Comparative Analysis Of The Role Of Gate Keeping In Government And Private Media

Project and Seminar Material for Mass Communication

Comparative Analysis Of The Role Of Gate Keeping In Government And Private Media


The study was to assess the gate keeping functions of the two media ownership in Nigeria (Government and Private media) and to highlight their points of differences.

In doing this, two media, the Radio Nigeria, Enugu and the Cosmo Fm Enugu were surveyed as a case study in which wide differences in their gate-keeping pattern were discovered. These difference were supported by the four hypotheses which were formulated for the study and which states that there is a difference in the gate keeping pattern between the two, that privately owned media are more objective in news reporting and news presentation; that there are more stages of news control in the government owned media than in the privately owned media and that privately owned media exercise greater freedom in their gate keeping functions than the government owned media.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study- Gate Keeping

The term gate keeping was first used by an Austrian Psychologist Kurt Lewis who used it to refer to a person or group of persons who govern “the travel of news items in communication channel” the gatekeeper he defined as any person or formally organized group directly involved in relaying and transferring information from one person to another through a mass medium.

As journalism becomes a profession with an expanding scope instead of a sideline for the enterprising printer: the media began to engage more hands in their processing and governing of news travel. They also began to give the audience what they had selected in the midst of so many events which where considered news worthy based on the news selected criteria such as timeliness, human interest, prominence, consequence and proximity.

The gatekeeper was at every stage, determining what the audience saw and heard from these media. They had the power to focus attention on some events and ideas rather than other. This was the reason, white (1964) remarked that the editor “in his position as a gatekeeper sees to it that the community shall hear as a fact only those events which the newsman believe to be true” The mass media select and publicize numerous events such as birthday, speeches, trips, suicides, meetings, crimes etc to shape our image and perception of the world.

The typical gatekeeper’s cha in a modern electronic media house would comprise the reporter, the chief editor, and the controller of news, manager news and the production editor. However, the above arrangement applies to the Radio Nigeria (FRCN) Enugu, even though the positions might assume different names in other media organizations. The above-mentioned people will have to work with other gatekeepers such as the typist, proofreaders, etc to determine what is publishable as news.

The gatekeepers of news not only tries to identify but also keep the public informed by sieving the news from non-news and selecting majors events in the interest of his audience or as permitted by his own prejudice. The audience in the later uses makes their choice of what they expose themselves to through selective exposure. The need for gatekeepers to always have their audience in mind in their news selecting process was emphasized in the argument of Douglas C. Covert (1985 p 133-136) who stated “the visual compositions which please the makers may not be as acceptable to view as in commonly as assumed. This word entail that while journalists perform their function of the surveillance of the environment, socialization, educating of their audience and cultural transmission, journalists themselves would see their jobs as the echoing of every thing, rather than be at core for things.

1.1.1 A Comparative Analysis of Gatekeepingin Government and Private Owned Media

Before doing a comparative analysis of the gate keeping procedure between the two forms of media ownerships, it is necessary to understand the criteria and philosophies of these media that guides our comparison. It is believed that this enable us understand why the government owned media. The RADIO NIGERIA Enugu, perform its keeping function quite differently from a privately owned media the COSMO FM Enugu.

1.1.2 The Radio Nigeria as a Dependent Government Owned Media

From its inception, the electronic media industry had been established to cater for the pleasure of entertaining and informing the colonial masters. It distributed from Lagos through the rediffusion sets, educative, informative programmed from the British Broadcasting co-operation (BBC) London. Apart from performing the above-mentioned functions, it is also a vital tool in running the government activities and serve to protect the interest of the day government.

Progressively as the Nigeria Broadcasting service (NBC) took over the rediffusion services which was later to be transformed into regional radio station such as the Western Nigeria Broadcasting services (WNBS), Radio/Television Kaduna and Eastern Nigerian broadcasting. These stations remained government as their funding come directly from the government and this dependency mark the beginning of their control by the government.

‘The (RADIO NIGERIA) Enugu as a government owned media still works according to the role of protecting and serving as the mouthpiece of the government. This is because as the saying goes, “that he who pays the piper dictates the tune”, RADIO NIGERIA must always strike to the dictates the government in power if it must render its services. Since the concept of freedom of gate keeping has been mortgaged by the financial dependency of these media on government, it does not broadcast anti-government in its various mobilization campaigns in their news. At times,, it goes further to do special reports to highlight problem area for government view on specific issues. When it tied to report serious matters retraining the government, it did so in such a way that they do not convey the same amount of urgency and seriousness as reported by the privately owned media in such cases. The news reported by the government media (RADIO NIGERIA) Enugu, lack completed accuracy, fairness and objectivity. It becomes mere propaganda agents for the savaging of the image of the government media as Radio Nigeria makes the understanding of government activities different since what it puts forward as news was (is) no news.

1.1.3 The Cosmo FM Enugu as a Privately Owned Media

Contrary to what seemed like a government monopoly of the broadcasting media overtime, the need for balance reportage and flexibility in programming brought the privately owned media into existence. In 1992, the federal military government under General Ibrahim Babagida regime passed a decree allowing private individual participation in the ownership of electronic media.

