999) agreed with this assumption. He said that politicians and the mass media do not necessarily regard the public as an adversary. Rather, as politicians are seeking to shape and draw benefits from public opinion, so also it is that the mass media seek to entertain the public and maintain public attention and influence. Although both the government and the citizens have the constitutional right to establish and run media organizations, the fact remains that the media institutions are established to facilitate the socioeconomic and political development of the society. This is why both the public and the private media should reject any course whose aims and objectives are inimical to public interest. The role of the media in electioneering campaign is to provide information on the registered parties—their programs and candidates that would enable the citizens to decide on the party and candidates that they may wish to vote for during elections. Norris (1997) noted this in his study:
One of the primary functions of the media’s coverage of the campaign is to increase information about the choices on offer, stimulating interest in public involvement in the process, . . . watching politicians debate, the major issues during the campaign may stimulate viewers to feel better informed, more aware of the choices on offer, and therefore better equipped to exercise their choice at the ballot box. (pp. 223-224)
What most enlightened voters usually consider before casting their votes for any candidate in an election is the public character of the individual concerned, his or her experience for the job, as well as the previous commitment demonstrated by the candidates toward the well-being of society. Maisel (2007) noted that
democratic regimes span a wide spectrum in terms of how freely those in power can be criticised by the press or by the opposition . . . the amount of information to which citizens have access in reaching their judgements, and the freedom that candidates have to express their views and that citizens have to vote. (p. 2)
This is why Nigerian journalists should provide enough information on political parties and their candidates during elections through their editorials and news coverage, and feature stories that would enable Nigerian voters to make intelligent decisions on the candidates to vote for in the elections. Konkwo (2003) advised that the media should provide information that would enable the electorate to decide wisely on who to vote for in an election, not on the basis of what the candidates can immediately provide for the people, but on the basis of public assessment of the capability of the candidates to perform in public office. Most politicians, who are in the habit of using the media for whatever reason, do so with the intention of retaining public support to maintain and advance their political career because they are aware that most citizens usually gravitate toward the direction of the media position on public issues. Nigerian journalists should endeavor to provide sufficient and balanced information on the personality profiles of political aspirants so that the public would be conversant with the history of each of the candidate concerned while deciding on the candidates to vote into public office or parliament. The public often rely on the media for information on the ideologies and manifestoes of political parties, as well as on the competence of the candidates contesting for elections (Egbuna, 2012).
Sometimes, the difference between a “winning” politician and a “losing” politician is based on the kind of information that journalists provide on political parties and their candidates, whereupon the electorate can decide on whom to vote for in the elections. If a credible media organization decides to play the role of an advocate for a candidate by singing his or her praises during an election campaign, while serializing the shortcomings of other candidates, citizens who rely on the media to make their judgments on public issues may well fall into the temptation of voting for the less-qualified candidates. Taylor and Richey (2012) noted that “advocates will try to convince others to either become active or—if active already—to increase their level of support, or even to change sides when they feel that there is a legitimate chance that their preferred candidate can win” (p. 414). It was for this reason Mendelsohn (1998) maintained that “ . . . we must examine the possibility that the media’s interpretation of elections is due to contextual factors other than a party’s ideology, and explain why some victors receive ideological mandates, while others receive personal mandates” (p. 239). The above statement is rather unfortunate as most citizens are aware that the media have a duty to accord legitimacy to issues of public concern and to act as status conferral to individuals in society. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to blame members of the public for relying on the media to make intelligent remarks on public issues. Noelle Neumann (1979, cited in Folarin, 2002, p. 78) confirmed that “ideas, occurrence and persons exist in public awareness practically only if they are lent sufficient publicity by the mass media, and only in the shapes that the media ascribe to them.” Hence, many politicians will stop at nothing than to secure a good public image in the eyes of the media and ensure that their weaknesses are shielded from the prying eyes of the press. The media reports on the character and competence of politicians have the potential to influence the perception and judgment of the public on the candidates contesting for elections.
