Nigerian newspapers' coverage of crime and the gratification of readers' safety information need 2010-2014
Rufai, Mustapha Olalekan
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The prevalence of crime in Nigeria and its aftermath on the socio-economic status and the well-being of the people, appear to have defied all efforts at ensuring safety of lives and property in Nigeria. Previous studies on media coverage of crime have established the presence of crime and fear of crime in the audience. This study, adopting the Uses & Gratifications and the Social Responsibility theories, investigated Nigerian newspapers' coverage of crime and readers ' information seeking behaviour to gratify their safety information need. The study adopted mixed-methods research techniques in quantitative (survey and content analysis) and qualitative forms (content analysis, survey, and in-depth interviews) to create data. Using constructed week sampling technique, a total of 700 issues of the selected newspapers covering a five year period (2010-2014) were sampled for content analysis. For the survey, a self- administered questionnaire was adopted for data collection. Data from 361 usable questionnaire items were analysed from a sample of 384 drawn using simple random sampling techniques from a population of 55,000. Newspapers' crime stories were content analysed in qualitative (textual) form using Ruiz (2009) Sociological Discourse Analysis. In-depth interviews were also conducted among sampled Lagos State residents. Data were analysed at univariate, bivariate and multivariate levels using the SPSS software and also qualitatively. Findings further showed that crimes such as, murder, kidnapping, and robbery were common in Lagos State. Stories on murder were 4 7 .1 %, kidnapping/abduction 21.5% and robbery at 14.5%. Kidnapping was on the rise Kidnapped victims paid a ransom to regain their freedom. Also, illegal possession of arms was common; policing was found to be ineffective. Findings also showed that the selected Nigerian newspapers reported crime stories mainly as straight news; adopted episodic reportage of crime stories with ambiguous and often misleading headlines. Findings also revealed that newspapers were sources of crime information; published crime stories mainly on the inside pages; gave salience to the coverage of violent crime over property crime; and that crime coverage educated, gratified and influenced the safety information need of the readers. It was also revealed that readers ' frequency of reading Nigerian newspapers' crime stories at x2 = 8.255; p = 0.041 , and direct experience of crime at x2 = 19.62; p = 0.020, showed a significant relationship on the gratification obtained by the readers. Unlike in general information seeking, women were found to be more information seekers about crime than men. The readers ' social demographics, gender (x2 (2) = 9.435; p< .05); age (x2 (6) = 20.307; p< .05); educational attainment (x2 (6) = 15.681 ; p< .05); marital status (x2 (8) = 22.544; p< .05); and monthly income (x2 (6) = 13 .018; p< .05) were found to be significant at, low, moderate or high gratification levels. Contrary to the widely held views of uniform effect (fear of crime) in the audience, the study established that the social demographics of newspaper readers positively influenced their cognitive deployment of newspapers' crime stories to gratify their safety information need from becoming victims. It is not in every context, therefore, that media coverage of crime creates fear in the audience. Though, the positive influence of newspaper crime coverage on the behaviour of literate audience is being advanced, the study has implications on the influence of such coverage on non-literate audience and by other mass media in Nigeria.
- Humanities