The Newspaper Converge Of Election Petition Tribunal In Nigeria: A Comparative Analysis Of Observer And Guardian Newspaper

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The Newspaper Converge Of Election Petition Tribunal In Nigeria: A Comparative Analysis Of Observer And Guardian Newspaper


Abstract


This study is a quantitative content analysis of the Guardian Newspaper‟s coverage of the 2012 presidential election petition at the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The principal goal of the study was to determine the level of prominence and fairness attached to the coverage of the election petition by the newspaper. The study also sought to determine the dominant tone, whether positive, negative or neutral with which the newspaper covered the election petition.
A constructed week was used to sample editions of the Guardian Newspaper within the study period (April to August, 2013) for analysis. There were 219 stories identified by headlines where the election petition or the names of the main parties involved in the petition was mention. The study utilized the framing theory as the bases for the analysis of the stories.

Generally, stories on election petition were classified to be prominent in terms of the size of story and headline as well as story enhancement and the article type. However, the Guardian Newspaper could have done better in terms of placement of election petition stories since most of the stories on the election petition were not found on the front pages of the newspaper but on “the other” pages. The findings show that the Guardian Newspaper was fair with its coverage of the 2012 presidential election petition. Most of the stories had either positive or neutral tone. However, the findings of the study indicated that the dominant tone of the election petition was positive


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1 Background of the Study

In most parts of the world, elections are the true test of a functional democracy that is why modern societies are stratified based on their ability to convert competitive free and fair elections, Anabor (2007;p.40) elections also test the institutions that guarantee the rule of law in societies as well as the national will. Leader who emerged through the electoral system consummate with a sense empowers when leaders emerge through the democratic system, they are better disposed to use power conscientiously and transparently than those who rig their ways into power.

Since the commencement of national elections, Nigeria has been under ceaseless international securing, hunting that the world expect us to get it right as a prerequisite for regional leadership and each time, we falter in our bid to hold credible elections of all the elections ever held in Nigeria, only that of June 12, 1993 that was adjudged the freest and fairest, every other elections have be characterized by complaints and protest arising from alleged measure rigging and fraud.

Political violence poses a serious threat to the intimacy of the state and federal elections that will take places in Nigeria from April 12 to May 3, 2003. Since parties’ primary elections from local government candidate began in mid-2002, hundreds of people have been killed as a result of political violence in Nigeria, and thousands displace. Not all of the violence can be directly linked to the elections, but the heightened tension created by competition of public office has exacerbated existing conflicts and created new ones. Nigeria politicians, police and public commentators have regularly denounced political violence, respect their resolve that those responsible for crime will be brought to justice, and urged citizens not to allow themselves to be used for political thuggery politicians invariably round off these in junctions with an accusatory finger pointed at their political opponents. But little concrete action is taken against those who use violence and their action both from the official law enforcement bodies and from their own political parties.

In the last days preceding elections and during election period, the utmost vigilance by political parties, police and government will be required to ensure that political tension are kept in check. The danger of clashes will not necessarily subside once the elections are over. Therefore, the Nigeria government, electoral commission and police must take serious steps now to bolster Nigerian confidence in the electoral system and thereby prevent the post-electoral injustices.

The case studies included in this report reflect interviews with dozens of victims and witnesses of violence in the states of Bayelsa, Rivers, Kwara, Enugu and Plateau, chosen to, illustrate different patterns of political violence because political power is one of the few ways to access wealth in Nigeria, politics often becomes what is frequently referred to in Nigeria as “a do-or-die affair”. Individuals are so desperate to remain or get close to the center of power that they resort to ruthless methods that might be avoided if the economy and society offered other means of supporting themselves and their families for the same reason, the use of political thugs is a phenomenon that occurs across Nigeria.

The news media, and more specifically print media, serve as valuable sources of information and powerful modes of communication (Cissel, 2012). The media play a vital role in every democracy and their importance in politics is indispensable. The Canadian-based International Development Research Centre (IDRC, 2008) for example, posits that the free flow of information is the lifeblood of democracy. The commencement of democratic and constitutional governance in Nigeria under the Fourth Republican Constitution has seen the media play cardinal roles such as getting the citizenry informed on issues about politics, especially during election periods.

According to Mughan and Gunther (2000), democratic citizens everywhere mostly depend on the media and less on family, community and other intermediary institutions as a primary source of political information. Modern political communication practices are extremely mediated, and the mass media play a critical role as a foremost source of political information for most citizens (Norris, 2000). Albeit other methods of direct communication exist, they have by no means substituted the mass media (Plasser & Plasser, 2002). Nigeria as a democratic state or country is a classic example of these assertions thus it is not surprising that during election periods, most people are glued to their television and radio sets, newspapers and currently the social media for information.

