One of the important aspects for the potential development of the mass media is health communication. Ochonogor (2009) suggests that “development media messages, if structured over a long period of time will ensure a smooth transition of mass media agenda to the public agenda.”

The World Health Organization (WHO, 2018) defines health as “a state of complete, physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.” The Cambridge Oxford Dictionary defines health as “the condition of the body and the degree to which it is free from illness or state of being well”.

Health communication encompasses the role of the media in health information dissemination. Healthy People (2010, p.1) define health communication as “the art and techniques of informing, influencing and motivating individual and public audiences about important health issues.” The scope of health communication according to Healthy People (2010, p.1) includes;

  • Disease prevention
  • Health promotion
  • Health care policy
  • Health care advocacy
  • Economic aspect of health care
  • Enhancement of the quality of life and health of individuals within the community

Health communication therefore deals with all messages, visuals and programmes that inform educate and persuade individuals and groups to adopt measures that guarantee their quality of life and well being. It is noteworthy that diseases and health challenges largely arise because of ignorance on the part of victims. 

The media plays an outstanding role in strengthening the society. It has the duty to inform, educate, and entertain the people. The media has become an essential part of our lives; an average Nigerian has at least daily inevitable contact with the media at any of the levels going by Okoire and Oyedepo (2011, p.27). It helps to know the current situation around the world. The media has a strong social and cultural impact upon the society because of its inherent ability to reach a large number of the public.       

The media are significant sources of health-related information and can shape the way we think about and discuss health.  According to Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON) in the Nigeria Health Review (2006, p.1) “recent assessment of the health of the Nigerian population indicates that the health situation in Nigeria and of Nigerians is dismal and efforts to change the situation over the years have been insignificant.” Indeed, Nigeria lags behind many other African countries on various health indicators. A World Health Organization evaluation of the health situation in different parts of the world placed Nigeria 187 out of 191 countries that were surveyed in 2000 (-Federal Ministry of Health, Health Sector Reform Program:2004-2007).

Some health issues in Nigeria are as follows: Malaria, Tuberculosis, Tetanus, HIV/AIDS, Cholera, Chicken pox, Diarrhea, Polio, Measles, Diabetes, and Typhoid, among others. HERFON in the Nigeria Health Review (2006, p.1) assert that “the coverage of the national health system is limited and health education and enlightenment is weak, partly due to high level illiteracy.”

According to Dominick (2002, p.34) ‘the role of the mass media in the society include surveillance, interpretation, linkage, transmissions of values, and entertainment.’’ Apparently in agreement, Mu’azu (2002,p.27) explains that, in its surveillance function the press plays the role of an observer, which is a necessary component for enforcing economic, political, cultural and even moral stability’’ in the polity.

The primary functions of the mass media are to inform, educate, and entertain and also to enlighten. The various mass media (magazines, television, internet, newspapers, etc.) have the power to direct our attention towards certain issues and this is evident in the Agenda-Setting function of the mass media. In the words of Cohen (1963), the media ‘‘may not be successful in telling readers what to think, but are stunningly successful in telling their readers what to think about’’. Freimuth et al. (1984) have shown that many people rely on the news media for their health related information. Policy makers also obtain considerable amount of information from the media. As Bryant and Thompson (2002) have suggested that news coverage of health matters takes on considerable significance that has the potential to shape the impression of average citizens and powerful policy makers alike.

To be in good health, people need adequate information and knowledge on health matters. They need information on healthy lifestyle practices, preventive health measures, health conditions and diseases, and government health care programmes. The mass media are to help in creating awareness, accelerating information flow and mobilizing the populace towards attainment of national goals and aspirations to ensure a total transformation of the society.

 Transmission of values is also an important function of the mass media. Our society is portrayed in the mass media by seeing, watching or reading people learn which are the important values.  Dominick, (2002) believes that at one level, value transmission via the mass media will aid the stability of the society. Common values and experience are passed down to all members, thereby creating bonds between them.  In this role the media highlight aspects of the society, event, people and issues which they gather as information and report as news.

In spite of the information and transmission role of the media, the newspaper provides to large extent background details relevant to news, explanations of related events, analysis of their importance and implications. The newspapers possess the capacity to do this better than most other media (Dennis and Defleur, 1994).

This study therefore seeks to investigate the extent to which newspapers face the challenges of informing, educating and enlightening the society on health issues around them in order to set a predetermined agenda.

However, the emphasis in this research will be placed on the extent and nature of coverage to which the media (newspaper) is working to set such an agenda for public health sector so that they can help build the collective knowledge base and mobilize both the government and governed towards achieving these goals.


