Agenda Setting, Agenda framing and Mass Media Coverage of the Obasanjo/Atiku Feud
Nwabueze, Chinenye, Ugwonno, Chinedu, and Ngonso Blessed (2011).
Agenda Setting, Framing and Mass Media Coverage of Obasanjo/Atiku Feud. International Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities Review, 4: 26 – 35.
The media play agenda setting role in the society, determining which issues move from press agenda to public agenda. Framing is a process that sees journalists interpreting and ascribing meanings to news items. This process of news framing could be influenced by political commitments, interests of media stakeholders, and wider relations of power in the society in which the media exist. This study seeks to find out how the Nigerian press covered the Obasanjo/Atiku feud with emphasis on the process of setting and framing the agenda on the issue.It combines quantitative and qualitative analytical techniques in content-analyzing selected Nigerian newspapers to find out how they covered the Obasanjo/Atiku feud within the period of six months selected for the study. The study found among others that the Nigerian press gave prominence to the issue, and that political commitments, interests of publishers and media stakeholders influenced the Obasanjo/Atiku feud. It recommended that the press should not lose sight of their watchdog role in the society even in the midst of influences that are a product of wider relations of power in the society within which they exist.
The press play basic roles of information education, and entertainment in any society. They do not just expose us to events in the society but largely shape our understanding of social reality. This is essentially because the media “lie between us and this complex world” (Ndolo, 2005:20). The society relies on the mass media to mirror events to it. The media act as a check not just to abuse of official authority but the abuse of all sources of power in both the public and private realms (Curran, 2005).
Mass mediated message is a product of social matrix of communication. This is because the media do not exist in isolation. They coexist with other institutions and units which make up the society. As Udoakah (1993:90) observes, “mass media products are dependent products – products of social, political and economic forces”. Since the media engage other institutions in the society in a mutually interdependent and interactional relationship, the mass communicated message could be influenced by this relationship. In the midst of this relationship, the media set the agenda for the public through priority and frequency of coverage of an issue. They determine what dominates public discuss. The press further determine how the set agenda or topic of discussion should be viewed. This entails framing of news which, according to McQuail (2005: 379), is “a way of giving some overall interpretation to isolated items of fact”. It consists of presenting and interpreting facts of an issue such that the audience are not just made aware of an event but are ‘directed’ on how to view the event. News presentation with certain kinds off choices of words or from specific perspectives play vital roles in framing the news.
Agenda-setting and framing could largely be influenced by the interplay of forces and interdependent relationship within which the media and media workers exist. The issue of ‘subjective objectivity’ could come to play. This is where a media house reports an event ‘objectively’ but from its perspective or angle of how it thinks the ‘objective’ facts should be compiled and presented, which could differ from another medium’s perception of objectivity . This simply gives credence to existence of influences or forces which shape the mass mediated message. As Curran (2005:126) notes:
The media are assumed to be independent, and to owe allegiance only to the public, if they are funded by the consumer and organized through a competitive market. This theory ignores the many other influences which can shape the media, including the political commitments and private interests of media shareholders, the influence exerted through news management and the cultural power of leading groups in society. In short, this extremely simplistic theory fails to take into account the wider relations of power in which the media are situated.
In the same vein, while discussing the intricacies of news framing, McQuail (2005: 379) avers that “it is almost unavoidable for journalists to do this and in so doing to depart from pure ‘objectivity’ and to introduce some (unintended) biases”. Setting the agenda could be dependent on trend of events in the society, including how these events meet the news values with varying degree of importance. Framing the agenda, however, could be largely dependent on the chain of forces or influences which the media house is a part of. It is against this backdrop that this study explores the nature of coverage of the feud between President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar by Nigerian Newspapers.