The newspaper, unlike television or radio, produces information that the reader can interpret at their leisure without any time constraint (Carter, 2000). Gavis (2004, p. 7) for instance argues that: Newspapers may not have the reach of the broadcast media, but they are important for at least three reasons. First, newspapers are likely to be the media of choice among ‘opinion-makers’ who may influence others in their community. Secondly, newspapers provide a deeper analysis than is often possible on radio and television. Thirdly, the press has an investigative capacity unrivalled by the broadcast media – major stories often ‘break’ in the press and are then taken up by broadcast journalists.

This study focuses on the print media in Nigeria with regard to how the unprecedented 2012 presidential election petition was framed by the state-owned newspaper (Guardian Newspaper).


Statement of the Problem

Nigeria has conducted six different elections but never has any presidential election results culminated in an election dispute contested in any court of competent jurisdiction except the 2012 election. This makes the 2012 elections not only a historical antecedent but a prominent issue in itself. The polarized nature of the election petition in 2012 presented a test case for many institutions in the country. The country‟s judicial system was put to the test and the media faced a challenge on reporting on an issue that had no precedence. The interest of this study was, therefore, to investigate how the state-owned Guardian Newspaper reported the election petition.


Objectives

The purpose of the study was to analyze the coverage of the 2012 Presidential Election Petition by the Guardian Newspaper in terms of the following specific objectives:

  1. To find out the level of prominence the Guardian Newspaper attached to the stories on the election petition case in its coverage.
  2. To find out the level of fairness with which the Guardian Newspaper reported on the election petition case at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
  3. To find out the dominant tone with which the Guardian Newspaper covered stories on the election petition case.

Research Question

In line with the aforementioned objectives the study sought to find answers to the following questions:

  • Research Question 1: How did stories on the election petition case published in the Guardian Newspaper show the level of prominence given to the case?
  • Research Question 2: How did the coverage of the Guardian Newspaper on the election petition case indicate the level of fairness in its reportage?
  • Research Question 3: How did the stories on the election petition case published in the Guardian Newspaper show the newspaper‟s dominant tone?

Scope of the Study

The study was limited to the period the election petition was heard at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, spanning April 16 to August 29, 2013. Also, the study was focused on news stories, editorials, opinions/columns, or letters to the editor in the Guardian Newspaper which were related to the 2012 election petition. The Guardian Newspaper was purposively chosen because it was considered among the topmost newspapers in terms of circulation and readership.


Significance of the Study

This study will add to literature on framing analysis in press coverage of election protests, especially from the Nigeriaian perspective. It would be very helpful for the management of the Guardian Newspaper to know how fair their coverage of the 2012 presidential election petition was. The parties involved in the petition would also know how they were covered by the Guardian Newspaper. The findings of this study will also help managers of the Guardian Newspaper to ascertain whether or not it complied with the paper‟s mandate and constitutional requirements of affording fair and equal coverage for all parties that were involved in the election petition.


Operational Definitions of Terms

The following are the operational definitions of terms that were used in this study:

Newspaper Item:

Refers to any straight news story, editorial, opinion/column, or letter to the editor which would be the key unit of analysis for the study.

Prominence:

The level of importance attached to stories determined by the type of story, placement of item, size of headline, size of story and the availability of story enhancement.

Fairness:

The level of neutrality with which the newspaper items were reported. This refers to whether a story was slanted towards one side or not (favorable or unfavorable for one side).

Tone:

The discourse of the story as to whether the general tone was positive (friendly / encouraging / exhortation / conciliatory), negative (hostile, confrontational, adversarial) or neutral (neither positive or negative but merely informative or explanatory).

Coverage:

The publishing of a news item on the election petition case or a communicative event concerning the Supreme Court during the period of the election petition case.

Petitioners:

The party that commenced the election petition at the supreme court (In this case Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, Nana Addo Dankwah Akuffo-Addo and Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia )

Respondents:

The parties that the petitioners brought the petition against at the Supreme Court (President John Dramani Mahama, the NDC party and the Electoral Commission).


Chapter Five


Discussion and Conclusion

Introduction

This study explored how the state-owned Guardian Newspaper reported on the 2012 presidential election petition. It involved a content analysis of 219 articles to determine the level of prominence and fairness as well as the dominant tone of coverage. This chapter discusses the findings outlined in the preceding chapter and attempts to answer the research questions posed at the beginning of the study. This discussion entailed assessment of key points noted in the findings with inferences from the perspectives gained through review of the framing theory and other related studies discussed in Chapter Two. The chapter also acknowledges the limitations of the study, makes recommendations for future studies and finally draws some conclusions.

