By ‘Sola Fagorusi
The last is yet to be heard about the landmark 2015 general elections. There have been several reviews in form of reports and briefs detailing overviews of what went right and areas that the Election Management Body and other actors of the elections can draw lessons from. The social media and other online components which played a crucial role in the election have also been part of some of these reviews.
One of the newest additions to the literatures around the 2015 election is the publication titled ‘Reportage of 2015 Elections: A monitoring Scorecard of Print and Online Media.’ Published by the International Press Centre and the Nigerian Press Council with support from the Democratic Governance for Development II project of the United Nations Development Programme, the publication is a decent effort in giving scholarship a place in electoral activities in Nigeria.
In seven chapters, the publication details the various approaches used for the study, the press outfits and online platforms used for the study and more interesting is its monthly findings of trends on online media and social media platforms which the sixth chapter of the book deals with. This is the component that interests my review of the material. The study is coming at a time when observers of Nigeria’s political space are still in awe of how possible it was to experience a first change in democratic government in a peaceful manner despite several predictions backed with analysis that the election was one to mar the country and perhaps initiate a split of the various federating units.
Called the fourth estate of the realm, the media of late has experienced great incursion by citizen journalists, who without formal training have also taken up space to become the conscience of the various communities or state they seek to represent. It is to their credit that traditional media houses have equally responded by having online platforms that can quench the news thirst of the audience that have since taken permanent seat on the online space. 12 national and 10 regional and Abuja-based newspapers were monitored during the period of the study from November, 2014 through April, 2015. The national newspapers include The Punch and 11 others. For online news media, only four news media were monitored and they include – The Tide, The Cable, Sahara Reporters and Premium Times. In addition to these, the social media platforms of Enough is Enough, Reclaim Naija and that of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were also monitored.
The methodologies used for the monitoring and analysis were quantitative and qualitative. Relevant reports in selected newspapers, online and social media platforms were identified. These were further classified into various genre including – news, features, investigations, interviews, opinions, articles/columns, photographs, cartoon, advertisement and others. A content analysis based on focus, tone, professionalism and ethical standard of reporting was then done. The frequency of political parties as new sources, frequency of gender as sources, early warning signals, inciting and sensational headlines, language and hate speech, report with stereotype, reporting of issues and genre of reporting are the subheadings on which the results of the study were reviewed.
One highlight that stood out of the report was the fact that ‘though 26 political parties were listed on the website of INEC, the mention of political parties in the monitored reports were highly skewed in favour of only two parties – the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party.’ In the course of the six months when the study was undertaken, political parties formed sources of news and other materials for 8,318 times out of the 42,595 sources. The APC recorded the highest reference according to the study with 3,911 mentions which represents 47.01% while the PDP which was first runner up in the general elections followed immediately after it with 3,716 mentions representing 44.67%. The remaining political party shared 8.4% of the mention. Advocates of multi-party systems in Nigeria will have favoured the publication breaking down the 8.4% constituents to enable it further evaluate other political parties and spotlight those with capacity for becoming visible at even the national level. Gender activists will be quick to note that the publication presents the female voices recorded during the study as 750 out of the total 16,046 captured. It is a clear indication that men are dominating the political space and shaping conversations in the space. In addendum, there must be an explanation to the connection between how the party with the highest mention before the election eventually winning the election. Unpacking this will help political office aspirants to take their images in print, online and social media serious.
Scholars in the field of digital media, journalism and political science will find the 103-page material useful to aid research and references. In February, 2015; 223 relevant reports were published by online media and like other months during the study, APC led the PDP on this platform. The social media platform monitored were limited to tweets from the report and they were devoid of hate speeches and foul languages while the scope of the issues bothered around voter education, electioneering campaigns, electoral conflicts, political conflicts, youths, People-Living-with-Disabilities and women were covered in the tweets. Since social media is not all about tweets, it will have been good to see trends from platforms like Facebook, YouTube and even broadcasts from Instant Messaging platforms. Features of Mobile Apps and how they contributed to the conversation before the election will also have added quality to the publication. These shortfalls however do not rob the publication of a decent place on the shelf.
The keynote paper presentation during the book launch by Professor Nosa Owens-Ibie on ‘Ethics in Election Reporting: Looking into the Future’ gives a colourful tone to what the issues with online and social media reportage in the future will have to battle with; ditto traditional print media. Readers will find ‘Reportage of 2015 Elections: A Monitoring Scorecard of Print and Online Media’ a good read.
@SolaFagro on twitter.