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1.1 Background of the Study
The media collectively acts to provide audiences with their “windows on the
world” Implicit of this claim is the idea that the media act as powerful agencies that are capable of shaping and directing public and private understanding of the world and awareness of its political affairs. Providing these explanations of events that occur in the environment, the media do not simply and neutrally provide information but also actively encourage us to see and understand it in particular ways and certain terms. That is why during the 2015 elections, journalist attempted to educate and persuade the public by directing attention to the need for full participation by citizens in the political process of the nation. Prior to the elections, it was the political role of the electronic media to restore people’s confidence in the transitional programme. The media was among those charged with the responsibility of covering the Governorship/ State Assemblies and Presidential/ National Assemblies elections which were held on April 14th and 2nd, 2007.
That is why Mboho (2005) specifically identified the political functions of the media as:
i. Creating and promoting political awareness, ii. Identifying and promoting civic responsibilities among the people iii. Mobilizing the people toward the achievement at national goals.
Media impact on political campaigns and voting has always been at the center of some of mass communication earliest research. Given that the media (television / radio) had yet to develop into a true mass medium and that the notion of limited effects held sway, the overall conclusion was that the media had little direct impact on campaigns and voting, and when or if they did, such impact was in form of reinforcement but with the fuller diffusion of television and radio and the interest generated in these medium, thinking about media and campaigns began to change. For example after the focus of televised debates on how political candidates used media for image building and “cheapening” of campaigns, it has made these personalities become more important than issues.
There is no gain saying the fact that the media helps in shaping the perception of the voters during the process of electioneering campaigns as they try to x-ray the various political actors and players. This is so because the media has the power of persuasion. Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of sensory information.
In relation to the media, the implication of the above assertion means that people are often viewed with a preconceived idea. This is because; there is no man without a history. They often bring the history of anybody gunning for any electoral post to limelight and tries to shape or build the perception of the people about the candidate. The media often sets an agenda for the people. The agenda-setting hypothesis asserts that the media have an effect indirectly by choosing certain issues for emphasis, thus making those issues more salient to the audiences.
Another important development in contemporary thinking that came up about media and political campaigns was the agenda-setting. Agenda-setting was used to explain how the media can influence campaigns and voting from the audience. The media has helped to set the issue agenda that dictates the issue on which majority of the people ultimately base their voting decisions.
The amount of air time devoted to campaigns coverage on media stations has demonstrated dramatic declines in the amount given to the candidates’ position. The content-free political campaigns, coupled with the increase in negative campaign commercials (advertisement) may be creating an apathetic and alienated public, rather than the involved and informed citizenry that is necessary for democracy. However, though Americans consider or see negative campaign advertising unethical, uninformative, deceptive and lacking in credibility research indicates that negative campaigns are more memorable than positive ones and voters decision making is been influenced to a greater degree by these negative campaign rather than by positive campaign information. Though these negative campaigns might ultimately damage democracy, the voters end up declaring what they want better from their candidates. (Aigbovbiose 2007:399).
The media today have become essential to modern campaigning which has helped to reinforce the disclosure of huge campaign contributions to all political parties. The media should endeavour to make free air time available to political candidates and campaigns and also increasing the length of time the candidates have to present full, cogent explanations of their positions as these gives the audiences or voters better knowledge of their political candidates.
The pattern of audience exposure to the media gives substantial explanation to the nature of political socialization. In their study of the 1968 US presidential campaign, Chaffe, Ward and Tipmon (1970) cited in Aigbovbiose (2007:399) established that mass media use was casually related to political knowledge but less related to political activity among pre-voters.
Audience awareness of events depends on the prominence of the event coverage in the media. The media right from time immemorial has been involved in drawing the attention of voters to the possibility that a new government or party could implement fresh policies which could consequently meet every days needs. The media therefore is strongly an instrumental to public opinion formation and change about a political system or government.
Furthermore, the information that is disseminated helps to create awareness of various innovative programme and should be disseminated firstly not only in English language but also in language that is understandable to all the audience members. Another important use of information is that, the media should be accessible and available to the target audience. It is on this note that Ukozor (2003:49) say, “the media should be able of report news events, giving meaning to it in order that their report gets more attractive and useful to the audience” This is done by offering contextual explanations to facts and issues of the days news in a manner that the average news consumer will understand their implications to his/her life. The media should be able to dig out some facts that are not immediately visible which the audience did not know about.
In addition, it is the multiciplicity of linkage between the mass media, society and politics that brought about the role which the media has to play in mobilizing the audience politically. In this mobilization, they are expected (media) to be objective and propelled by public interest rather than individualized or parochial interest. The media with their spirit of resilience, have engaged themselves in politically reawakening the citizens and mobilizing them into participating in the nations political activities.