Health is the most essential part of life; deny man of that, he remains impotent in life. Man does not value their good state of health until they have experienced one form of sickness or another. To be in good health, people need adequate information and knowledge on health matters. They need information on healthy lifestyle practices, preventive health measures, health conditions and diseases, and government health care programmes. However, as it is being said that health is wealth, issues of health has overwhelmed our daily comments since the revolution of science. According to records, sickness of various kinds has endangered the life of various citizens of Nigeria before, during and after the reign of colonial masters.

With the growing concern about health and the need to engage good sustainable health behaviour and since the mass media provides much of the relevant knowledge for public consumption, it is agreeable that the mass media determines to a certain extent the kind and amount of as well as frequency of health information that reaches the public which may in turn serve as a basis for increase public action concerning health issues. The various mass media (magazines, television, internet, newspapers, etc.) have the power to direct our attention towards certain issues and this is evident in the Agenda-Setting function of the mass media. Agenda setting refers to the operation of the media which results in prioritization of the issues that arise and engage the attention of the society. Thereby the issues focused upon by the media become the issues that the public accepts as important for attention and discussion (McQuail, 2005, p.512). In other words, it is the process whereby the news media lead the public in assigning relative importance to various public issues. The media agenda influences public agenda not by saying ‘this issue is important’ in an overt way but by giving more space and time to that issue and by giving it more prominent space and time. Cohen’s (1963, p.13) study of foreign policy has been a stimulant of the agenda setting research. Cohen notes that the press:

may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about. And it follows from this that the world looks different to different people, depending not only on their personal interests, but also on the map that is drawn for them by the writers, editors and publishers of the papers they read.

 Severin and Tankard (1997) define agenda setting process as the media’s capability, through repeated news coverage, of raising the importance of an issue in the publics mind. It is a causal hypothesis suggesting that media content has an influences on the public perception of the importance of issues. They argue that the media can be used to influences policies and the way people think. As contained in Folarin (2005), the elements involved in agenda setting include: The quantity or frequency of reporting by the media and Prominence given to the reporting.

The agenda setting theory thus provides the basis for examining how the press has been able to set agenda for the health issues by assigning relative importance to them through frequency of reporting and the prominence given to such reports. It is on this backdrop that this study tends to ascertain the extent of selected newspaper coverage of health issues in Nigeria.  Furthermore, the study will attempt to provide answers to the problem and recommendations as they relate to the press coverage of health issues in Nigeria.


The main objective of the study is to provide the basis for examining how the press has been able to set agenda for the health issues by assigning relative importance to them through frequency of reporting and the prominence given to such reports. The study seeks to:

  • Examine what issues are projected in the selected newspapers.
  • Examine the sources of health issues reported in the selected newspapers.
  • Examine the most prominent voice in the health stories.


The study seeks to find answers to the following questions:

  • What health issues are projected?
  • What were the sources of health stories reported in the newspapers?
  • Which voice is most prominent in the health stories of the selected newspapers?


The study sought to investigate newspaper coverage of health issues in Nigeria.   The three papers that constituted this study are the Guardian, the Punch and the Vanguard. The study covers period of three months from August, September, and November 2011. The study is limited to the health issues that are published in the period selected and what was said about these issues in order to change the mindset of Nigerians about health. The study covered all news story, feature story, opinion article and editorials on any of the area of study.


The significance or relevance of this research work is of enormous as it will awaken the function and importance of the press to the society.

It will make the public more acquitted with the happenings in the society and also make the government aware that making more reasonable decisions is very important in promoting health in the country.

 The study also hopes to underscore the very importance of the mass media towards health issues, education, awareness and advocacy.


Only three newspapers namely: The Guardian, Punch and Vanguard were surveyed for 90 days. Therefore, this work may not be able to give the comprehensive coverage details of all the print media that covered health issues in Nigeria.


The following are the terms used in this research with meaning based on their contextual usage.


The state of being physically and mentally healthy.


The giving of public support to an idea.


Having good health and not likely to become ill.


The area that can be covered by a specified volume or weight of a substance.


A publication usually published daily or weekly and usually printed on cheap, low-quality paper containing news and other articles.



This talks about the degree or level of importance given to a particular news event.


The number of time that something happens during a particular period.

Health literacy

This is the degree to which an individual has a capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services that are needed to make appropriate health decisions

Front page

This is the first page of any newspaper and it’s the most important page of the newspaper.

Back page

This is the last page of any newspaper and it’s the second most important page

Inside page

These are every other pages aside the front page and back page.


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