Nevertheless, it is unethical for the media to side with one political party to the detriment of other parties involved. Rather, they are supposed to give equal opportunity to all the candidates to relate to voters during the elections, irrespective of their party affiliations. This is because most citizens have confidence in whatever position they take on any issue that is of public interest only when they have access to all the information regarding the issue before taking a decision: “ . . . if an individual is unable to differentiate between candidates during a campaign, it is unlikely that he or she will make a selection to support one candidate over another” (Krupnikov, 2012, p. 390). Therefore, it is important that the media provide adequate information on political candidates which would enable the people to cast their votes for the more deserving candidates in the elections, while the media thereafter support the government to implement its policy agenda for development.
Some Nigerian newspapers usually do not provide the public with balanced and objective accounts of the integrity and competence of candidates, which would otherwise enable the voters to cast their votes intelligently for deserving party members. This is one of the dysfunctional implications of voters having to rely on the media to make judgments on the party and candidates to vote for in the elections. Okpoko (2003) emphasized this point when he stated that the mass media should provide adequate political education to enlighten the masses on the appropriate electoral procedures that would enable them to shun the evils of the “money bag” politicians, and to avoid the disadvantages of voting along the lines of ethnicity and religion (p. 76). Although there are many factors that could influence voters’ attitudes and choice of candidates in any election, the competence and integrity of political candidates are among the major variables that voters take into consideration while casting their votes for candidates during the elections.
During voting exercise, the media should closely monitor the events regarding the election by visiting intermittently the polling booths in their operational environments to get an on-the-spot assessment of the voting exercise. Such visits would enable the press to ascertain the degree of commitment of the electoral officers and the law enforcement agencies toward the conduct of the elections. For example, the Nigerian Police will often get tip off on how and where an electoral fraud may occur during the elections. Therefore, where the police were unable to prevent politicians from rigging the elections, the media should at least have been able to provide the background information on the major electoral irregularities that occurred during the voting exercise that could assist the court to review the petitions filed by the candidates who lost in the elections. Unfortunately, apart from a few private media houses in the country, most government-owned media organizations are not in the position to investigate the cases regarding government-sponsored electoral misconduct, except now that the government has passed into law the Freedom of Information Bill. Even at that, it might still be relatively difficult for the public media in Nigeria to report without bias on the activities of the government in elections. This is because the government finances the public media and appoints the members of the editorial boards of the media, including the general managers of the government-owned media stations. The government will therefore expect the journalists working for the public media stations to support the government’s policy agenda for development as they are staff of the government Information Ministry. Although the Code of Conduct guiding the activities of the media makes it mandatory for journalists to uphold truth and objectivity in their reports, some newspaper editors and the general managers of broadcasting stations in Africa have had their appointments terminated for reporting the true accounts of government’s involvement in electoral misconduct. This was the major reason why the Nigerian Union of Journalists fought to ensure that the Federal Government approved the Freedom of Information Bill. The Act now enables journalists to gain access to public information, and to publish any news so long as the publication does not violate the rights of anyone, including those of the state.
However, it is important to mention that it is strictly unconstitutional for the Nigerian media to publish a parallel version of election results that contradicts the results released by the INEC as the commission is the only authorized body empowered by the constitution to conduct and release the results of elections. Nevertheless, the press can keep a record of the observed discrepancies between the media version of the election results from the official results released by the electoral commission. The results of the elections compiled by the media could serve as evidence when the court and the Electoral Tribunal will be evaluating the claims and objections raised by the candidates who unconstitutionally lost their seats to their opponents in the elections. It is the duty of the Nigerian judiciary to review the petitions filed in by the candidates who believed that they were deprived of their victory in elections. It is worth noting that the verdict of the Nigerian judiciary on any election result takes precedent over the result of the election approved by the INEC. Hence, it is pointless for politicians to fight over election results, particularly as the Nigerian judiciary has restored public confidence in the Nigerian Electoral System, following the impartial judgments the court and Electoral Tribunals delivered on the petitions filed in by the candidates who contested in the 2007, 2011, and 2015 elections.