The aim being to fill the gap in government owned media reportage and also to generate profit reward for the financier’s enterprise, the privatization gave birth to establishment of private media house such as Minaj System Radio/Television, Cosmo FM, African Independent Television (AIT), Ray power 100.5pm etc mention but few.

Unlike the Radio Nigeria, which is owned and controlled by the government, Cosmo FM operation is independent of the government. The government does not determine the programs that are carried on this medium and because if this relative freedom, it is possible for it to comment critically and more objectivity on government matters that media owned by the government. This forms the base for the audience greater confidence in the privately owned media strive at in their gate keeping process which is public confidence as means to retain them.

Another area where the radio Nigeria Enugu differs in its gate keeping from the Cosmo is in the aspect of national crises reportage, Radio Nigeria tried to be less keen in reporting the October 22nd2005, Belleview plane clash and June 12, 1993 crisis but Cosmo and Minaj system television (MST) did better in carrying such news. At the radio Nigeria gate keeping begin with the head of state and the minister of information before we come down to their reporter, the chief editor, the controller of news, manager news, the production editor and the typist who work closely in the gatekeeper’s chain to determine what is aired as news.

On the other hand, as the Cosmo gate keeping starts with the financiers who may instruct his staff to check the coverage or non-coverage of certain programs. The objective of profit making seriously limits the change of all kind of news going on the screen since the organization has to achieve credibility among its audience foe commercial profit. While sanction on the privately media comes inform of revocation of licenses and closure of the private media hoses the government owned media comes in nature of supervisor or total sack of editors.

1.2 Statement of Research Problem

There have been difference in opinion that the gate keeping process in the government owned media differs considerably from that of privately owned media. While some believe that the government owned media take greater interest in some major issues especially those affecting the government, others are of the opinion that privately owned media take greater interest and report more objectively on news events. These assertions are going to be resolved after proper analysis of research data to find out the truth of either of the two statements.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

  1. The purpose of this study is to find whether there is really a difference in the gate-keeping pattern of the government and privately owned media organization.
  2. The study will also take a look at the two forms of media ownership (government and private) take up the responsibility of informing, and educating the masses. This will then help to direct the audience attention towards a better and reliable media.

1.4 Research Questions

  1. How do objectivity and gatekeeping influence news reporting by Radio Nigeria, Enugu and the Cosmo Fm Enugu?
  2. What is the difference in the gate keeping pattern between government owned media and private owned media?

1.5 Scope of the Study

In the course of the study, the researcher intends to focus on two selected radio stations namely; Radio Nigeria, Enugu and the Cosmo Fm Enugu, Radio Nigeria, Enugu is a government owned media house while Cosmo Fm Enugu is a private owned media house, both located in Enugu.

1.6 Significance of the Study

This study is significant to the practice of news journalism in Nigeria as it looked at the practice of journalism in the country amidst of proliferation of information on the Internet which has diminished the power of journalists as gatekeepers. It is also significant because the proliferation of information has the capacity to either positively or negatively affect objectivity in news reporting in the media. Inspite of this, the journalists still play a role in sorting, interpreting and lending credibility to news reporting. The fact that journalists choose which stories to cover and which ones to leave out by attempting to determine the overall newsworthiness of an issue makes the study important considering the fact that a number of factors goes into this decision-making process by the journalist. Although there are those who believe that the journalists no longer function as the primary gatekeepers of news reportage because the proverbial gates have been blown wide open by the proliferation of digital information. Inspite of this, the journalists still hold the key and play critical roles as watchdogs.

In a society where information and misinformation is so easily distributed, journalists can provide services as fact-checkers who hold stories up to the light of objectivity. Objectivity called for journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information. However, there is a dispute about whether objectivity can really exist. How would people know the truth since journalistic objectivity is an effort to discern practical truth? Reporters seeking genuine objectivity search out the best truth possible from the evidence they can find. To discredit objectivity because it is impossible to arrive at perfect truth is akin to dismissing trial by jury because it is not perfect in its judgments. Gatekeeping and objectivity are the two major requirements to be considered as very important in daily practice of journalism. This study therefore will add to the stock of existing body of knowledge on news objectivity and gatekeeping in Nigeria and possibly improve on the debate on the two concepts. Researchers carrying out study in similar area can use the finding of this research to support their own study and can also serve as an empirical reference material for further study.

1.7 Limitations of the Study

In carrying out a study of this nature, one major limitation has always been the dearth of quality of information on one hand and people willing to give such information as and when needed. On the other hand, the major limitation of this study was the difficulty in obtaining past studies in the study. In other words, while materials were readily available on gatekeeping, it was practically impossible to obtain materials combining objectivity and gatekeeping in one study. Considering the importance of the concept to journalism practice, it appears that scholars have always study them individually and not considering how one affects the other in the day-to-day practice of journalism. This obstacle no doubt has its own impact on the outcome of the study.

