1.1 Background of the study
The mass media have always remained a key factor in the political sphere, in democracy and they perform diverse functions in the society. These functions include providing entertainment to the public, giving information and educating the public. One of the avenues in which the mass media play their education function is in electioneering. The mass media provide a link between the political parties/candidates and the electorate.
The media serve critical roles throughout the electoral process. In addition to promoting public debate and educating citizens, they monitor the integrity of the process and can be a primary vehicle for accountability demands. The media supplies the political information that voters base their decisions on. Although, the mass media may not be the only source of information for voters, in a world dominated by mass communication it is increasingly the mass media that determine the political agenda in the society.
According to Norris (1997) cited in Oboh (2016:3) noted that one of the primary function of the media in electioneering is to increase information about the choices on offer, stimulating interest in public involvement in the process and watching politicians debate. This will make the media audience to feel better informed, more aware of the choices on offer, and therefore better equipped to exercise their choice at the ballot box.
Mass media are indispensable avenues for political parties/candidates to reach a large percentage of the electorate who would otherwise have been unreached by political campaign messages delivered at rallies. The mass media through their coverage of electioneering and airing of political advertisements have the potential of influencing voting decision of the electorate Obot (2013:173).
In every election, citizens must not only decide on the party or candidate they wish to vote for or support, they must also decide whether they will vote at all. Across board, electorates learn about the choices they face in national elections not from personal contact with-politicians nor from interpersonal conversations but from the mass media. The Mass media voter education has been found to be the main source of voters’ information (Okon, 2014:2). The foregoing implies that the media have a crucial role to play in electioneering. This may be unconnected with the fact that the mass media are the most common sources for information about elections in democracies and societies in transition around the world. Concerns about political bias in the mass media are at the heart of debates about the role and responsibility of the media at election time due to the possibility that the media will intentionally or unintentionally influence the electorate.
The mass media play a crucial role in the democratic process. Discussion of the mass media functions within the electoral contexts often focused on their “watch dog” role as seen in their discussion of the success and failures of candidates, government and electoral management bodies. As watch dogs, the media have their roles in enabling full participation in elections. These include educating voters on how to exercise their franchise, reporting on the development of an election processes and creating an avenue through their phone-in-programmes for the electorates to report their observations on the election. The media also report election results and monitor vote counting, scrutinize the electoral process itself including electoral management in order to evaluate the process, its efficiency, probity and most importantly provide information on electoral violence.
All these point to the fact that the media play a vital role in keeping the citizenry abreast of current events and raising awareness on various issues in any society, it also has a significant impact on the public’s perception. Therefore, the media are the fundamental means through which public opinion is harnessed and at times influenced. One of its basic requirements should be to enlighten and instruct the public and act as an unbiased, objective platform for the selection of candidates, and for ultimate purpose of attaining national unity after election.
In every election, voter and civic education are important and compulsory to guarantee that all constituent men and women get to know their political system; and the contestants are being asked to decide, and how and where to vote. For an election to be successful and democratic, voters must understand their rights and duties, and must be vast and well informed to cast ballots that are largely valid, to partake meaningfully in the voting process.
Little wonder Iredia (2007:12) noted that:
The people must be assisted to premise their choices of rationality and vote wisely during elections. They must have all information that is needed to elect the right candidates who can ensure good governance. Where such public awareness is lacking, those of us in the media must accept a share of the blame of failed elections in Nigeria.
In post-conflict countries, voters and civic education are very critical where elections may have an unprecedented effect on the country’s future. Nevertheless, the term “voter-education” is universally used to describe the dissemination of information, materials and programmes designated to inform voters about the species and mechanics of the voting procedure for a specific election. Voter education involves providing information on who is eligible or qualified to vote? Where and how to register? How electorate can check the voter list to guarantee they have been duly included? What type of elections is being held? Where and when and when and how to vote? Who the candidates are? And how to file complaints.
The role of the media in any democratic process cannot be downplayed. Information is an accelerator for any meaningful development and it is adequate information that can propel or bring about sustainable democracy. In view of this, the mass media should be taken seriously because they play critical and pivotal role by informing and educating the electorates (Olaoluwa, 2016). This is so because when the electorates are not properly informed they are thereby deformed; and ignorance of the electoral process can lead to political apathy, electoral violence among other vices. This is why Kurfi (2010:295) argues that without access to the full range of information about their world, citizens cannot fulfill their roles, and democracy will wither.
It is based on the forgoing that the media reports in order to educate and enlighten the electorates in the whole processes of the elections. In this regard, there is need for the media to inform and inform adequately.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The mass media are channels through which news, education, entertainment, data or promotional messages are disseminated. The Mass media includes but are not limited to broadcasting mediums (radio and television), newspapers, magazines, billboards, direct mail, telephone and Internet. These various media outlets are poised to play requisite role in the society, which includes entertainment, socialisation, information, and other roles which necessitate the adequate functioning of democracy.
The mass media have been used as veritable sources of information during elections. The information projected by the different media of mass communication alongside other societal factors influence voters’ choices during elections. During political elections, the mass media are perceived to wield enormous influence on the people, especially on their participation in the electoral process. The mass media undoubtedly have been used in various societies at different circumstances to change or reinforce voter’s attitudes during and after elections. Ndolo (2006:10) noted that communication has not only remained a critical component of the society but the pivot on which the society revolves.
However, it is unclear if the mass media played its pivotal role during the 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State perhaps because of the numerous electoral violence and irregularities and voter apathy in the 2015 governorship election in the State. It is against this backdrop that the researcher viewed it a worthwhile project to ascertain Uyo residents’ perception of role of the mass media in voter education during 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State. This constitutes the main problem of the research.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The broad objective of this research was to find out Uyo residents’ perception of role of the mass media in voter education during 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State, however; the study’s specific objectives were to:
Ascertain the extent to which the mass media played their role during the 2015 governorship election.
Examine how the mass media influenced political awareness during the 2015 governorship election.
Examine the extent to which the mass media voter education influenced the perception of Uyo residents’ on the 2015 governorship election matters.
To what extent did the mass media play their role during the 2015 governorship election?
How did the mass media influence political awareness during the 2015 governorship election?
To what extent did the mass media voter education influence the perception of Uyo residents’ on the 2015 governorship election matters?
Significance of the Study
This study will help to find out Uyo residents’ perception of role of the mass media in voter education during 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State.
The study will serve as a mirror to media institutions which in time past have not engaged objectively and form neutral stand in discharge of their functions during elections.
The research will also be beneficial to the electorates in that they will know the perception of other electorates on the role of the mass media played in the 2015 governorship elections.
This study will contribute to literature on the subject and will be of benefit to students, lecturers and other researchers embarking on a similar study.
Scope of the Study
This research was conducted to study Uyo residents’ perception of role of the mass media in voter education during 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State. The researcher only focused on Uyo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.