Radio Benue as a media station is been changed with the various function (information) to the society. The mission of it (Radio Benue) for instance seeks to emphasis development issues and promote the education of tension and friction to achieve global harmony (Udeajah 2004: 363).
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The issue of media coverage of elections especially in the electronic media has always been a subject of considerable controversy in Nigeria. This issue is worsened by the diversity in culture and other social values among Nigerians. This obviously is the reason why the struggle to broadcast and control of the media as a means of gaining political power has remained an issue in Nigerian politics.
Political broadcasting tends to tilt in favour of the government of the day, however, with the deregulation of the industry, the trend changed, particularly with the nation’s return to democracy. This is obviously why many Nigerian broadcasting stations go all out to satisfy the interest of their owners during electioneering periods. Many Nigerians often accuse the media for not playing an independent role during electioneering periods as they often deny the oppositions the chance to use them in getting to the electorates. For instance, some all the broadcasting stations in Benue state are owned by the government (including Radio Benue) and during elections, they are used to serve the interest of the party in power. This it does contrary to Section 1.5.4 of the National broadcasting Commission’s code which deals on Political broadcasting.
The values and expectations of audience members in Benue State which is the major catchment area of Radio Benue does not present a shift from the status quo and due to the differences in the psychological make up of the people, they exhibit varying perceptions when faced with political messages and they comprehend political messages differently even when they live in the same environment.
The problem remains, how does the audience rate the performance of Radio Benue in the 2015 general elections? Were their operations effective from the period of electioneering campaign to the elections proper? Was the station biased in terms of favouring the ruling party and denying access to the oppositions? Was the station able to mobilize the audience through inducing attitudinal and behavioural change during the elections period?
The problems highlighted above make it imperative to examine the perception of the audiences of Radio Benue in the station’s coverage of the 2015 general elections in the state.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The following objectives were drawn to set the base this research to ensure a better understanding and assessment.
1. To ascertain the level of coverage given to the 2015 general elections in Benue
State by Radio Benue.
2. To ascertain the directional coverage of the elections by Radio Benue with a view to ascertaining whether they were objective to all parties involved.
3. The find out the level of political influence in the station’s coverage of the elections if there were any.
4. To assess audience perception on the performance of Radio Benue coverage of the 2015 elections in terms of functional duties and the effectiveness of its operations.
5. To find out if the ownership status of radio Benue affects her coverage of political issues like campaigns and elections?
1.4 Significance of the Study
This study will be of great significance to the following people and in the following ways.
a. The media from time immemorial are charged with various roles of informing and enlightening the public, so this work will be useful to them by encouraging the media to carry out their functions well, despite the challenges that they face from time to time.
b. The study will provide reliable feedback data on audience view of media coverage of elections and also provide its strengths and weakness which will serve as a tool for improvement in the media outfit including both electronic and print.
c. It will serve as a data base for Mass communication researchers and scholars who may be embarking on similar research in the future.
d. It will also avail political actors and players more and better information on the role of the media in electoral processes, especially on the coverage of elections.
1.5 Research Questions
The following research questions will be of guide to this study.
1. What is the level of coverage given to the 2015 general elections by Radio Benue?
2. What is the direction coverage of the elections by Radio Benue to ascertaining whether they were fair to all parties involved?
3. What is the level of political influence in the station’s coverage of the elections if there were any?
4. How does the audience of Radio Benue perceive the station’s performance in terms of the coverage of the 2015 elections?
5. Does the ownership status of mass media affects her coverage of political issues like elections and campaigns?
1.6 Scope /limitation of the Study
It will be nugatory, attempting to study the whole of Nigeria as it relates to the perception of Nigerians to the media coverage of the last general elections in the country. This is so because apart from the fact that it will be too expensive to embark on such a research, the inability to measure the large number of people that will be involved posses another serious challenge. In view of this, this study would therefore be limited on one hand, to radio audiences in Makurdi in Benue state; while on the other hand, it would be limited to the Mass media Makurdi.Also, the refusal of the audience to fill the questionnaire posed another challenge. Time and finance was also a challenge, as the researcher could not go round in other to meet up with time.
1.7 Theoretical Framework
In order to situate and align any study within its proper perspective, there is a need for existing theories that will form the pivot on which the study will revolve. Therefore, this study is anchored on perception theory and agenda setting theory.
Individuals have a way of viewing a particular message on television based on his predispositions. However, perception is affected by three basic variables
• Past Experiences
• Cultural Expectations
• Social Relationships
The extent to which a given message from the media in this case television affects an individual is determined by the individual’s limited experience factor. Thus, perception of television messages results from certain processes.
1. Selective Exposure
Selective exposure theory is a theory of communication, positing that individuals prefer exposure to arguments supporting their position over those supporting other positions. It has been discussed by communication scholars for decades. Since excessive amount of media choices are available in the 21st Century, media consumers have more privileges to expose themselves to selected medium and media contents.
