1.1 Background to the Study
The mass media have been a very strong pillarin the Nigerian democratic system. They have played critical roles in the electoral process by acting as major sources of information, providing essentially costless and reliable details leading to a more balanced education and opinion formation among the voting publics (Pate, 2015a). Specifically, during the election period, the media is shouldered withtwo major responsibilities of informing the public about what the politicians are promising and then in turn, they also tell the politicians what ordinary people want or do not want. These two major responsibilities performed by the media are to ensure that the polls are „free and fair‟.
The 2015 general election in Nigeria was the 5th election to be held since the end of military rule in 1999 by the General Abubakar Abdulsalam led military regime. This period also marked the beginning of the fourth republic of Nigeria. Above all, electioneering in Nigeria can, no doubt, be traced as far back to the Clifford‟s constitution of 1922. The constitution first introduced the elective principle into the Nigerian politics. Voting was introduced as a means of taking decisions in the legislative council. The aftermaths of these principles of electiongave birth to political parties in the country. Buttressing this,Akinboye (1999) explains that the coming of political parties consequently stimulated political discussions amongst Nigerians and thereby led to the struggle against colonialism. Abagen (2009) clarifies that the last fifty years have seen an evolution of various political parties in Nigeria. Therefore, it is evident that these political parties have played and are still playing a vital role in the realization of democratic objectives (Utor, 2000). These rapid changes have paved ways for worldwide dynamic setting for a greater participation in Nigeria‟s politics and in public decision making.This has also become a reference criterion reflecting the democratic level attained by a society. According to Adeyanju (2014), participation in modern politics is the most central ingredient of democracy as it makes it easy for the populace to be abreast of the process of decision making, the decisions made and why they are made. Similarly, Chilton and Schaffner (2004) opine that the only way to understand how politicians manage to influence the society and how they are able to put their opinions through to a large audience on a local, national, or even global level is to analyze their text and talk. Text and talk can only be effectively analyzed with the aid of media content analysis. This is probably why Made (2008), suggests that the media‟s key roles in a democratic society are to inform, educate, and perform the „watchdog‟ function of keeping the public and private accountable to the interests of the general populace, as well as beingan agent of change through informed, contextualized and accurate reporting of issues and events in a society.
Furthermore, Media coverage is considered important if one is to succeed in politics. This could be the reason why Thomas Jefferson, the third American President, as cited in Nwabueze and Ebeze (2013), state that „where it is left for me to choose whether we should have a government without the press or a press without government, I shall not hesitate a moment to choose the latter‟. This simply means that the power and prestige of what we call the mass media are as important as the branches of government. This is because they have a direct impact on each of the arms of government: the executive, legislature and the judiciary (Okpoko, 2014). McQuail (2010) also confirms that there had always been an intimate connection between Mass Media and the conduct of politics in whatever kind of regime. Hence, this symbiotic relationship between politics and the fourth estate of the realm (media) cannot be over emphasized. The fourth estate of the realm served as the link between the ruler and the ruled, the political parties and their electorates and among the electorates themselves (Adeyanju, 2014). No wonder Peter (2012) observed that, just few citizens personally attend campaign rallies and that most electorates depend on mass media for the messages about the candidates. They do so from the period of acquiring the voters‟ registration card, voting during elections, being informed on what voters should do and what they should expect from politicians (Okpoko, 2014). However, media coverage may benefit one party or the other. According to Baum and Gussin (2005), the extent to which some political parties receive more media emphasis on a particular issue during election campaigns, whether intended or not, appears to be a potential form of bias. By virtue of this form of bias, Foster (2010) observes that the press shapes the opinions and attitudes of people, especially in their capacity as voters. As such, everything about the press coverage of political parties in any general election campaign should serve to guide the electorates on what to do with their votes. Writing on this, Lou (1971) as cited in Chukuma (2010) posits that: Campaign reporters should project the candidates‟ image by giving them ample press coverage (by the frequency and depth of the reports). They should also endeavour to highlight the candidate‟s potentials and shortcomings but with absolute detachment. In other words, they should do critical and objective analysis of the candidates with the aim of educating the electorate in this capacity (p. 2) In the same vein, Agba (2006) advised that:
Everything about campaign reporting should serve to guide the electorate on what to do with their votes. Informing the electorate does not mean telling them what the Peoples‟ Democratic Party (PDP) plans to do for them or what decisions the Action Congress (AC) reached in their last convention, but thorough voter‟s guidance should be in the heart of campaign reporting by the media (p. 200). This view is also shared by Okunna (1999), who believes that the mass media coverage of issues during an election could prod the electorate into perceiving certain issues as being more important than others and could consequently influence audience decision about candidates, and according to Obot(2009), the audience gets to know about aspirants and candidates for various elective posts as well as the manifestos of political parties through the fourth estate of the realm. Curran (2005) adds that the „media assist voters to make informed choices at election time. Through the use of the mass media vehicles, the mass media serve as primary agents of mobilization and campaign of political processes, thereby permitting active involvement in public life‟(p. 129). Equally, the coverage of elections is part of the surveillance function of the media.Through this,the citizens are educated on the quality of the individual candidates presenting themselves for elective offices. Likewise, the media also warn the society on any impending danger with regards to the process of electing its leaders (Pate, 2015a). Although on the contrary, the power of the media is generally symbolic and persuasive in the sense that the media primarily have the potential to control, to some extent, the minds of readers or viewers, it does not directly affect their actions (Van dijk, 1999).
This is why existing literature have shown that mass media is capable of influencing the voting habits of the electorate. This may not be far -fetched from why Lange and Ward (2004) state that the media election coverage in developing countries like Nigeria serves as the sole source of information for the candidates. This includes public meetings with the candidates and the use of leaflets and posters, especially the incumbent administrations‟ achievement and its future plans for the betterment of the public, including the new issues under debate. Similarly, on the role of the media in Ghana‟s 2002 general election, Temin and Smith (2002) found out that the electoral process in the country was successfully and smoothly conducted with a large contribution from the media. Based on the aforementioned views, Obeta (2007) offers a piece of advice that „any person, group of persons, or even government that ignores the media in their life is courting danger‟ (p. 123). This hinges on the fact that media reportage on their political life alone is crucial to their survival and growth. Thus, without the use of the mass media, there cannot be a proper understanding of the activities inherent in a democratic state (Adeyanju, 2014). It is in the light of these positions that the study examines how the Nigerian Press discharged their expected duties during the 2015 general election campaigns in the country within the period under review.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The media, as the fourth estate of the realm, have witnessed a series of elections in Nigeria since the country’s return to democracy in 1999. According to Pate (2015a),the elections held in Nigeria so far have been characterized by numerous activities and excitement that involved the media in terms of coverage. This implies that enormous literature exists on the conduct of the media in Nigeria’s elections at various times. Thus, reviewing these numerous existing literature, one might be fascinated to ask why the press gives more prominence to some political parties and ignores others. Who or what determines which issues are the most important during an election?
For instance, according toOjo (2003), inthe 2003 general election,there was a huge imbalance between the coverage received by the People‟s Democratic Party (PDP) and the other political parties. This is both in terms of the amount and quality of coverage which showed that the PDP and the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) appeared to have received more coverage than all the other parties put together. Similarly, Chukwuma (2011) found that in the 2007 general election campaigns, the People‟s Democratic Party (PDP) had the highest coverage, most favourable news stories and most prominent news, compared to 25 parties that featured candidates during campaigns. Also, Pate (2015a), citing NBC (2011), UNDP (2011) and EU (2011) found unfair coverage among the various parties in the 2011 election, withthe big political parties: the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Action Congress of Nigeria(ACN), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progress Change (CPC) receiving the most attention.
Thus, this study investigates how some influential newspapers in Nigeria: the Daily Trust and the Vanguard, reflected (attention and news placement) political parties in their coverage of the 2015 general election with a view to ascertaining the extent to which the media covered the Political parties. 1.3 Aim and Objectives of the Study The aim of the work is to find out the roles of national newspapers such as the DailyTrust and the Vanguard in the coverage of political parties in the 2015 presidential election. The specific objectives are:
1. To determine the newspaper with the most quantity of report on the 2015 presidential election.
2. To identify the political party with the highest coverage among the selected newspapers during the 2015 presidential election.