THE OBASANJO /ATIKU FEUD AT A GLANCE
The face off between President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar could be said to have started filtering into public domain in 2003 during the Presidential primaries of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) held in that year. It was alleged that Obasanjo had planned to drop Atiku as his running mate for the 2003 general elections which ushered in his second tenure in office. Atiku got wind of this plan and used his party machinery to threaten the substitution of Obasanjo by the party for the 2003 general elections. Obasanjo was said to have literally gone on his knees to ensure that the party flag was given to him for his re-election and has since not forgiven Atiku for that act.
The sour relationship between these two top citizens of Nigeria which is now commonly referred to as the Obasanjo/ Atiku feud, has unarguably received wide and quick publicity in the Nigerian media. The Vice President said in an interview, that President Obasanjo has never called him and told him his problem with him (Atiku) but that he heard the President is angry with him because he said Atiku had a hand in an attempt to impeach him during his first tenure in office, and that Atiku wanted to run against him in 2003 (The Guardian, November 21, 2006, P.4). Atiku denied these allegations but their relationship continued to get worse, culminating to alleged declaration of the Vice President’s seat vacant, by the Presidency, his alleged indictment for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the accusations and counter accusations at the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) ad hoc committee hearing in the Senate, exposure of gross corruption in the Presidency, among other related developments.
The problem got to its peak shortly before to 2007 general elections when the Vice President was contesting for Presidency, on the platform of Action Congress (AC). This feud with the President haunted him with his “purported ” disqualification by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the indictment of both Atiku and Obasanjo by Senate ad hoc committee on PTDF, a chain of legal battles to support or defend their stands, among others. The Atiku/Obasanjo feud received international attention after the Vice President was alleged to have had a tele-conference with members of the influential U.S Council for Foreign Relations, CFR, following which the presidency sent a team to the U.S to counter the view of Atiku on the Presidency (Akande, the Guardian, January 12, 2007, p.1).
The Obasanjo/Atiku feud as operationally defined in this work includes all issues that were originated by the face-off between the President and Vice President as covered by the studied newspapers. This includes the Senate ad hoc committee hearing on PTDF, Atiku’s alleged removal by the Presidency, his attempts to fight back in court and through his aides, comments made by Nigerians on this feud, among others. This paper focuses on media coverage of the feud with specific emphasis on how the media set and framed the agenda on this issue.
The Obasanjo / Atiku feud was described as a national and international embarrassment to Nigeria following which some public figures called for the removal of these personalities from office (Daily Sun December 21, 2006, P.1; Daily Sun, February 9, 2007, P.1; The Guardian, January 21, 2007, P.1; The Guardian, February 2, 2007). This is apparently because of the public show of shame the two have engaged in through accusations and counter accusations of corruption and abuse of office both at local and international arena. The press played vital role in mirroring this feud to the public. The press are expected to manage crisis in the interest of the society (Mboho, 2004:68). However, political commitments, private interests of media shareholders, the influence exerted through news management, and cultural power of leading groups in the society are among factors that shape the media (and by extension media framing of news) (Curran, 2005). It is against this backdrop that this study seeks to find out the nature of coverage of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud by the Nigeria press, whether the magnitude of coverage was to the extent that it placed the issue as priority agenda. It further seeks to find out the nature of framing of the issue by the press, and whether the extraneous influences such as has been listed above may have shaped the framing of this issue by the press.
To this end, the following research questions guided the study;
- What is the level of coverage of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud by Nigerian press?
- What is the nature of framing of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud by Nigerian press?
- Was the framing of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud by the Nigerian press influenced by Ownership factor?
The level of coverage here refers to not just the frequency but prominence given to the issue in terms of placement by the press. The nature of framing here refers to not just the direction of coverage but the implication of news representation in the press, i.e. what meaning the audiences would make from the dominant framing or representation of issues that makeup the Obasanjo/ Atiku feud. Owner’s interest could influence coverage of issues by the media. This could be as a result of what Curran (2005: 126) described as the “wider relations of power in which the media are situated”. The third research question dwells on ascertaining whether this factor played any role in the coverage of Obasanjo/Atiku feud by the Nigerian press.