Election campaign provides the platform on which political aspirants contesting for elective positions in government and parliament solicit the support of voters in their constituencies to win elections. Contestants in elections usually carry out political campaigns in the places where they publicly declare their candidacy together with the programs and manifestoes of their parties, which they intend to implement for the benefit of their people when they are elected into offices. Therefore, a political constituency is simply a geographical area, which comprises of a group of the electorate with common goals and aspirations toward the peace and development of their community. Nevertheless, the form and the size of a constituency vary from one country to another depending on the political ideology of the country. Under the presidential system of government, like the case of Nigeria and the United States of America, there are three levels of government in each of these countries. During election campaigns, political candidates meet with the members of their constituencies to discuss the problems affecting the growth and development of their communities, and how the candidates intend to solve the problems when elected into office. According to Leighley (2004),
Elected officials are expected to adopt policies that are consistent with voters’ preference. How closely officials’ policy decisions mirror the preferences of citizens is a critical feature of democratic politics. The more closely they do, the more representative the democracy, and the less likely that elected officials are enacting policies [at variance] to the wishes of the public. (p. 200)
With this understanding, it is obvious that the public indirectly controls the activities of the parliaments, which is why the elected officials in the house should guide parliamentary proceedings and debates to meet the needs of the citizens and preserve the sanctity of the constitution in the interest of the state.
Voting is the process through which qualified citizens who make up the electorate of a country elect the proportionate representative of all the citizenry from the different constituencies that make up the country to represent all the citizens in government and parliament for a given period of time or tenure. Voting is one of the most important features that distinguishes a liberal democracy from other forms of government. Most of the electoral irregularities in elections occur during the voting exercise. The 1992 Ghana elections were marred by voting-related misconduct among other factors. Oquaye (2004), while commenting on the irregularities that occurred in these elections, emphasized the importance of voting in elections:
Voting is the use of a ballot paper in secret to freely determine a preference. A citizen’s vote is meaningful if the system allows nothing to negate his choice by unfair means. An individual may vote in an orderly queue, but if the box is pre-stuffed with other preferences, his vote is futile. (p. 505)
Incidentally, this was what happened during the 1992 elections in Ghana.
In modern politics, the extent to which the conduct of an election is free and fair determines whether the citizens and the members of the international community will accept the results of the election. The leadership problems in the less-developed countries of the world would probably have been avoided if there had been free and fair elections in the countries currently facing crises, so that the citizens could freely and without any inhibition elect men and women of proven character and integrity to represent the other citizens in governments. However, many African countries have no clear reputation in conducting free and fair elections; this explains why the international community, including the United Nations, often polices and supervises the conduct of elections in African countries. For instance, the Nigerian Government changed the name of its electoral commission with each passing republic until 1999, as though the inability to conduct free and fair elections in the country was due to the nomenclature attached to each of the failed electoral commissions. Otoghile and Idahosa (2008) made this observation in their studies, adding that
In Nigeria, the electoral commission in most cases has been the problem with election, in other words; they have been our collective albatross. Hence, no matter the change in nomenclature (whether FEDECO, NEC, NECON or INEC as they are popularly known) as long as the orientation of the officers remains skewed toward electoral fraud, then very little can be achieved. (pp. 149-150)
Most of the cases of electoral fraud that occur in Africa during elections usually take place almost at the tail end of the voting exercise. Some desperate politicians rig elections in the constituencies where they envisage the least possible support from voters for their candidacy. According to Hoglund and Piyarathne (2009), “Electoral violence is used for a number of reasons: to hinder people from voting, to prevent a candidate from campaigning, to display discontent with the election results, or to overturn the outcome of the election” (p. 287). People will find it difficult to rig elections without the connivance and support of government officials.
The results of elections are very important as they form the determinants of persons who will eventually occupy public offices among the candidates who contest in elections. Once the electoral commission completes the voting exercise, the public is usually confident in assuming that it is the responsibility of the Resident Electoral Officers and the Chair of the Electoral Commission to collate the votes cast, compute, and declare the results of the elections. Previous experience has shown that the easiest way to rig an election is at the collation centers after the voting exercise. In fact, the use of delay-tactics in the release of the election results provides a subtle device for electoral malpractice, and this was a hypothesis that was on the verge of becoming a theory in the Nigerian politics prior to the 2011 elections. Before then, each time there was an undue delay in the release of a particular election result, there was the likelihood that when the electoral commission eventually released the result, the outcome would be contrary to public expectations. This was the experience Nigerians had during the 2007 elections. The candidates who lost in those elections later contested the delayed election results and won the cases at the court.
