Media framing of Fulani as bandits, kidnappers: myth or reality?

Research work by MAWA Foundation

The fundamental function media play in a society is to make available to the people information, and expose them to the knowledge of issues that happen around them, and that shapes the way they think or act concerning their government, the society, business environment, culture, norms and other issues affecting their lives. But beyond its traditional function of providing information, the quality of media coverage and reportage which provides the basis for narrative is very fundamental.

And, this explains why media reportage should not be biased. Because the narrative from the media often shapes the way citizens perceive and understand issues and act on them (Rasheed 2019). Usually, bias in the media takes place when a news outlet covering or running a story on issues is perceived to be unfair and imbalanced.

In recent times, many Nigerians have the belief that media reportage is bias in covering stories. And, this is leading to their frustration and lack of trust in the media and the narrative they turn out which is where the current narrative of fake news is rooted on. Mr. Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, described the media narratives that brand Fulani as kidnappers and bandits as fake news targeted at supporting the activities of terrorism in the country. He added that most of the mainstream media have become a joke. This is one graphic example of how perception could affect our relationship with the media.

Hence, if the people’s perception from the media is that all Fulani are kidnappers and bandits, it may be difficult for the belief to be changed and this affects the public perception and reputation of Fulani. This works attempts to find out how media framing of Fulani as bandits and kidnappers is affecting the people’s perception towards them and how true the farming is on the basis of facts and assumptions.

It seeks to find whether the Fulani merely suffer from hostile media narratives, with the people forming opinions about them based on the media presented stories. This study becomes fundamental because the media has a huge effect on people’s perception of the way we believe and act. Thus, the framing of Fulani as kidnappers and bandits is a reflection of people’s minds.

However, there is the likelihood of the perception that Fulani are bandits and kidnappers are going to be held on for a while, based on the bias from the media framing which is putting them in more danger. And therefore, it becomes fundamental to empirically examine if this is indeed the case and if so, what can be done to address it.

Theoretical Framework

This work draws from the Agenda Setting Theory, which postulates that the media can take and emphasize issue (s) and make the public perceive or agree that they are important. And, this is why McQuail, argues that agenda-setting is a method of media influence (intended or unintended) by which the relative significance of news or events, issues in the public mind are affected by the way of presentation in news reports ( Adeleke 2020). The theory assumes that the media has the ability to turn our narratives and influence the people’s perception of them.

The media framing of Fulani as bandits and kidnappers 

Media practitioners are beginning to find attractive the framing of analysis towards a particular discipline or ethnic nationality because of the traffic it takes to their website or the popular attraction it gives to them (Scheufele, 1999). Adisa (2017), in trying to show how the media drives joy from taking the advantage of conflict, pointed out that ‘conflict is the bread and butter of journalism’ (p. 11), he added that many media are in a hurry to be the first to break the news with little effort been made to put the issues in the proper perspective.

The media has become the sole means for framing conflicts; such as Boko Haram, Kidnapping, Bandits, Herdsmen-farmers conflicts (Ahmad, 2015). For instance, Nigerian examples have shown that most of the reprisal attacks were a result of the way the media framed the story and how the people received and interpreted it.

Adisa 2017, and, in recent times, the government has not been able to address this lapse in the media reportage. Because of the media framing of Fulani as bandits and kidnappers, the conflicts among the Fulani and their host communities seem to be unabated, with the host community perceiving them as criminals responsible for all kidnapping taking place in the area.

From the North-West to North-Central, South-west, South-South, and South-East, the perception given to the people from media framing is that Fulani living in these areas are bandits and kidnappers and this explains why some persons in these areas now see a Fulani man as criminal (Itodo 2021).

The kidnapping of Schoolchildren in Katsina and Kaduna, the Kidnapping of Catholic priests in Benue, Enugu, Ebonyi, and Anambra states, and the Kidnapping of travelers and traditional rulers in Ondo, Ekiti, and Kwara states were reported to have been carried out by the Fulani without any forensic investigation by any media to find out if those who carried out the act are Fulani origin (Itodo 2021).

