Open access peer-reviewed chapter - ONLINE FIRST

Newspaper Framing of Oil Pollution

Written By

Chika Ebere Odoemelam

Submitted: December 20th, 2021Reviewed: January 18th, 2022Published: April 20th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.102731

JournalismEdited by Wan Norshira Wan Mohd Ghazali

From the Edited Volume

Journalism [Working Title]

Assistant Prof. Wan Norshira Wan Mohd Ghazali, Dr. Saodah Wok and Dr. Shafizan Mohamed

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This chapter wittingly examines the framing of oil pollution news stories among newspapers in Nigeria. Evidence abounds in the literature showing that oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta has generated both local and international outrage and condemnation over many decades. The direct impacts cum problems resulting from oil pollution have led to economic depravations, destruction of farmlands, and livelihood of the people. This chapter explores the problems of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, the roles of newspapers in the coverage of oil pollution in Nigeria, environmental communication in Nigeria, and framing oil pollution in Nigerian newspapers.


  • newspapers
  • framing
  • oil pollution
  • Niger-Delta region
  • MOCs

1. Introduction

For this study, I seek to develop the modalities and strategies of framing oil pollution in print media. The critical analysis of the various meanings, perceptions, and methods of media framing of oil pollution, and other environmental problems in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and elsewhere contribute to this objective by referencing other relevant authors in environmental journalism. Such analysis has become necessary for readers and scholars to understand the enormous problems associated with oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. Moreover, it is the author’s view that this systematic approach can be used to make a more nuanced, qualitative assessment of media coverage of oil pollution in Nigeria and globally, which, in turn, allows for comparison across the broader spectrum of environmental issues. The ability to compare across the board how cases of oil pollution are framed in the media is essential to achieving the second, third, fourth, and fifth goals of this chapter—problems of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, roles of newspapers in the coverage of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, environmental communication in Nigeria and framing oil pollution in Nigerian newspapers.

As a result, accounts in literature have shown that oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta has generated both local and international outrage and condemnation over many decades. The anger and frustrations were related to the constant destruction of livelihood and the natural environment of the oil-bearing communities by multinational oil companies (MOCs) operating in the region. The air and water in the region stink, while the fish and crabs smell pure “sweet bonny” light crude oil [1]. Consequently, the cumulative impact of this situation has impoverished millions of farmers of Niger Deltans that depend on streams, seas, rivers, and oceans for survival.

The above portrays a scenario of the numerous economic, social, and health impacts of oil pollution on the host communities of oil companies operating in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. There is a significant link between how these environmental problems are constructed and presented in the media and how it shapes opinion leaders’ views. Therefore, there is a growing quest for information from the public on environmental issues, such as oil pollution. As a result, this chapter discusses the problems of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, the roles of newspapers in the coverage of oil pollution in Nigeria, environmental communication in Nigeria, and framing oil pollution in Nigerian newspapers.

Annually, information from various outlets, including books, journal articles, and periodicals, shows that the Niger Delta region of Nigeria suffers from hundreds of oil pollution, which damages the environment and devastates the local population [2]. Powerful actors in the oil industry and the Nigerian government have failed to prevent and clean up the oil pollution. The negligence in the Niger Delta region has resulted in decades of contamination. As a result, Shell and other multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria’s Niger Delta have made the region one of the most polluted places on earth [1]. The entire population of Nigeria’s Niger Delta depends primarily on the marine ecosystem and other farm products for their survival. Hence, any environmental degradation that affects water resources and land reduces the potential for sustainable livelihood in the region.