For an electoral commission to accept the result of an election that does not reflect the actual votes cast at the polling booths is an indirect way of discouraging the electorate from voting in the subsequent elections, as they would imagine that, as the government can alter results to favor its preferred candidates in an election, it would be needless for the electorate to exercise their civic responsibilities during elections. Virtually all the previous elections held in Nigeria until very recently were punctuated with cases of electoral irregularities, to the extent that there were instances where electoral officers allegedly connived with politicians to alter the results of elections. For example,“ The outcome of the 1983 elections was quite embarrassing as there were cases where the electoral commission released results on inconclusive elections and places where elections did not take place” (Oboh, 2014, p. 9). It is an irony (a situation where the organ entrusted with the conduct of elections connives with politicians to obstruct the success of the elections for financial gains).
The article used the content analysis approach to determine the manifest content of the Nigerian newspaper reports on the 2007 elections. The method enabled the researcher to determine the number of stories the newspapers reported on the elections, along with the major issues the media discussed on the elections. Content analysis approach used in the study involves the objective, systematic, and the quantitative description of the manifest content of communication (Berelson, 1952, cited in Deacon, Pickering, Golding, & Murdock, 1999).
In determining the frequency of the Nigerian newspaper coverage on the elections, the researcher reviewed 546 front-page headline stories published by the Guardian, Tribune, Champion, THISDAY, Punch, and the Nigerian Observer in April, May, and June being the periods of the 2007 elections. The six newspapers for the study are among the leading Nigerian newspapers. The campaign in the elections took place 2 weeks prior to the elections, while the voting exercise in the elections took place on April 14 and 21, 2007, respectively. The analysis of the frequency of the Nigerian newspaper coverage on the elections was based on the following content categories: the stories published by the newspapers on the elections, the stories published on the activities of the government during the elections, press reports on the activities of the parliaments during the elections, and the stories published on other issues during the elections. The article further evaluated the 195 stories the newspapers published on the elections in April, May, and June 2007, to determine the frequency and the major issues the newspapers reported on the elections.
Independent researchers assisted in reviewing each of the coding instruments used for determining the content categories of the frequency and the major issues the Nigerian newspapers reported on the 2007 elections. Despite the effort by scholars and researchers to develop the indices for testing intercoder reliability of instrument, there is still no consensus on a single best method for determining the reliability of research instruments. The simple percentage agreement used in the study is the most widely used technique for determining reliability test across the behavioral science literature (Lombard, Snyder-Duch, & Bracken, 2002)
Limitations of the Study
One of the limitations of the study was the sampling method used in the selection of the elements that formed the study sample. The six newspapers selected for the study are located in the southern parts of Nigeria. The tendency is that the majority of the news sources that provided the information forming the basis of the media reports on the 2007 elections were Nigerian citizens of the southern extraction, so the views of the Nigerian citizens who are residents of the northern parts of the country may not have been well represented in the media reports of the 2007 elections. This may have affected the reliability of the research instruments used in the study and the validity of the research findings and conclusions. Nevertheless, the newspapers selected for the study are among the leading Nigerian newspapers. In addition, the majority of the private media houses in the northern parts of the country are branches to the media houses in the southern parts of Nigeria. For now, there are no newspaper houses in the northern parts of the country that have effective coverage of national issues and events like the six newspapers reviewed in the study, and this can be confirmed from the list of the Nigerian newspapers online.
The cross tabulation in Table 1 contains the data on the frequency distribution of the Nigerian newspaper reports on the 2007 elections, along with the major issues the newspapers reported in April, May, and June 2007. The six newspapers reported 546 front-page stories on the elections. Of this figure, the press carried 195 lead stories (36%) on the issues regarding the elections, 167 news stories (31%) on the activities of the government, and another 34 major stories (6%) on the activities and proceedings of the State and National Assembly during the elections. Under the category of the other issues, the newspapers reported 143 stories (26%) on the issues that were irrelevant to the central objective of the study. However, the study was unable to account for seven newspaper issues that were not available for the review.