One hypothesis was tested in this study. The research hypothesis states as follows;
H1 The Nigerian press gave prominence to the Obasanjo/Atiku feud.
The press determine for the audience issues to be ranked high in the order of public discuss. They set the agenda for the public as regards what to discuss and to some extent, how to discuss it. The agenda-setting theory posits that by frequently covering and giving prominence to issues, the audience attach importance to those issues more than others. Various communication scholars have through various studies confirmed and independently referred to the agenda-setting function of the media. Pulitzer prize-wining author Walter Lippman observed that the media act as a mediator between “the world outside and the pictures in our head”; Bernard Cohen notes that “The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is successful in telling its reader what to think about” (in Griffin, 2000:361). McCombs and Shaw (in Griffin, supra) who could be said to have popularized the agenda-setting theory observe that the mass media are able to transfer the salience of items on their news agenda to public agenda, and that the public judge as important what the media judge as important.
By giving prominence to an issue in terms of its placement, frequency of coverage, space or time allotment, as the case may be, the media transfer the issue into public agenda. Dearing and Rogers (in McQuail, 2005: 513) while critically analyzing the agenda-setting theory, offer several generalizations about the theory, one of which is that “it is not the absolute significance of an issue that counts but the relative strength of forces and people trying to define and promote an issue”. This explains why certain issues move into public agenda faster than others. The Obasanjo/Atiku feud for instance, is the product of power play between prominent personalities, giving it serious focus by the media and by extension, the public.
Framing of news consists of giving specific interpretations using specific words in news representation such that the audience do not just understand an event but understand it from a specific perspective. While agenda setting suggests what the audience should think about, agenda framing suggests how they should think about it. Framing consists of “using certain words or phrases, making certain contextual references, choosing certain pictures or film, giving examples as typical, referring to certain sources and so on” (McQuail, 2005:379). It is how “messages are encoded with meaning so that they can be efficiently interpreted in relation to existing beliefs or ideas” (Ike, 2005:88). Framing of an issue largely consists of the way media organizations or their reporters treat news. This may not always be an objective exercise but is based on the reporter’s interpretation of an issue.
Studies have shown that framing plays vital role in media coverage of events. Hunt (1996:207) found that elite American press coverage of Africa was negative, focused on trouble spots, wars, and conflicts, and lacked indepth analysis and highly researched background materials. These are factors that influence agenda framing. After a study of how British press covers diplomatic scandal in Nigeria, with the Umaru Dikko affair as a case study, Uche and Ngumoha (1996:225) found that British newspapers gave quiet a good amount of coverage that presented a most negative image of Nigeria to its national and international readers, during the period (the affair took place). It has also been established that framing largely determines public opinion and decision making on an issue. This was particularly expressed in initial public support for the U.S led-war on terror and subsequent invasion of Iraq. According to Entman (2005:254), “Many U.S citizens supported the war on the grounds it made the U.S.A safer from 9/11- style terrorism, based on dominant news framing that emphasized Saddam Hussein’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and active assistance to al-Quaida.”
Framing of news is largely influenced by a reporter’s idiosyncrasies and perception of social reality. As Oso (2006:68) notes:
The way journalists do their work in selecting and processing what becomes news is not a neutral activity as proponents of objectivity will like us to believe…. They bring to their work certain knowledge or cultural maps which in some way, influence the way they conceptualise events and issues.
The framing of Obasanjo/Atiku feud could be a product of certain influences one of which is the interest of media owner. Some of the media owner’s political interests may have covertly or overtly influenced the choice of words, phrases and angle of coverage adopted in framing the issues related to the feud either in favour of the parties or simply to stay away from the wrath of one of the parties. This is part of what this study seeks to find out.