Oil pollution has threatened the environment and local people for many decades. The pollution of farmlands and the collapse of the local economy of the people of Niger Delta is a further significant indicator of environmental contamination [3]. Also, over the years, oil pollution has negatively impacted the physical environment of oil-producing communities. Elum, Mopipi, and Henri-Ukoha [4] observed that oil pollution has increased the rate of environmental pollution in the Niger Delta and perpetuated food insecurity due to the death of fish, crops, loss of farmlands, and viable rivers for other economic activities. The pollution also threatens subsistence peasant farmers and the environment; hence, the entire livelihood and survival of the people [5]. The release of crude oil into the streams, lakes, rivers, beaches, seas, oceans, and land in the Niger Delta region can be identified as the primary cause of extreme poverty. Thus, when oil pollution occurs, it becomes poisonous and threatens the rich coastal habitat of the affected areas. Besides, Okonkwo et al. [6] argued that 70% of the people of the Niger Delta region live below the poverty line with less than $1 a day and without essential amenities. The arguments by Okonkwo et al., Elum et al., Plessi, and Amnesty international showed that oil pollution has severely impaired the coastal ecosystem in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. It has also compromised the livelihoods of the region’s impoverished residents and thereby causing restiveness among the youths. Therefore, the discovery of oil in Nigeria since the 1950s has made the country a victim of negative environmental consequences of oil pollution. These have manifested into a decrepit and squalor situation for the people and revealed how multinational oil companies in the region had neglected their corporate social responsibilities [7]. It is as a result of these environmental pollution issues in the Niger Delta that this chapter on framing oil pollution has become necessary.

First, it is of utmost importance to study the local newspapers, which are still the primary source of information for the locals to understand the oil crisis [8]. After all, it was evident that media could influence directly, by summoning an emotional or intellectual response and indirectly by controlling exposure to particular events. Moreover, the complexity of those events in the media is subject to public scrutiny [9]. As a result, discussing the framing of oil pollution in the print media across the local newspapers in Nigeria is essential. This is done by setting the media agenda with news framing. The agenda-setting focuses on the association between media coverage and population perception of issue importance. It implies that the frequency of news story presentation and how the media conveys that coverage correlates to population perception about the importance of an issue or topic 10]. While framing “is the process of culling a few elements of perceived reality and assembling a narrative that highlights connections among them to promote a particular interpretation” [11]. Because of the above reasons, the media can shape and mold the Niger Delta leaders’ views through coverage of specific topics [12].

Consequently, the success of any media organization in reporting environmental issues and fostering awareness of the dangers of environmental degradation and pollution caused in Nigeria by activities of multinational oil corporations depends on its ability to gather, process, and disseminate relevant and timely environmental news to the public. Thus, news framing and coverage of oil pollution by the media are worthy of study because they represent environmental issues that affect people nationally and internationally. Nerlich et al. argued that environmental problems, such as global warming receive more attention from the scientific community, whereas oil spills are mainly left out [13]. Similarly, to create environmental awareness and understanding, the mass media must be at the forefront of the crusade against environmental degradation while considering the public [14]. Besides, the newspaper culture in Nigeria is that of trust, mainly when information emanates from privately owned newspapers. The majority of the country’s newspapers are owned by private individuals who often seek to ensure that the best work for them as men and women of the pen profession [15]. Therefore, newspapers have become potent tools to disseminate information about environmental pollution and other related topics. Scholars like [16] see it as the last beacon of hope for society. The media is the last beacon of hope as it is expected to fight injustice melted to the public by the government of the day without fear or favor through accurate and objective reporting of issues. Again, the press is the hope of society because it must ensure freedom of speech, respect for human rights, and act as a watchdog of society.

Privately owned newspaper outfits in Nigeria are usually more direct in their reports and are not given to unbridled propaganda to act as government mouthpieces. Without fear or favor, they typically report the story as it is. Some are more vociferous in criticizing government policies and get hounded and molested by agents of government [17]. As a result, privately owned newspapers have contributed immensely to the growth of oil pollution framing and coverage by being more responsive to the people of the Niger Delta region, critical of the oil giants and the government, and open to opposing perspectives in their coverage of oil pollution. They have also contributed to understanding the dangers of oil pollution by the people in the affected region by framing oil pollution as responsibility, human interest, economic consequences, conflict, morality, human health concerns, insecurity, and economic depletions. The above qualities associated with privately owned newspapers enhance public trust in every oil pollution news story and other news items. Against this backdrop, the content of this chapter is well understood and taken as a thorough picture of the environmental situation in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. However, there are exceptions, and, in some instances, some newspaper proprietors project their sentiments and bias based on ethnic affinity. Likewise, privately owned newspaper outfits rarely get advertisements from the government, its agencies, or individuals against the government.

On the contrary, government-owned media are mainly propaganda machinery to popularize government policies. They are subordinates to authoritative systems and are not independent of the government [18]. Thus, citizens do not place considerable trust in government-owned media compared to the private. In this chapter, oil pollution news stories and others from government media are seen as inaccurate and government cover-up due to lack of trust in government institutions. As a result, easy access to newspapers in Nigeria can give the print media a significant role in setting an agenda, framing, and influencing opinion leaders on oil pollution.