2. Selective Attention
Folarin (2005:89) observes that because the eye processes information much faster that the brain can interpret, the human brain has to select which information to pay attention to at any given time in other to avoid confusion. In other words, If people are confronting unsympathetic material, they do not perceive it, or make it fit for their existing opinion.
3. Selective Perception
The basic axiom of this process is that each of us tends to perceive and then decode communication messages in the light of our previous experiences and current dispositions and our needs, moods and memories. This suggests that individuals who received a miracle after watching a televangelism programmes would always want to tune in to such broadcast in the future. Again, relatives and friends who see such miracles or transformation in the life of the individual would likely identify when such broadcast comes again on air.
4. Selective retention
Although there are myriads of messages from televangelism, it is note worthy that only those messages which are favourable to the self image of the individual would be retained. The relevance of the message to the social conditions of the individual would also affect his retention.
Therefore, these processes which are linked influences the individual’s perception of the media station.
The Agenda-Setting Theory
This theory explains the power of the media and how it helps to raise issues of public importance. The theory is related to public opinion generation, since it is often the media that raises issues upon which public opinion is expressed. According to Baran (2004:429)
The audience not only learn about public issues through the media, they also learn how much importance to attach to an issue or topic from the emphasis the media places on it” that is the media may set the “agenda” of the campaign.
The above statement indicates that agenda setting by the press is a way in which the press dictates the political and other issues on which many voters ultimately base their voting decisions.
The first empirical test of agenda-setting theory of the media was made manifest by McCombs and Shaw (1972), cited by Ojobor (2002:21); they noted that members of the “audience not only learn about public issues through the media, they also learn how much importance to attach to an issue or topic from the emphasis the mass media place on it”. This was in response to the results of a study carried out by them, during the 1968 United States presidential elections. In that study, McCombs and Shaw found a strong support for the agenda-setting hypothesis. They revealed strong relationships between the emphasis placed on different campaign issues by the media and the judgments of voters, regarding the importance of various campaign topics.
In the views of Folarin (2005: 95), the elements involved in agenda-setting include: (1) The quantity or frequency of reporting;
(2) Prominence given to the reports – through headline display, pictures and layout in newspapers, magazines, film, graphics, or timing on radio and television. (3) The degree of conflict generated in the reports; and
(4) Cumulative media-specific effects overtime.
The place of this theory in this study can be seen in the need of the media to be involved in drawing the attention of voters to the possibility that a new government or party could implement fresh polices which could consequently meet their every day needs. The number of times of which the political campaigns are been aired indicates the importance being attached to the electoral process by the media.
1.8 Definition of terms
A clear understanding of major concepts in any study goes a long way in illuminating the reader views by engendering better comprehension.
Perception is meant to be a process by which we become aware of change in our
environment through the senses. Perception about a thing or an issue leads
to opinion formation or change about that thing or issue. Perception is often selected support an inner consistency among a person’s beliefs, attitudes and value. These comments about perception together or separately contribute to opinion formation and change about an issue or something. From the semantic view point, the oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines it a belief you have as a result of how you see or understand something the way you notice things. In the context of this study, therefore, perception is seen as the way people view or think concerning an issue or something.
Audience is taken to be the group or selected number of people who watch, read or listen
to the same thing. For this study we will take the audience to be the number of people who watches (sees) everything that has happened in the environment.
Coverage is the amount or way that (the media) covers an area. The coverage is to be
taken from the 2007 election area.
Media Dictionary meaning sees it as the main ways which large number of people
receives information. In the cause of this work, it’s taken to be the radio station where Mass media falls under this media in disseminating information to large heterogenous audience.
Aigbovbioise, O. J. (2007). Audience Exposure to News Media and their Perception of President Obasanjo’s Government. In Mojaye, E. M. V., Salawu, A. Oyewo, O. O. (Eds). Ebenezer Soola Conference on Communication: Proceedings.
Baran, S. J. (2004). Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture New York: McGraw Hill Companies. Ltd.
Folarin, B. (2005). Theories of Mass Communication: An Introductory Text (3rd ed.). Ibadan: Bakinfol Publications.
Mboho, M. (2004). Mass media Functions in Rural Development: Mass Media Review In International Journal of Communication. Vol. 1.
Oguonu, C.& Anugwom, E. (2006). Research Methods in Social Sciences. Enugu. Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd.
Ojobor , I. J. (2002). Mass Communication Theories in Okunna C. S. (Ed) Teaching Mass Communication. A multi-dimensional Approach. Enugu: New Generation Books.
Oxford Advanced learner’s Dictionary (7th ed). (2006). New York: Oxford University
Udeajah, R. A. (2004). Broadcasting and Politics in Nigeria 1963-2003. Enugu: Snaap Press.
Ukozor, N. (2003). Fundamentals Interpretative and Investigative Reporting. Enugu: John Jacob’s Classic Publishers.
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