Positionality and Commercialization of Political Content in US, UK Media Coverage of African Elections

Positionality and Commercialization of Political Content in US, UK Media Coverage of African Elections

Paul Obi (Independent Researcher, Nigeria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9821-3.ch010
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Democracy, as the argument goes, has assumed a media character in the midst of mediatization of global politics. This has become more glaring in media coverage of politics vis-a-vis elections. In a way, it has fundamentally ignited the debate on media imagery and projection of power. Overall, the coverage to a large extent is particularistic in a sense as western media re-enacts the social realities of the global south to western audience. This chapter therefore argues that at the very core of this pattern of western media coverage of the global south, specifically, African elections, lies the positionality of issues and the commercialization of political contents. A recurring decimal of this coverage of African elections is the dominance of commercial contents over political journalism, mediatization, democratization, and political contents. The chapter also extrapolates the degree to which western media position African elections in a commercialized way and the implications of such media construction on political communication.
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For nearly three decades, the role of international communication continues to elicit divergent opinions about the extent foreign news media influence society, mostly western audience. Scholars in a broad spectrum of research have tended to argue that this pattern of media influence on audience is more pervasive in western democracies, (Bahador, 2015; Robinson, 1997; Robinson, 2005; Zingarelli, 2012). For example, the argument that such media coverage has a corresponding influence on policy chain in western societies is not an abstract perception that is merely theorized but an observable news media phenomenon that have been proven over time. Within the context of power and how media and communications shape public opinion and decision-making processes in public affairs, the focus is not just news media ability to churn out news stories, sound bites and images, but the evolving impact that is occasioned by a compelling action or decision taken by the state or those with the levers of power to act in consonance with the news reported.

Though, the effect of international news became more eminent during US intervention in the Cold War, a basic aspect of the theoretical framework of the concept is that western media, mostly, United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) news organizations are at the center of such influence. This effect through the act of beaming events from the global south to American and British audience in furtherance of their foreign policy agenda initiates some ideological bend in the reordering of global politics and policy. At its best, the characterization of the impact of international news lies squarely on the capacity of the media to shape and control (Cohen, 1994; Robinson, 2005) the public and audiences through the manufacturing of consent (Herman and Chomsky, 1988) of events and ideologies.

Critically, a study of new dynamics in international communication and their implications in media and political communication studies obviously reaches a significant point. Scholars further argued that the importance of studying global media framing of issues and politics is hinged on the international spread of such news and how they reconfigure power relations, initiate purposive social actions and enact symbolic power, (Flew, 2007; Foucault, 1988; Strange, 1988; Thompson, 1995). Thompson (1995) again contended that through symbolic power, the media is trusted to shape and control beliefs, values and ideologies of citizens.

For instance, CNN reporter Nima Elbagir's report on the sale of US weapons to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) ending up with rebels in Yemen has now become a national issue in the US, with many lawmakers in Capitol Hill calling for an investigation. More substantially, commendations from US Senate Democrat, Chris Murphy commending CNN and Elbagir and calling for an investigation on that report 'because the US military did not know” that such illicit-deal connecting US weapons with rebels in Yemen is a glaring example of the impact of international news. The argument is that beyond this effect, a new approach and concentration of western media in covering the global south, Africa and elections in particular have engrained other new approaches and focus.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mediatization: The process or theory whereby the media and news platforms shape and frame public discourse and debate, acting as an accelerant in advancing the democratic and political systems and campaigns.

Commercialization: The highlight and strengthening of business, commercial, market and economic contents and indicators in media texts at the expense of other socio-political, societal, democratic, media-centric and other related contents.

Democratization: The processes of advancing democratic and political culture, creating access to democratic norms and improving on democratic and political participation.

Positionality: A postmodernist theory that dwells on identity, values, race, culture, social location, views, perceptions and demography that shapes and influences our understanding of the world.

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