Consequently, this chapter investigates news framing of oil pollution as an environmental issue in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, the problems associated with oil pollution in the Niger Delta region, roles played by Nigerian newspapers in the coverage of oil pollution in Niger Delta, what environmental communication is all about especially in the Nigerian context or elsewhere, and framing of oil pollution in Nigerian newspapers. The chapter ends with a conclusion. It is important to emphasize that mass media contributors and commentators often believe that the media is doing a good job or has done enough to create awareness about environmental catastrophes facing humanity, such as oil pollution, climate change, global warming, and greenhouse emissions. This assertion sometimes tends to support the notion that the media, especially in the “Western societies,” often does not care about the environmental problems of the world’s developing countries. Nevertheless, they forgot that as we live in a global society, whatever affects the poorer nations would invariably spill over to the developed countries. Based on this, new concerns, debates, and investigations about the rampant oil pollution ravaging the Niger Delta region of Nigeria be looked into and perpetrators brought to justice as often done in the developed world. The opening premise on how Nigerian newspapers frame news on oil pollution will continue to matter and generate tensions between the multinational oil companies (MOCs) operating the region and their host communities. This is because issues related to oil pollution in the region are more complicated than ever, thus necessitating more dialog between the parties and transparency on the government and the oil companies for better understanding.

Thus, the specific objectives in this chapter include exploring the different news frames used by Nigerian newspapers in their coverage of oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta; explaining the problems associated with oil pollution in the Niger Delta, the role of newspapers in the framing of oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, examine environmental communication in the Nigerian context, and framing of oil pollution in Nigerian newspapers. Hence, it is important to understand that Nigerian newspaper constructions and presentation of oil pollution in the Niger Delta region are still widely articulated with human health concerns, destruction of means of livelihood, economic loss, conflict, perpetrators of oil pollution, lack of empathy on the part of oil companies, sabotage, and environmental degradation.


2. Methodology

In examining the objectives of this study, content analysis (quantitative) was used as the main research method. Three newspaper contents, namely, The Daily Sun, The Guardian,and The Punch,were analyzed to understand the various news frames used by these newspapers, the problems associated with oil pollution in the Niger Delta, understand the meaning of environmental communication within the Nigerian context, roles of Nigerian newspapers in the coverage of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, and newspaper framing of oil pollution in Nigeria. Boukes and Vliegenthart [19] note that examining the quality of a newspaper’s coverage of an event is as significant as examining its quantitative report. This helps to provide a fair overview of how the media reports on problems.

Content analysis as a research approach is non-obstructive since no measurements are made that alter the things being examined. Similarly, content analysis is a systematic, objective, and quantitative examination and analysis of communication to quantify variables Kerlinger [20]. Clayton et al. [21] explain content analysis as a research “technique for making replicable and valid references from data to their content.” In comparison, Mohajan [22] described it by listing three essential elements in content analysis—a systematic review, objective examination, and quantitative study.

The content analysis method was used to study the kinds of frames used by the selected three newspapers in news coverage on oil pollution in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Frames were observed in the texts and around the contexts of news production in the three selected newspapers chosen for this chapter. These newspapers include The Daily Sun, The Guardian, and The Punch. They were chosen because they have a wider circulation, are readily available, maintain regional offices in all the federation states, and are ethnic-based newspapers. The content analysis method for this study followed trends in the five news frames that Semetko and Valkenburg [23] developed and used in framing news analysis. The five news frames developed by Semetko and Valkenburg are responsibility, economic consequences, conflict, human interest, and morality. The content analysis examined 1095 editions of the three selected newspapers from 2008 to 2018. The Daily Sunhad 497, The Guardian206, and The Punchhad 392 editions. Only news stories on oil pollution from the three selected newspapers were examined and coded first via trial coding using the Semetko and Valkenburg [23] 20 questions in the coding sheet. According to Semetko and Valkenburg [23], there are two main approaches to confirm the existence of news frames using content analysis. The first approach is the inductive approach. An inductive process involves analyzing a news story with an open view and revealing possible frames. The merit of this research method lies in the unobstructed view to ensuring that no frame will go unnoticed. However, on the other hand, it is time-consuming, difficult to replicate, and for the most part, based on a small sample.