Content analysis was adopted in carrying out the study. Both the quantitative and qualitative analysis methods were adopted in the study. The quantitative method was used in measuring the frequency of coverage while the qualitative technique was adopted in determining framing of news by the selected papers. Three national dailies were purposively selected for the study. They are Daily Sun, Daily Champion, and The Guardian. The selection of these three privately owned newspapers was specifically to ascertain whether ownership of media organization has a significant relationship with framing of news. Daily Champion is owned by a business mogul, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu who is also a strong member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and South East Coordinator of Obasanjo/Atiku Campaign Organization. Daily Sun is published by Chief Orji-Uzor Kalu who decamped from the PDP to Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) as the party’s presidential candidate. Kalu who is a former governor of Abia State was noted for vibrantly criticizing Obasanjo’s regime. The Guardian is published by Chief Alex Ibru a business mogul who has no overt political affiliation.
Although the Obasanjo/Atiku feud has existed since 2003, the problem could be said to have gotten to its peak in the second half of 2006 with the Vice President’s ordeal in office. A period of six months – October 2006 to March 2007 – was selected for the study. This represents the last six months before the general elections in April 2007.
All the editions of the selected newspapers for the period of six months were studied. It then follows that 181 editions of each of the newspapers were studied, bringing the grand total to 543 of the three newspapers studied. Only the stories that appeared on the front and back pages of the newspapers were studied. Placement, especially on the front page, is a strong factor in determining priority given to coverage of an issue, and by extension, the possibility of that issue moving into public agenda.
Units of Analysis: Only the headline of stories was studied. This was used in constructing or operationalizing the units of analysis for this work. They are (i) Main headline: Any headline that leads the front or back page, as the case may be; (ii) Ordinary headline: Any headline that is not the main or lead headline (as determined by size) on the front or back page; (iii) Headline placement: The placement of headline on the front or back page.
Only the front and back pages of the selected newspapers were studied. The researcher decided to restrict the study to front and back pages because these two pages play strong roles in agenda setting. Another basic reason for this decision is to find out the degree of importance attached to the Obasanjo/Atiku feud by the Nigerian press, particularly based on placement of the story on the front and back pages. All headline on these two pages were studied, the it is headline of a straight news story, feature, front page comment, or column.
Content CategorIES: The content categories were defined based on the direction of framing of headlines. Three categories guided the study; (i) framing in favour of Obasanjo; (ii) framing in favour of Atiku (iii) neutral framing which does not favour Obasanjo or Atiku. These categories were determined based on choice of words, phrases or sentences, as the case may be, used in casting the headlines that were studied.
The intercoder reliability for this study was calculated using Holsti’s formular (in Wimmer and Dominick, 2003:157):
Reliability = 2M
N1 + N2
Where M = number of coding decisions on which two coders agree
N1 + N2 = total number of coding decisions by the first and second
Twenty four coding decisions were taken by two coders (on twenty four manifest items randomly selected from November and December editions of the three newspapers studied). These were based on three content categories for the study. The two coders agreed on 18 decisions i.e. they both agreed that certain specific items were framed in a particular direction. The data were used to calculate the intercoder reliability thus:
24 + 24 = 48 = .75
With a reliability coefficient of .75, it could be said that the study has an acceptable level of reliability.
Table One: Frequency of Headlines on Obasanjo/Atiku feud (on the front
and back pages) in selected newspapers
Newspaper Frequency %
Daily Sun 78 40
The Guardian 65 34
Daily Champion 48 26
Total 191 100
A total of 78 headlines on the Obasanjo/Atiku feud were carried on the front page of Daily Sun. These were mostly captions in line with the house style of the paper. Seventy of the editions carried these reports (some had two front page captions on the feud). This represents 46 percent of the total editions of Daily Sun studied. Out of the 78 front page reports, 65 percent (n=51) were lead stories. Only six back page reports (analysis by columnists) were carried in this paper during the period of study.
