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1.1 BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The political culture and structure of elections in Nigeria have been fraught with violence. This has, in a way or another, informed the role of the mass media in using several of its programmes for the enlightening of both the electorate and members of political parties, in regards to the necessity of addressing factors inducing political violence and the act itself, before, during and after elections.
In the light of this, a report by the Human Rights Watch (April and May 2007-20011, 12) claims that virtually all elections held since Nigeria‟s independence till the 2011 general elections have been riddled with political violence, fraud, assassination, ballot stuffing, and kidnapping by political thugs. As such, Onwudiwe and Berwind-Dart (2010) identify the varying complex political issues that Nigerians and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have to address if the country is to witness the conduct of a free and fair election. Against this backdrop, both the mass media and some other interested organizations have embarked on national campaigns to sensitize the electorates to the compulsive need to refrain from all formats of political violence during and after electioneering periods; an approach believed, if painstakingly adhered to, would enhance free and fair elections in Nigeria.
The foregoing notwithstanding, INEC is yet to successfully conduct any peaceful election within the polity. As such the 2007 elections that the Maurice Iwu led INEC organized turned out as a complete letdown, and was seriously criticized by both local and foreign media; even as the international community acerbically regarded the election as high level of fraud and rigged election.
Given the attendant flaws, late President Musa Yar‟adua called for and inaugurated an Electoral Reform Act in 2010, through the collaboration of a nominating committee, chaired by Justice Uwais and the National House of Assembly, both of which took turn to consider the issue of free and fair elections in Nigeria. In spite of this, the panel could not present a positive consequence. This thus led to the emergence of Professor Attairu Jega as the new INEC chairman, and was
saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that the 2011 general election was not only peaceful, but free and fair. And for this arduous venture, President Goodluck Jonathan, in an acting capacity, released about 84billion naira to INEC .In the light of this, one realizes that the socio-economic and politico-diplomatic gamut‟s of the polity needs complete overhaul; a situation that made Anaeto and Anaeto (2010, 34) to insist that African countries have seriously witnessed many serious challenges in the socio-cultural politico-economic, and developmental dimensions of their existence. As such, the varying dimensions of insurgency and the attendant insecurity cannot be excused within Nigeria.
An interesting fact however is that the mass media within Nigeria have been up and doing; particularly as concerns the discharge of the necessary ethical standard thus, they seriously engage in informing;, educating and entertaining, as conventionally required of them; and in the persuasion of the bulk of the masses towards the sustenance of the existing relative peace and stability within the country‟s confines. A graphic manifestation of this was during the 2011 general elections when the mass media served the purpose of transmitting the election results of the voting in each state of the country immediately as such results were turned in. Thus, the mass media assisted in the curbing of the electoral violence, which was the fallout of the numerous anomalies perpetrated during the elections.
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Interaction with people and the dissemination of information are requisite for the proper functioning of every political system and/or society. Such information, meant to broaden the knowledge of the populace, could be accessed directly or indirectly through sources such as other individuals and groups with which such a person might have handsome levels of interaction. More so is the crucial role of the mass media (print or electronic) through which vital information circulates within the global system..Beyond serving as an adequate conduit for the dissemination of tangible information, particularly from the government to the citizens, some other important functions of the media, as Ayeni and Akeke (2008) argue, incorporate.
a. enlightening both the government and the mass of the citizens about significant developments within the society in a clear and accurate manner that would enable them to make informed policies and choices as the case may be; and
b. mobilize the people to participate in the political and governance process.
In spite of steady rise in the number of media houses in Nigeria, the present structure of the mass media in the country is yet to tangibly allow for the actualization of the above stated roles. Nigeria has the largest press community in Africa, followed by South Africa and Kenya (Parker, 1995).Ogbodo (1995) conservatively put the number of publications (weeklies, dailies, and magazines) at 116; although a number of these are presently going moribund. A more recent summation of media organizations in Nigeria places the number of regular newspaper at 78, magazines at 45, television stations at 52 and radio stations at 31 (Oseni, 2000).
While the print media have been very dynamic due to private involvement, their shortcomings lie in the limitation of their reach. This limitation covers economic, content and availability dimensions. The poor economic nature of the country does not necessarily allow affordability of the newspapers and magazines; consequentially, this leads to the problem of access; since the media organizations will not necessarily produce copies that are more than the number they can conveniently sell. Beside this, the print medium is limited to the literate members of the society, thus, large unlettered population cannot be reached by this medium.
In broadcasting, while the deregulation of the industry from 1992 has brought little change allowing for divergent views through the private stations, the problem of monopolization is still much in place. The monopoly enjoyed by the government media continued to be perpetuated by the exorbitant annual license fee charged by the National Broadcasting Commission. This situation puts the private stations at a disadvantage as they have to compete with government owned stations, which are not subjected to the same payment.
This challenge, coupled with the commercial interest of the private media stations, does not allow for the effective dispensing of responsibility expected of media houses in democratic societies. This is because they have to, of necessity; first succeed as business ventures before taking public interests and services into tangible consideration. Consequently, most of their programmes are titled towards fulfilling their business goals. Thus, their programmes are mostly alien, elitist and/or mimic of foreign programmes; not just in content, but also in the presentation of the entertainment menu aimed at audience maximization (Ayankojo, 2003).
The government-owned media on the other hand, most times are mere loud-speakers of and/or propagandist machines for the incumbent administration. The fallout of this is the sheer presentation of politico-economic elites‟ interests as(representative of) public interests; Hence, the needful leveled playing ground that might enhance the rightful (re)presentation of opposing views, which could be constructive, by different interest groups, are not provided. In spite of the observed challenges, extant literature claim that mass media is assuming a serious tool of democracy in the Nigerian polity. This study does not seek to join issues with such literature; rather it is meant to tangibly illumine the role of the mass media in the achievement of a free and fair election in Nigeria; even as the country heads to the poll in 2015.
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF STUDY
The broad objective of this study is to investigate the role of the mass media in achieving a free and fair election in Nigeria. The specific objectives of the study are to:
a. Examine the approaches that the mass media adopt in providing the public with necessary Political information;
b. Identify the extent to which the mass media could get involved in political reporting; and
c. Analyze the contributions of the mass media to the conduct of a free and fair election in Nigeria.
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
This study seeks to provide answers to the following questions:
a. What do you regard as the role of the mass media in politics?
b. In your opinion, how can the mass media enhance a free and fair election?
c. What strategy should the mass media adopt in order to provide appropriate political information to the public?
d. How would you regard the involvement of the media in political reporting?
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