To determine the issues the newspapers reported on the election campaign, the voting exercise, and the results of the elections, the study further reviewed 195 news stories the six newspapers reported on the elections. The findings revealed that among other things that the newspapers reported, 108 news stories (60%) went on the elections of April 2007. The number of newspaper stories on the elections however reduced to 45 (24%) in May 2007 as the attention of the media toward the elections began to diminish. In June 2007, the figure further reduced to 42 stories (23%). The reduction in the frequency distribution of the newspaper reports on the elections after the general elections in April was normal as the media would normally set an agenda on a more recent and topical issue than dwelling on the history of the 2007 elections.
Based on these findings, one can conclude that the Nigerian newspapers gave adequate attention (60%) to the coverage of the 2007 elections during the period. The private newspapers condemned the electoral irregularities that occurred in the elections. For example, the stance of the Nigerian Guardian and the Nigerian Tribune on the elections agreed with the position of the internal and the external observers that monitored the conduct of the elections, which confirmed that the elections were characterized with cases of electoral irregularities.
The six newspapers published 108 news stories on the major issues that occurred in the elections in April 2007. The newspapers reported 28 news stories (26%) on the crises that occurred in the elections, 33 stories (31%) on the activities of the INEC, 22 news stories (20%) on the profile of the candidates who contested in the elections, and 18 stories (17%) on the political parties. However, seven front-page news stories (6%) dwelled on issues outside the relevant variables for the study. The findings above revealed that the media reported more on the activities of the INEC than any other issue the newspapers reported on the elections in May 2007. Nevertheless, most people usually rely on the media to know more about the registered political parties and their candidates to decide on the party and the candidates to vote for in the elections.
In May 2007, the newspapers reported eight stories (18%) on the stance of the Federal Government on the elections, 20 stories (44%) on the conflicts that arose from the elections, and eight stories (18%) on the views expressed by the members of the public on the elections. Another eight stories (18%) was the media reports on the issues relating to the results of the elections. The newspaper reported one news story (2%) on the issue outside the objectives of this study. These findings revealed that the media reported more on the crises that arose from the elections than other issues in the elections. As there is a correlation between media agenda and public agenda, it means that the members of the public probably spent more time discussing the electoral irregularities that occurred in the elections than other issues regarding the elections.
The six newspapers reported 42 front-page stories on the postelection activities in their reports in June 2007. Specifically, the newspapers reported 29 front-page stories (69%) on the conflicts that arose from the elections, four stories (10%) on the judgments delivered by the court and the Electoral Tribunal on the elections, and nine stories (21%) on the issues that arose from the results of the elections. The private and the public media however disagreed on the credibility of the results of the elections. The public media supported the federal government’s decision, insisting that the elections were free and fair, whereas the private media condemned the electoral irregularities that occurred during the elections and called on the judiciary to cancel the fraudulent versions of the election results. The disagreement between the public and the private media on the credibility of the 2007 elections may have had some implications on public assessment of the 2007 elections.
This study recommends that the media should avoid taking different editorial positions on the results of elections. The editorial position of the Nigerian mass media on the credibility of the results of the 2007 elections was capable of creating conflict in the Nigerian politics. The study noted that the Nigerian newspapers spent more time reporting on the crises that occurred during the elections without any attempt to suggest the possible ways to solve the problem of electoral irregularities in the Nigerian politics. This development tends to contradict the tenets of the social responsibility press theory that imposes on the media the commitment to social responsibility being the aftermath of the review of the concept of a free press. As there is a correlation between media agenda and public agenda, there was the likelihood that the members of the public may have spent more time discussing the crises that occurred in the elections than the time spent on other issues regarding the elections. In addition, the article discusses how the African leaders can use the media to facilitate the conduct of elections in the region. It is pertinent to note that the crises arising from the conduct of elections led to the collapse of Nigerian republics prior to 1999. The article recommends that the Nigerian media should work out the modalities for determining public opinion in subsequent elections instead of having to rely on government sources alone to draw conclusion on the credibility of election results.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article.
- © The Author(s) 2016
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Godwin Ehiarekhian Oboh is an associate professor and head, Department of Mass Communication, Benson Idahosa University. He has BA and MA degrees in Mass Communication from Delta State University, Abraka and University of Nigeria, Nsukka, respectively, and obtained a PhD in Media Studies from University of Derby, England, United Kingdom. He is a member of the African Council for Communication Education (ACCE) and the International Communication Association (ICA).