The Guardian carried 65 front page reports on the feud during the period of study. These were contained in 58 editions of the paper (representing 38 percent of the total editions of the paper studied). The paper carried 17 back page reports on the feud. Of the 65 front page reports, 35 percent (n=23) are lead stories. The Daily Champion carried 48 front-page stories and one back page report (column discussion). 41 percent (n=20) of the front page stories lead the editions they appeared in. 44 editions of the newspaper carried the front page reports (some editions featured two front page reports on the feud).
It then follows that out of 543 editions of the three newspapers studied, 31 percent (n=172) featured 191 front page reports on Obasanjo/Atiku feud, out of which 94 were lead stories. The months of January and February featured the highest number of front page reports, 51 percent (n=98), in the three papers studied. This was the peak of the crisis especially allegations and counter-allegations of fraud being leveled against one another by members of the president’s and vice president’s camp.
With reference to framing, some interesting observations were made in the three newspapers studied.
Table Two: Framing of Obasanjo/Atiku feud in Daily Sun Newspaper
Direction of framing frequency %
favourable to Atiku 52 66
favourable to Obasanjo 8 10
neutral 18 24
Total 78 100
Daily Sun presented the feud from a perspective that showed the presidency as being unfair to the vice president. Table two shows that 66 percent (n=52) of the headlines were framed to favour Atiku, 10 percent (n=8) to favour Obasanjo, while 24 percent (n=18) were neutral framings. The paper made use of words and phrases in most of its captions to make a hero out of Atiku, and present a picture of a corrupt and autocratic presidency being exposed by the courageous moves of Atiku. It captioned and presented its reports from the angles of Atiku’s efforts to escape executive unconstitutionality on him, or Atiku’s exposure of the presidency. Among the captions that shaped this frame are “PTDF: Court clears Atiku for 2007 presidency, declares EFCC report, Admin. Panel reports (on Atiku), gazette, null and void” (Daily Sun, Thursday November 30, 2006 p.1); “Not again … we must not allow a few power drunk individuals to trample on our rights to good governance – Atiku”; (Daily Sun, Wednesday, December 27, 2006, p.1); “Naked Dance: Atiku insists on public probe of PTDF (Tuesday, December 5, 2006, p.1); “Messy: Atiku indicts Obasanjo over PTDF looting” (Wednesday, December 20, 2006, p.1); “Atiku seeks FBI Aid” (Thursday, January 18, 2007, P.1); “AC to OBJ: Stop Atiku, get Another Joker” (January 7, 2007 p.1); “Rough play: Atiku’s security withdrawn again, V.P can’t resume office” (Daily Sun Wednesday, January 24, 2007, p.1), “Watch your tongue: Senate Cautions Obasanjo, why he must be stopped – Atiku” (Daily Sun Friday, February 23, 2007 p.1); “Atiku remains V.P – N’ Assembly” (Friday, February 9, 2007) “No stopping Atiku – Osoba” (Daily Sun, March 28, 2007, p.1). From this kind of captioning which dominated Daily Sun reports on the feud, the impression is created that the battle is being won by Atiku camp.
Table Three: Framing of Obasanjo/Atiku feud in Daily Champion
Direction of framing frequency %
favourable to Atiku 7 15
favourable to Obasanjo 31 65
neutral 10 20
Total 48 100
Daily Champion, on the other hand framed the captions, including lead stories, from the perspective of the presidency spanking Atiku. Table three above shows that 65 percent (n=31) of the headlines were favourable to Obasanjo, 15 percent (n=7) favourable to Atiku, while 20 percent (n=10) were neutral framings. The captions and stories portrayed an Atiku that is stubborn and disobedient to his boss, and is gradually being nailed by the presidency and party (PDP) machinery through the courts and other means. Among the captions that structured this frame are “PTDF: Atiku has case to answer – Presidency” (Daily Champion, Friday, December 1, 2006, p.1); “Atiku remains disqualified – Iwu” (Daily Champion, Tuesday, February 27, 2007, p.1); “You’re the real dictator – Ali tells Atiku, Balarade demands V.Ps apology” (Daily Champion, Wednesday, January 24, 2007, p.1.); “OBJ Chides Atiku over corruption” (Daily Champion, Friday, January, 26 2007, p.1) “V.P risks arrest if … – Maduekwe” (Friday, February 23, 2007, p.1), “Fear of exclusion grips Atiku, others” (February 3, 2007, p.1), “ASO Rock Feud: OBJ warns Atiku” (Daily Champion, Thursday February 1, 2007), “INEC stops Atiku, advises AC to replace him; its unconstitutional – AC” (Daily Champion Sunday, February, 11 2007).
