PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF NEWSPAPER COVERAGE OF EBOLA EPIDEMIC OUTBREAK IN …
1.1BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The indispensable role of newspaper as a lamp of enlightenment to the people could have inspired the third president of the U.S. Thomas Jefferson‟s popular and timeless remark cited by Ndolo (2006:39), “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.” The above statement obviously underscores the value universally placed on newspapers as a melting pot for all sorts of beneficial messages. Newspapers perform many important functions in the Nigerian society. Esimokha (2011:10-11) notes that newspapers serve the public by keeping readers informed, entertaining readers, informing authorities of the needs of the public, educating readers and helping readers live more comfortable. Anaeto, Solo-Anaeto and Tejumaiye (2009) as cited by Agbanu (2013:79) contends that newspapers provide the news of the day…It brings to the readers recent information and provides them with what is happening around them. While Chowdhury (2014) posits that the function of the media is to observe the society closely and continuously warn about threatening actions to the mass audience that are likely to happen in future in order to decrease the possible loss.
Thus, it can be said that newspaper in the modern society provides the people with the day‟s intelligence, acts as the mirror and the guardian of the society. Uwom (2012) cited by Agbana and Usman (2014:131) says “the role of the mass media in health reportage would go a long way in putting health issues in the minds and lips of everyone…The media are significant source of health-related information and can shape the way we think about and discuss health issues.” Media coverage may influence individual health decision and also help to prevent bad health and lead to changes in public policy and public perception (Stryker, Moriarty and Jenson, 2008). Ukonu (2013) avers that ever since modern civilization bequeathed human kind with the newspaper institution, it is ever aware of its sacred responsibility in society.
The newspaper has been extolled as conscience of modern society. It coordinates social communication and furnishes a vital check on other institutions of the nation, few other establishments can compare with the newspaper on the magnitude of social influence. Meanwhile, one of the basic tenets of the social responsibility theory is that the press should serve public interest. Thus it presupposes that newspapers must have social conscience, be devoted to public welfare and public service; they should be responsive to problems in the society. Furthermore, the press must be accountable to “to their audiences, to whom they owe correct news reportage, analysis and editorializing” (Owens-Ibie, 1994). Hence, to accept to practice the noble profession of journalism is to accept the vocation to contribute to the progress of the society, and be concerned about the wellbeing of the society and the welfare of the people.
However, in spite of the travails of the Nigerian print media industry in the 21st century, occasioned by high cost of printing materials, low purchasing power of the average Nigerian, paucity of fund, proliferation of FM stations, emergence of social media and online newspaper and magazines; newspaper seems not to have lost its alluring appeal as it is widely consulted by Nigerians for comprehensive, credible, accurate and authoritative information at the times of national emergency and crisis. These enduring attributes of newspaper are derived from its inherent strengths of resources and space devoted to issues which enables it to provide depth and breadth to stories. Thereby providing readers with more meaty, more informative, more analytical and more descriptive stories…which could help them to live their lives meaningfully (Okoye, 2006).
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Critics of Nigerian press are of the opinion that Nigerian newspapers in terms of news coverage are heavily biased toward politics and allied subjects that revolve around the activities of government and their agencies. But the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the country seemed to have temporary buck the trend. Therefore, the thrust of the study is to examine the extent of coverage and the direction or slant of news presentation by the Nigerian press on the outbreak of Ebola virus in the country between June and December 2014.
1.3 OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The objectives of the study are as follows:
1. To determine the extent of the coverage of the Ebola virus disease by the Nigerian press.
2. To examine the direction/slant of news presentation on the Ebola virus disease by the Nigerian press.
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The following research questions are the framework for the study:
1. What is the extent of coverage of the Ebola virus disease outbreak by the Nigerian press?
2. What is the direction/slant of news presentation by the Nigerian press on the Ebola virus disease outbreak?
1.5 SCOPE OF THE STUDY
This study would attempt to explain public perception of newspaper coverage of Ebola epidemic outbreak in Nigeria.
1.6 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The study would show that the press is alive to its social obligations of being responsive and responsible for the safety and general welfare of people in the society. Also, the study would underscore one of the fundamental roles of the press as the purveyor of information which would help people to live a meaningful and comfortable life.