Prominence

As applied here, prominence “refers to the positioning of a story within a text to communicate its importance” (Kiousis, 2004, p. 71). As argued by Watts et al (1993), stories in the media indicate their importance to the audience by virtue of their placement, length, or treatment. A story‟s prominence is influenced by its placement, size, pictures and other aesthetic tools (Kiousis, 2004). Accordingly, this study measured the level of prominence given to the 2012 presidential election petition by using type of story, placement of story, size of story, headline size and enhancement type as indicators.

Unlike Busher (2006) who avoided other types of newspaper content such as editorials, letters to the editor, opinion columns and cartoons, this study did otherwise. The results showed that a majority (63.9%) of the articles analyzed were straight news stories. This was similar to the findings of Cummings (2006) where more (60.7%) of the articles were in that category. Miller et al (2012) also found more articles (89.8%) that were news stories than editorial, columns or letters and associated the most of prominence with the straight news type story. The findings therefore imply that the coverage of the Guardian Newspaper on the election petition by article type was prominent enough.

Miller et al (2012) asserted that prominence includes the location (front page, front section, elsewhere) of stories. This study accordingly measured prominence by taking into cognizance the placement of the story. As noted by Andrade (2013), stories located on the front page of newspapers are more prominent than those found elsewhere. The findings of this study showed that less than one-quarter (21.9%) of the stories analyzed were placed on the front page of the Guardian Newspaper while a substantial number (74.0%) of the articles were placed on other pages. This was similar to the findings of Miller et al (2012) that about a quarter of the stories analyzed were placed on the front pages. As noted by Saunders (2006), the front page of newspapers are reserved for high profile personalities. The results show that the Guardian Newspaper did not treat the election petition stories with much prominence in terms of placement although 63.9% of the stories were in the straight news category.

As noted earlier, there is a significant relationship between length of the news article and its perceived importance (Cissel, 2012) and “the physical space devoted to an element of a particular story in a print news medium frames the story in such a way that elements taking more space will be more influential in readers‟ interpretation of the story” (Peng 2008, p. 363). This means that the larger the size of a story in the newspaper, the more its prominence. The study showed that 109 stories (49.8%) were at least half a page large constituting less than 219 of the articles analyzed. On the other hand, 110 stories (50.2%) were less than half of a page. It can therefore be said that the coverage of 2012 presidential election in terms of story size was somewhat prominent.

Another variable that was used to measure the level of prominence was enhancement of stories. Khan (2003) also measured the level of prominence given to the election petition in terms of whether stories were accompanied with visuals or not. The results showed that most of the stories (80.4%) were accompanied with visuals as compared to 19.6 percent which had no visuals. In terms of enhancement, it could be said that the coverage of the election petition was with much prominence.

The headline size of stories was also another indicator this study adopted to measure the level of prominence. As noted by Kinney and Simpson (1993), though stories may appear on the same page, they may have different levels of prominence due to differences in headline size. The findings of this study showed that a little over half (51.8%) of the stories were more prominent (streamer and spread head sized) while a little below half (48.2%) of the stories were less prominent (two-column and one-column sized). In terms of the size of headline, the election petition stories was somewhat prominent.

The findings of this study showed that the Guardian Newspaper covered the election petition with a significant level of prominence. This level of prominence was communicated by the newspaper through the various variables (story placement, size, type, enhancement and headline size) used in measurement. Quite a good number of stories were placed at the front pages, most stories were straight news stories, most stories were also at least half-paged sized and most of the stories were also accompanied with enhancements.

Bias

As indicated earlier, Miller and Riechert (2001) advocated that in the process of frame identification, key words should be mapped out and counted in terms of frequency within the data collected. Accordingly, fairness of each story analyzed was determined by identifying key words that denoted a slant towards any side or otherwise. The findings of this study did not support the findings of Amoakohene (2007), Temin & Smith (2002) and Frère (2011) where the State-owned media were biased or favourable towards the ruling (incumbent) government in their reportage. The results of the study indicated that most (90.4%) of the stories analyzed were presented neutrally. This means that almost all the stories reported on the election petition did not favour any side to the detriment of another. This presupposed that the level of fairness with which the Guardian Newspaper reported on the 2012 presidential election petition was very high. What this finding means is that the Guardian Newspaper honored its constitutional obligation as a state- owned media of being fair. If the assertion that a bias in media is a failure of the “news market” (Sutter, 2001) is anything to go by, then it can be noted that the coverage of the 2012 presidential election by the Guardian Newspaper was not a failure of the “news market.”

The finding that government newspapers were more biased in their coverage than private newspapers (Goretti, 2007) was not supported by this study. The findings of this research disagreed with those of Cummings (2006), Grbeša (2012), Goretti (2007), Khan (2003), Khudiyev (2005) which all found high levels of bias in the newspapers they studied.