Table Four: Framing of Obasanjo/Atiku feud in The Guardian Newspaper
Direction of framing frequency %
Favourable to Atiku 6 9
Favourable to Obasanjo 11 17
Neutral 48 74
Total 65 100
The Guardian presented the feud such that no faction or camp would be seen to be dealing with the other, as the other two papers did. Table four above shows that 74 percent (n=48) of the headlines were neutral, 17 percent (n=11) favourable to Obasanjo, while 9 percent (n=6) were favourable to Atiku. Though the paper reported most of the issues other papers covered, it did not sensationalize words that will show Obasanjo dealing with Atiku, or would show the Vice President dealing with Obasanjo. Some of the captions that indicated this frame are “Court rules on Atiku, PDP suit Oct. 31” (The Guardian, Thursday Oct. 26, 2006, p.1), “Senate panel gets nod to summon Obasanjo, Atiku over PTDF” (The Guardian, Thursday, October 5, 2006, p.1), “Obasanjo, Atiku disagree on court ruling over PTDF” (The Guardian, Thursday November 30, 2006, p.1), “Obasanjo, Atiku file counter suits at Appeal Court” (The Guardian, Thursday, December 28, 2006, p.1), “Supreme court to serve Obasanjo, Atiku hearing notice this week, US leaders express concern over feud” (Monday, January 20, 2007, p.1), “Govt. sends team to counter Atiku’s Campaign in U.S” (The Guardian, Friday January 12, 2007, p.1).
Where the three papers report an issue, the language usage and angle of caption would show which frame is neutral and which seems to portray Obasanjo or Atiku as the weaker or favoured party. For instance, an incident occurred in January when Atiku went for INEC screening and was given a petition from PDP seeking his disqualification. Daily Champion captioned it this way: “Screening: Atiku at INEC, served PDP’s petition” (Thursday, January 25, 2007). Daily Sun captioned it thus: “Desperadoes: PDP sends petition to INEC, asks it to disqualify Atiku” (Thursday, January 25, 2007). It first uses the word “Desperadoes” to create an impression about those fighting Atiku. On a similar case, the Guardian used this caption: “Govt. seeks court’s nod to press graft charges against Atiku” (Friday, January 19, 2007). The paper uses “Seek” to provide a neutral frame. While Daily Sun of December 20, 2006 had the front page lead story caption: “MESSY: Atiku indicts Obasanjo over PTDF looting,” The Guardian of the same day (December 20, 2006) simply put it thus: “Govt. asks Atiku to prove claims on PTDF”, with the rider “Daukoru, PTDF, bank chief fault VP’s claims on funds”. While the Guardian presents a picture of debate over fraud allegations, Daily Sun presents a picture of indictment on Obasanjo. The implication of these framing by the studied newspapers would be discussed next.
TEST OF HYPOTHESIS
The research hypothesis being tested in this study states thus:
H1: The Nigerian press gave prominence to the Obasonjo/Atiku feud.
The test was done with data on frequency of headlines on the issue as published by the selected newspapers.
Table Five: Frequency of headlines on Obasanjo/Atiku feud as placed on
front and back pages of selected newspapers.
