READERS PERCEPTION OF THE NEWSPAPERS COVERAGE OF THE 2015 ELECTIONS
This chapter is the literature review of this study. It is made up of three parts which includes the theoretical framework, the conceptual framework and the empirical review of existing literature on the subject matter. The theoretical framework basically presents the theories that examine the perception of readers on election coverage.
2.1 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
The following are the theories that examine the reader’s perception on newspaper coverage of elections;
- Agenda setting theory
- Theory of media ownership
2.1.1 AGENDA SETTING THEORY
The proposition of Agenda-Setting Theory dates back to McCombs & Shaw (1972) primary article on the agenda setting function of the mass media in a Public Quarterly. In their research, they saw the media mainly the newspaper not able to always successful at telling the readers what to think but rather quite successful at telling them what to think about. In practical terms, agenda-setting theory deal with newspaper’s ability to influence the perception of its readers and what they consider the most important issue of the day. Perloff (1998) whose views about agenda-setting likened it to power of the newspaper to set the agenda of public discussion which determines what people will talk and think about. This can be observed practically from the fact that majority of the Nigerian population are newspaper readers. Hence, election monitoring was easier through the newspaper in the year 2015 general elections in Nigeria. Statement from various political stakeholders in Nigeria has created an agenda for public discussion during the 2015 elections.
McCombs and Shaw (1972) for their numerous contribution in agenda-setting research are widely viewed as the intellectual godfathers of the agenda-setting research approach. Their research has shown that the newspaper force attention to certain issues. They also stated that by the impact the newspaper has on its readers, they have the ability to build up public images of political figures and through their constant presentation of these people mostly during political campaigns suggest to its readers the importance of such candidates. The newspaper exerting such tremendous influence over its readers and uses the opportunity to mold their minds and significantly influence the flow of news and information thereby directing their thinking. In so doing, the newspaper creates an awareness through their consistent dissemination of information and news which in turn stirs the perception and attitudes of their readers and cause them to change their behavior. Looking at the political campaign in Nigeria during the April 2015 general election, the PDP presidential candidate, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was presented as a more suitable candidate by some newspaper. In so doing, those newspaper was able to create a significant awareness of him to the Nigerian electorate by using all means of available information to stir the attitude of Nigerians towards him and his likable personality because of his humble beginning. This perceived attitude of presenting Jonathan as a favorable candidate by the newspaper, positively influenced the opinion of some Nigerian electorate as a result of which were sympathetic towards his loss in the elections. However, a majority part of the Nigerian masses believes that the newspaper can be used as an avenue for making political propaganda and empty promises.
2.1.2 THEORY OF MEDIA OWNERSHIP
Fundamental to an understanding of media structure including the newspapers is the question of ownership and how the powers of ownership are exercised. The belief that ownership ultimately determines the nature of media content is not just a Marxists theory but virtually a common-sense axiom. As implied by Altschull (1984), it is not just ownership that counts; it is the wide questions of who actually pays for the media products. However, the researcher is in support of Altschull (1984) because the ownership structure of the respective newspapers in Nigeria influenced their respective coverage of the 2015 general elections. McQuail (2005) argues that the central issue which arises under the theory is the extent to which newspaper companies can claim to exercise autonomy in relation to their owners, and to other direct economic agencies in their environments, especially those who provide operating funds: investors, advertisers, sponsors. According to Altschull’s (1984) dictum that “The content of the newspaper always conforms to the interests of those who finance the press”, the answer is fairly clear and also consistent with the principle of the free press theory in its “market” version.
The crux of the matter is that the autonomy of newspaper outlets is given within the boundaries of owner’s profit – where the newspaper outlets is commercially owned, the content will reflect the point of view of the news organization’s owners and advertisers. Where the outfit fits into what Altschull (1984) calls an “interest pattern”, the content mirrors the concerns and objectives of whoever is providing the financing. Shoemaker and Reese (1991) have attempted to refine and extend Altschull’s (1984) work. Their theory of media ownership and newspaper content points out that the owners of media organizations have the ultimate power over the news content of the newspaper. They contend that the primary focus of a newspaper organization owned by a publicly held corporation is to make a profit and objectivity is seen as a way of attracting the readers desired by company. Though in some rare cases, the owner may choose to make the readers interest his or her priority. The content of the news is built into the economic objectives of the owner secondary to an ideology such as promoting a particular agenda. The organization cannot indefinitely ignore the economic goal. Especially when newspaper firms are owned by stockholders, public service is usually sacrificed for the sake of profitability.
Shoemaker and Reese (1991) have found that newspaper organizations funded primarily by commercial sources are far more likely to use objectivity and newsworthiness as their principal standards in making news judgments. The reason, Shoemaker and Reese (1991) said, is that a commercial newspaper outlet is more responsive to its readers and advertisers, both of who, desire these qualities. They further found that newspaper organizations that are financed primarily by “interest” sources are far less likely to place emphasis on objectivity and newsworthiness. Instead, their content is more likely to reflect the thinking of the special interest group or groups that control them. Thus, Shoemaker and Mayfield (1987) explain: “Newspaper content” is “the product of the complex set of ideological forces held by those who fund the Newspaper companies (Shoemaker & Mayfield, 1987).
Shoemaker and Reese (1991) also point out the important role that ownership plays in newspaper organization. They argue that, “although news departments may be organizationally differed from the larger firm, content is still controlled indirectly through hiring and promotion practices” (Shoemaker and Reese, 1991). For example, newspapers usually endorse political candidates who echo the owner’s or publishers’ political attitude. In fact, ownership has become such a powerful force behind the newspaper organization that not only editorials and columns but also the coverage of news and features reflects the political beliefs or interest of the owners.
This theory is relevant to this study because it explains how the ownership structure of a newspaper organization can influence their level of news coverage and the type of news they publish. This was what played out in the 2015 general elections in Nigeria where the newspaper readers perceived and are aware that the content on the various newspapers in the country reflected the interest of the owners. Readers now have to carefully choose to get an objective newspaper in the coverage of 2015 general elections.
2.2 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
2.2.1 NEWSPAPER AND POLITICS
In a study on the power of the newspaper by both Habermas (2006) and Castells (1994) where it was revealed that there is an underlying assumption of a pivotal role for the newspaper publications in politics and political participation. They also raise the question of newspaper and power processes in the society. Downing (1995) stressed that the newspaper content are dictated by structures of power in any society. The newspaper company does not stand independent of a given social system but instead provide channels of communication between elements within it. To varying degrees this has meant that they are instrumental to dominant institutions and interests within the society (Randall, 1998). The newspaper also act as the platform through which people and interests in the society express their views (Ibraheem, et.al., 2013).
The newspaper are universally referred to as agents of power and political control, such that those who hold sway of political power and authority are always conscious of the fact that information management and control is central to the capturing, retention and exercise of political power. The larger implication of this is that the ownership, control and accessibility to the newspaper are considered to be critical to the wielding and sustenance of political power. This recognition of the role of newspapers as agents of power and political control is partly responsible for the decision of the governments of developing countries (Nigeria inclusive) and state governments to either own their own newspaper or regulate news and information flow within and into their countries (Sussman, 1989).
In Nigeria, the mass media generally (particularly the press) since its inception in 1859 have played significant roles in shaping the social, political and economic landscape and setting the agenda for the country’s political development. It is a widely held notion that Nigeria’s political history is inextricably intertwined with that of its media history because of the prominent role the newspaper have played at every strategic point in the country’s political development and the influence of politics on the development and focus of Nigeria’s newspapers (Ibraheem et al., 2013).