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Summary

There are divergent, but controversial opinions on the issue of objectivity. While some people are of the view that reporters should be completely neutral, others believe that reporters should suppress personal opinions in their news report given the fact that it is to the benefit of the masses. There are yet others who believe that there can never be news objectivity because of the prejudices that every reporter, editor and even the news readers come up with daily. This school of thought believe that subjectivity rather than objectivity thrive in the media. But media scholars are of the consensus that the news reader has a right to fair, unbaise and accurate account of events. They are also of the consensus that the interest of the masses should be paramount in the mind of the news reporter. The question however is, who or what determines the interest of the masses in a news report? Is it the function of the news event itself or that of the journalist whose duty it is to report the event? Either way, the basic issue is that news objectivity is a case of great concern and with the Internet in view, it becomes a more complex issue due to its vulnerable nature of accessibility (Akpan & Onyebuchi, 2012).

Similarly, the practice of gatekeeping is central to daily news reporting as it has the potential of affecting news objectivity. The study traces the role of gate keeping in a government and private owned media house, and it is shown by the analysis, a similar role with the government owned media making more use of gate-keeping than the private organization.

5.2 Conclusion

Interestingly, the basic idea of gatekeeping has been cogently stated in Shoemaker‘s analysis which state that ―simply put, gatekeeping is the process by which the billions of messages that are available in the world get cut down and transformed into the hundreds of messages that reach a given person on a given day. However, studies revealed that different biases in news selection are portrayed as a function of a variety of factors, including organization-level factors such as administrative characteristics, working procedures, and cost and time constraints; story-level factors such as the geographic proximity of the story; extra-organizational, or professional factors such as journalistic values and norms, and views of newsworthiness.

On the other hand, the impossibility of complete objectivity has been argued on several grounds. One is that the unavoidable process of news selection must also entail subjective judgement of which journalists themselves maybe unaware. Another is that all events and report of events which are candidates for treatment as news have to be placed in a wider frame of reference which gives them evaluative meaning. However, the irony of trying to be balanced or objective is that in practice, news organizations default to authorities and officials as surrogates for objectivity and this has greatly affected investigative reporting as reporters now rely on handouts from government officials for their reports in the name of trying to be objective. Journalists sometimes substitute terms such as accuracy, fairness, balance or truth in place of objectivity to describe the prime goal that guides their reporting. Objectivity is a tough standard to achieve, particularly with so many critics and citizens believe that journalists today do not even come close to achieving it.

Objectivity is a comprehensive ideal that can justify the more specific values of fairness, accuracy and accountability to the public. Therefore, a new theory of objectivity is needed because journalism is moving away from a rigid, traditional style of objective reporting that eliminates any judgment or hint of editorializing. More and more, reporters use a lively, opinionated style, or adopt an interpretive stance toward stories. Uncertainties about objectivity often lead to confusion in the newsroom, resulting sometimes in the erosion of standards. Reporters and editors need a clear idea of what objectivity is and why it is valuable. In most cases, many reporters avoid the use of the word ―objectivity and prefer to talk about some of its components, such as fairness and balance which are just as controversial as objectivity. However, objectivity restrains journalists who would sacrifice accuracy and fairness to advocate causes. It restrains those who would use journalism to injure enemies and to pursue their own ends. To devalue objectivity is to leave the public more vulnerable to manipulation than it is today. In a culture that lacks confidence in objectivity, demagogues prosper and the quality of public debate suffers.

Journalists increasingly see themselves as providing meaning to the daily barrage of fragmented news items. But giving meaning to an event is not a simple uncontroversial procedure. The meaning may be biased or ideological, but journalists need a theory of objective interpretation to guide their forays into interpretive journalism. Democracy continues to need objective reporters who care about responsible communication.

5.3 Recommendations

Based on the findings of this study, the following recommendations have been made to enhance the course of journalism practice in Nigeria.

In line with the Social Responsibility Theory, it is recommended that the media must recognize their limitations on account of the realities and constraints they have to grapple with and keep striving towards objectivity because it is attainable. In doing so, they must ensure that only experienced and highly competent media professionals are employed and assigned sensitive media responsibilities, especially those that which have to do with the gatekeeping functions, while Training and retraining must be treated with utmost importance to bring reporters up to date with modern trends in reporting. This will ensure that news content and reporting style is refined and emphasis placed on thorough investigation by journalist when gathering news because it is by so doing that news sources can be verified before it is disseminated to the public.

This will enhance objective reporting and make gatekeeping less problematic as sources of news and the quality of such news can easily be verified and authenticated.

In view of the finding that the influence of ownership may be difficult to eliminate, media organizations must guard their reputation and credibility through fairness, truthfulness, accuracy and objectivity in disseminating information to the public while media owners must strive to eliminated undue interference in the editorial work of the journalist, while efforts should made to uphold the integrity of the media organisation.

Also, the study also revealed that society expects so much from the journalist and to attain this, objective reporting becomes very essential because it is central to the sustenance of democracy and democratic practices, there is the need for the media to engage in objective journalism, because it is through objective journalism that sound investigative journalism can be practised, while existing legislations which tends to stand as obstacles to objective practice of Journalism in the country should be abrogated while the Freedom of Information Act should be implemented to the fullest so that access to information can be less cumbersome.

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