Daily Sun 78 (63.66)
The Guardian 65 (63.66)
Daily Champion 48 (63.66)
The values in parenthesis are expected frequencies.
Calculated value of chi-square = 7.1
Table value of chi-square at 2 degrees
freedom and probability level of 0.05 = 5.991
Since the calculated value of chi-square (7.1) is greater than the table value of chi-square (5.991), the research hypothesis which states that the Nigerian press gave prominence to the Obasanjo/Atiku feud stands.
The findings show that the press gave a high coverage to the Obasanjo/Atiku feud. The press also gave prominence to the issue. This is in view of the fact that 31 percent (n=172) of 543 editions studies contained stories on Obasanjo/Atiku on the front page. The front page stories on the issue amounted to 191 (some editions contained two front page stories on the issue), 94 of which are lead stories. The fact that the press gave prominence to this issue was also confirmed by the only hypothesis tested in this work. The question of prominence and high level of coverage given to the issue is not in doubt. This shows that press coverage of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud placed the issue in public agenda. Frequency of coverage and placement are two strong variables for actualizing agenda setting function of the press.
The postulation by Dearing and Rogers (in McQuail, 2005: 513) that the relative strength of the forces and people trying to define and promote an issue largely contribute in moving an issue from news agenda to public agenda, was played up in the process of placing the Obasanjo/Atiku feud in public agenda. Stories on the feud were woven around such important agencies and bodies as Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the courts, PDP or AC, which are two strong political parties to which Obasanjo (PDP) and Atiku (AC) belong. They were also developed from interviews granted by renowned personalities in Nigeria and party chieftains. Some of such stories are “Sack them: Gani Fawehinmi calls for Obasanjo, Atiku’s impeachment” (Daily Sun, Thursday, December 21, 2006, p.1), “AC to OBJ: Stop Atiku, get Another Joker” (Daily Sun, January 7, 2007, p.1), “Watch your Tongue: Senate cautions Obasanjo” (Daily Sun, Friday, February 23, 2007, p.1), “No Stopping Atiku – Osoba” (Daily Sun, Wednesday, March 28, 2002, p.1) “El-Rufai Shuns Atiku at Nnamani’s book launch,” (The Guardian, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006, back page), “Vice President’s seat: it’s all over for Atiku – Jibril Aminu; No, I won’t give up- Atiku” (Daily Champion, December 30, 2006, p.1), “IBB wades into OBJ/Atiku rift” (Daily Champion, Wednesday, October 4, 2006, p.1). Such government agencies like INEC, Courts (High Court, Supreme and Appeal Courts), Code of Conduct Bureau, including institutions, political parties and bodies such as National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives), PDP, AC etc. were among the institutional forces that influenced the agenda setting process of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud. This supports the postulation by Oso (2006: 73), after a study, that “powerful sources sometimes use the news to gain strategic advantage over their opponents”. Similarly, Molotch and Lester (in Oso, supra) opine that news is “a battlefield of actors struggling to generate public experience.” The use of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud by PDP and AC chieftains, including loyalists of Obasanjo and Atiku to trade blames against each other, supports this postulation.
The findings show that the framing of news on Obasanjo/ Atiku feud differed. This could be as a result of the owner’s interest, which is tied to political commitments and private interests of media shareholders. As was stated in the findings, Daily Sun framed the news such that Atiku is seen as a hero or an innocent politician trying to survive the unfair treatment by the presidency. Chief Orji Uzor Kalu is the publisher of Daily Sun. As the governor of Abia State, he was known to have openly criticized Obasanjo’s regime. He decamped from PDP to Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) as the party’s presidential candidate. He also has a good relationship with Atiku. These interests may have influenced the framing of Obasanjo/Atiku feud against the ruling PDP. The framing of the issue as depicted in the captions gave away this influence on the newspaper.