3. To find out the political party with the most prominent placement in the 2015 presidential election between the Daily Trust and the Vanguardnewspapers.
4. To determine the most common theme of coverage by the selected newspapers during the 2015 presidential election.
1.4 Research Questions
Four research questions were formulated from the four objectives of the study as follows:
1. Which of the two newspapers gave more coverage to the 2015 presidential election?
2. Which of the political parties had the highest coverage among the selected newspapers in the 2015 presidential election?
3. Which of the parties had the most prominent placement between the selected newspapers during the presidential election?
4. What was the common theme of coverageof the election by the selected newspapers?
1.5 Significance of the Study
The present body of literature on the press coverage of political parties, reviewed by the researcher, shows that not many studies have been conducted in relation to the press coverage of political parties in the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria. The few ones available such as Obot (2013), Ojo (2003),Chukwuma (2011),Pate (2015a), among others, studiedpresidential elections in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 respectively. This therefore indicates the gap in knowledge of the study.
The researcher embarked on this studybecause it is expected that the outcome may help make the government and political parties aware of the relevance of the print media as agents of wider publicity to the electorate and major stakeholders during election campaigns. This studywill, no doubt, alsoconstitute a valuable document to the improvement of the political parties, the Nigeria electoral acts, the Independent National Electoral Commission, media organization, non-governmental organization, policy makers, and electorates. It will also serve as a reference point to other researchers working on the same topic or similar area.
1.6 Scope of the Study
The scope of the study gives a brief description of the area of coverage of the study or area of concentration (Olatunji, Adeeko and Kasali, 2012). In this study, the scope is the press coverage of political parties in the 2015 presidential election campaign in Nigeria, with emphasis on two purposively selected national newspapers in the country namely: the Daily Trust and the Vanguard. The justifications for the purposive choice of the newspapers are as a result of circulation and regional affiliation/ partisanship which corroborates the findings of Adenyaju (2014),Okpoko (2014) and ADVAN, AAAN, and MIPAN (2015) that reveal thatthe Vanguardhas regional affiliation to the south with more than 25,241 copies daily and the Daily Trustto the north with 11,672 copies daily.
In addition, content data was gathered from 19 weeks coverage of political parties by Nigerian newspapers beginning from 16th November, 2014 to 27th March, 2015. The reason for this duration of time is becauseit is when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) (2015) flagged off the process of the campaign, which is in line with the 2010 Electoral Act Section 99 (1) (as amended) which provides that all political parties should submit their candidates and all campaigns must commence only 90 days to the general elections and all campaigns must end midnight preceding the general elections. Thus, due to some security hitches, the initial scheduled date (16th November, 2014 to 14th February, 2015) forthe election was further postponed by 6 weeks (42 days). Also,allthe publications within the duration of the study were reviewed (census). According to Wimmer and Dominick (2011), Census method permits the testing or measuring of every element in the population.
1.7 Limitations of the Study
Limitations are those restrictions deliberately imposed in the study by the investigator himself (Olatunji, et al 2012). The time frame and the methodology adopted for the study was an obvious limitation to the research. That is because the researcher exclusively selected only the 2015 presidential election and two national newspapers (one located in the north; theDaily Trust and the other in the south; the Vanguard) from all the national newspapers in Nigeria because of the influx of stories on political parties encountered in the course of the research. Hence, this posed a serious threat to the generalization of the findings
1.8 Conceptual Clarification of Terms
Prominence: it is defined as the placement of political parties‟ stories on some strategic positions on the pages of the newspapers. Thus, prominence can be determined through the following formats:
1. Front page ( most prominent)
2. Back page (most prominent)
3. Inside page (less prominent)
Theme of Coverage: this is defined as the subject matterof a newsstory by the media in the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria, which can either be:
1. Scandalous (financial and sex),
2. Policy(economic, unemployment and security),
3. Advocacy(campaign events, prediction, opinion poll and endorsement),
4. Character of the candidates and
5. Voting/voters‟ information.