Dominant Tone

The results of the study indicated that generally, the tone of the coverage was either positive (56.60%) or neutral (40.20%). Relatively few (3.20%) of the stories had negative tones. Similarly, Busher‟s (2006) study of the tone with which the New York Times framed Hillary Clinton found that most the articles had neutral tones. Andrade (2013) also found a generally neutral/positive tone in the coverage of Julian Assange by English and Spanish newspapers from various continents. The findings of this study supported the assertion by Brunken (2006) that the tone of elitist newspapers was more positive in their coverage since the Guardian Newspaper can be classified as an elitist newspaper in Nigeria.

Implication for the Framing Theory

As posited by Entman (2004), framing relates to the process through which some aspects of news items are highlighted to promote a particular interpretation among audiences. This means that news items that go through the gates of editors to get published, may not be given the same treatment and prominence. Framing of stories is carried out through headlines, sub-heads, photos and captions, source selection, quote selection, logos, statistics and charts, among a few other story characteristics (Vreese, 2005). As argued by McCombs (2004), gatekeeping and framing are interlinked in that framing constitutes the ideological contextualization of content choices by gatekeepers.

In this study, analysis of framing measures such as type of story, story size, story placement, headline size and visuals revealed that differences in the way stories were framed could make some articles more prominent than others. A typical case was witnessed when most stories were placed on the other pages of the newspaper while relatively few were placed on the front page. Also, most of the stories reported on the election petition case were straight news stories. Additionally, it was observed that more than half of the stories analyzed had less than half a page while relatively few were at least half of a page. The headline size of the stories was also framed differently where a little over half of the total stories analyzed were bigger than the others.

As argued by Stromback and Luengo (2008) through the activation of some stories at the expense of others, framing can promote particular trains of thought projected in stories. The findings of this study indicated that the newspaper highlighted and projected the idea of neutrality in its reportage. The dominance of nonbiased and pleasantly (positive and neutral) toned stories presupposes that the Guardian Newspaper either consciously or otherwise framed the coverage of the election petition fairly devoid of alarming negative tone of coverage. The findings of this study therefore supports the tenets of the framing theory.

Although the election petition case was very polarized, the Guardian Newspaper managed to frame almost all the stories fairly. There is therefore the need for the media in Nigeria to report election related issues without bias as the Guardian Newspaper did in covering the election petition. The fact that the Guardian Newspaper did not cover the election petition to favour the incumbent government, suggests that the state-owned media in Nigeria currently operates with an appreciable level of independence devoid of government interference. This is a good news for the Nigeriaian democracy because previous studies such as Amoakohene (2007) and Temin & Smith (2002) found that the state-owned media were biased towards the incumbent government. In essence, the Guardian Newspaper through framing, reported on the election petition with fairness and a significant level of prominence. Through framing also, the reportage on the election petition by the Guardian Newspaper ignored the use of negative tones but highlighted and promoted both positive and neutral tones. The Guardian Newspaper‟s framing of the 2012 presidential election petition had the potential to lead readers to perceive the election petition as peaceful since the dominant tone of the coverage was either positive or neutral. The Guardian Newspaper framed most of the election petition stories devoid of confrontation and adversaries thus could not have instigated any form of political conflict or violence in the country.


Recommendations

Although findings generated from the study were very useful, the generalizability of the results to other media types such as radio and television, should be treated with caution. This is because the study was limited to only the Guardian Newspaper newspaper‟s coverage of the 2012 presidential election petition. It is therefore recommended that future studies consider a comparative study of Guardian Newspaper and other leading newspapers in Nigeria. It would also be very interesting to adopt a broader media studies in the coverage of election issues by not looking at only newspapers, but also at television and radio stories. was incapable of determining for instance, why editors reported the way they did and also the effect of the coverage on the opinion of the audience of the newspaper.

Regardless of the limitations, the researcher believes that this study has provided an insightful view into the coverage of the 2012 election issues in Nigeria. It is the hope of the researcher that the findings and recommendations made will go a long way to improve research in the media coverage of election issues. The researcher considered this study as an addition to the body of knowledge in the study of framing and newspaper coverage of election issues.


Conclusion

Primarily, this study sought to explore how the 2012 presidential election petition was framed by the Guardian Newspaper. The analysis of the findings was to establish the level of prominence and fairness with which the state-owned newspaper covered the election petition as well as the dominant tone of the coverage. The study used the quantitative content analysis approach to explore the stories. Generally, stories on the election petition were framed prominently in terms of the size of headline and story, enhancement and the type of story. However, Guardian Newspaper could have done better in terms of placement of election petition stories because most of the stories on election petition were not found in the prominent pages of the newspaper but the “the other” pages. With regards to the overall tone, the study showed that the coverage of the election petition was framed either positive or neutral but the positive tone dominated. Also the findings indicated that the election petition was framed with much fairness. Therefore, to a very large extent, one can say that the Guardian Newspaper adhered to its constitutional obligation of affording fair opportunities to divergent and dissenting views.


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