On the other hand, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu is the publisher of Daily Champion. He was the South East coordinator of Obasanjo/Atiku campaign and a strong PDP Chieftain. Daily Champion framed the Obasanjo/Atiku feud such that the vice president is seen as a disobedient subordinate facing an ordeal he brought upon himself. The framing did not only seem unfavourable to him but placed him at the receiving end. A good number of the stories on the feud contained in Daily Champion portrayed this picture. The political interests or commitments of the publisher may have play subtle role in this respect.
The Guardian took a more neutral posture in the framing of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud. Chief Alex Ibru is the publisher of the newspaper. He does not have any known overt interests in or relationship with the camps of the president and vice president. This may have informed the more neutral framing of the feud which portrayed the two camps as engaged in a tussle for supremacy. The paper plays down the tone of words used in captioning the stories. Where Daily Sun says “Atiku indicts Obasanjo in PTDF Scam”, the Guardian carries a similar story captioned “Atiku camp links Obasanjo’s lawyer, minister to PTDF”. The framing of the issue by the Guardian differed from the framing by Daily Champion and Daily Sun.
The political power play which seemingly influenced framing of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud by Daily Champion and Daily Sun gives credence to the postulation by Curran (2005) that political commitments, private interests of media shareholders, the influence exerted through news management, and cultural power of leading groups in the society are among factors that shape the media and by extension, media framing of news.
The mass media coexist in the society with other institutions and units which engage them in an interactional and interdependent relationship. Mass mediated message is a product of social matrix – forces and influences which shape individual journalists and media houses. In the course of news framing, the journalist may not be entirely objective since certain forces and influences which shape his existance could come to play. The press may appear to be objectively playing their watchdog role in the society but are actually acting out a script which is premised on other commitments and private interests. As Curran (2005:126) notes: “Media attacks on official wrongdoing can follow private agendas. ‘Fearless’ feats of investigative journalism, in these circumstances are not necessarily the disinterested acts undertaken on behalf of the public that they appear to be”.
The media gave priority coverage to the Obasanjo/Atiku feud with the issue dominating the front page mostly as lead stories, during the period of study. The nature of news framing adopted in covering the issue in such that extraneous forces, influences and political commitments played vital roles in this respect. Political interests and affiliations of owners of two of the studied newspapers played subtle roles in framing of the agenda. It follows that such extraneous considerations, including influence exerted through news management, and consideration of interests of stakeholders in the media (which includes major advertisers in a medium) affect framing of news.
The strength, integrity, and credibility of personalities and forces that constitute news sources play significant roles in determining the movement of an issue from press agenda to public agenda. It is not just the interest of media houses or stakeholders that matters but the strength of the sources or personalities being used to project these views, interests and agenda. An issue could receive quick, and easy access into public agenda based on those who constitute the channels through which the media disseminate the issue to the public.
News should be framed objectively, to reflect the press as a neutral watchdog and to guide the public in understanding the true picture of events in the society and premising decision-making on such understanding. Entman (2005:252) aptly recommends that the press should adopt “news framing that helps citizens make the right choices and keeps them from supporting leaders who do not maximize the values and interests they want…” The press should not use news framing to fool the public or make them take wrong decisions. Framing of the Obasanjo/Atiku feud, for instance, is sensitive because it deals with accountability in government and the character of the nation’s leaders. Giving deceptive framing could be inimical to nation building. A neutral framing which presents issues as they are, should be adopted in such instance, so that the public will be equipped with the right facts and perspective upon which to take the right decisions.
The press should insist on objective performance of their watchdog role to the society. Personal interests and political commitments affect objectivity in news representation. This is not an attempt to rule out the fact that the mass mediated message is a product of social matrix. The pressure of allowing the extraneous influences in the social matrix to stifle objectivity should be avoided. There is need to understand the wider relations and interplay of power within which the media exist so as to use such knowledge to the advantage of media operations.
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(Note: This article has been published in International Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities Review, 4: 26 – 35.)