Ozuhu-Sulaiman, 2013, questioning the role of media in conflict reporting, argued that journalists are often in the habit of identifying people and building the image of enemies around them. This has become the fulcrum of the debate that the media framing of Fulani as bandits and kidnappers has resulted in the escalation of hatred for Fulani.

Therefore, instead of the media playing a huge role in peacebuilding, it has helped in escalating conflicts through its framing which often are not substantiated. One of the main causes of conflict escalation is the media and news framing, and this is why many societies in developing countries are struggling to achieve peace (Adisa, 2012).

Ibrahim, 2014, pointed out that there have been conflicts in the ways Fulanis conduct their affairs particularly in the cattle grazing, but what has become different is the ways the media report and frame the conflicts which are influencing people’s perception and beliefs.

Methodology 

This study adopted two methods for information gathering, (1) Desktop research where some media reports and existing literature were studied and reviewed. (2) 20 respondents were selected from the media, civil society, lawyers, farmers, and 5 Fulani Herdsmen interviewed.

Findings and Discussion 

Out of the 20 respondents interviewed, 10 said they believe that Fulanis are bandits and kidnappers from the media narratives and framing, while five of the respondents believe media framing and narrative is not enough to brand Fulani as bandits and kidnappers.

Five of the Fulani Herdsmen interviewed, said all the conflicts they are facing are as a result of media framing and narratives that project them as criminals (bandits and kidnappers). They accused the media of being bias against them in favour of their host communities.

The study shows many people who consider Fulani as bandits and kidnappers do that based on the media framing and narratives. However, few persons do not believe that media framing is enough to assume that Fulanis are bandits and kidnappers. The Fulanis believe they are been labeled criminals because of the media framing of them which they conceive as bias and unjust.

Conclusion

The study looked at how media framing shapes people’s perceptions of issues affecting them and demonstrated that media frame is capable of making society believe what may not be absolute truth. It also pointed out the fact that media framing is not enough to assume issues as they are real without further investigation to establish facts against the beliefs.

The study confirms that the bias in the media reporting and framing has contributed to the escalation of conflicts in Nigeria, mainly because of the way the recipients view and react to them. And has shown that no matter how objective the media will be, the Fulani, do not trust and believe they are serving their interests because, in their minds, they already concluded the media bias against them.

The people believe regarding media framing is largely responsible for bringing peace or escalating conflicts in any society. However, the media’s enthusiasm to break the news in conflicting reporting and to gain attraction and attract followers and expand its revenue is responsible for unprofessional media framing experienced in the Nigerian media space.

Recommendations 

Based on the findings the study recommends the following:

(1)    Media framing and reporting must be based on objectivity and truth

(2)    Media must stop framing individuals as an image of hatred

(3)    Conflict reporting must be based on fact beyond sensational headlines

(4)    Journalists and media outlets must strive to hear from all actors in a conflict triangle to balance all stories

(5)    Media must play a huge role in peacebuilding and not escalate violence

(6)    Media must be handled by professionals especially conflict reporting

(7)    The media should be mindful of its role that shapes its public reputation.

References

Adisa C (2018) Fulani herdsmen attacks: methodology and analysis

Ahmadu H, Ayuba H (2018) The role of group solidarity in conflict

Jibrin Ibrahim (2014) Nigerian Media and the Framing of Fulani: A Paper presented at the Peace and Conflict Seminar: Abuja, December 17th

Johnson Itodo (2021) Media Role in Peace Reporting: A Paper Presented at the of Journalists on conflict reporting: March 19th, 2021

Uche Amosun (2020) The Theory of Journalism and Nigerian Media, Nasarawa State University Journal of Communication Studies

Rasheed Mustapha (2019), Media Framing and Political Participation in Nigeria (article published in Premium Times

Ozuhu-Sulaiman Y. (2013). Media Israel/Palestine: empirical values Concept Ltd.

Scheufele, D. (1999) Framing as a theory of Media Effects. Journal of Communication: 103 122.

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