The second approach is the deductive method, whereby frames are extracted theoretically from literature and coded in standard content analysis. This approach requires a clear idea of frames that should be in the study. The advantages of this approach are; it is replicable, can manage large samples, and quickly detects differences in framing between media and within media. As a result, this study analyzed newspaper coverage in The Daily Sun, The Guardian, and The Punchusing the deductive approach model. Semetko and Valkenburg’s [23] framing analysis model was used to determine the kinds of frames the three selected newspapers used to cover oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. This model has a set of standard content analytic criteria to measure the five conventional frames often seen in news stories.

The five news frames are first, (1) responsibility, which means issues are framed, so, their accountability is on organizations, individuals, or governments. The second news frame is the economic consequences, covering an issue or event in terms of how such an issue affects people’s lives, works, and livelihoods. In contrast, the third news frame is the conflict, which emphasizes conflicts between parties or individuals and stresses divergence between the opponents. The fourth (4) news frame is the human interest, which offers a personal and emotional perspective in presenting issues or problems to draw national and international attention. The fifth (5) is the morality news frame, which offers news stories or environmental pollution as issues concerning God, religious beliefs, and moral perspective. Numerous studies, such as [24, 25, 26, 27] applied this question sheet to study framing analysis. Also, the various studies concluded that the 20 questions are reliable and validly reflect the frames.

Furthermore, attention was only given to headlines, environmental news pages, local news, and national news in all the pages of the newspapers. The systematic sampling technique was used to illustrate the newspaper sample for this study from the three selected newspapers—namely, The Daily Sun, The Guardian,and The Punch. Hence, every Monday–Friday was chosen bi-weekly as a sample because they are the week when the selected three newspapers publish environmental news [28]. Therefore, every edition of The Daily Sun, The Guardian, and The Punchnewspapers were examined to observe oil pollution reports within the period covered by this study (2008–2018). The author went through all the three papers’ editions and looked for only straight news stories about oil pollution. This study’s straight or hard news stories are only essential and concise oil pollution stories covered by the three selected newspapers. All the different pages, columns, and sections of the selected three newspapers were examined word-to-word thoroughly to ensure that no information was left. The author left environmental pollution stories from sources, such as editorials, feature articles, and opinion stories.

Reasons for not including them in the study were as follows; editorials are written by news editors to show the media organizations’ position on a particular issue. Features articles are a form of storytelling, and opinion stories are from individuals outside the media. The study period was from January 01, 2008 to December 31, 2018. The years under review were selected because of increased incidences of oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, high incidents of militant attacks on oil installations, anti-government and oil companies’ protests by their hosts’ communities. Data analysis covered all the oil pollution news stories published by the selected three newspapers from January 01, 2008 to December 31, 2018.

Besides, content analysis is also well established in environmental pollution studies in Nigeria. For instance, Balarabe and Hamza [29] used content analysis to study Nigerian newspaper coverage of climate change from 2009 to 2010. In 2017, Emenyeonu [30] also used content analysis to study environmental issues beyond climate change in the Nigerian press. However, these studies were limited to 1 year and 2 years of studies, respectively. However, this study was for 10 years.


3. Problems of oil pollution in the Niger Delta

Over the years, the media in Nigeria has evolved into a societal institution that influences the nation through news coverage. For example, the oil pollution in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria has become part of media coverage over the decades. Oil pollution in the Niger Delta is reported based on the destruction of the people’s livelihood, human health impacts, economic depletion, people responsible for the pollution, insecurity, and ecological degradation. One way the media use in covering oil pollution is framing. Entman [31] explained that “framing makes a piece of information more meaningful or memorable.” The extent of news story coverage on oil pollution in the Niger Delta region in terms of frequency will influence the public’s perception of its meaning or significance. The media plays a significant role in shaping popular opinions on oil pollution, the economy, and politics because the media coverage of events is the primary news source that people use to form opinions on public issues, such as oil pollution.

This section explores the problems of oil pollution in the Niger Delta region as reported in the print media in Nigeria. The presence of oil in farmlands, seas, oceans, creeks, and arable lands in the Niger Delta region has attracted attention from media professionals and research scholars. Scholars, such as [32, 33], have highlighted the public concern about the destruction of their means of livelihood, health impacts, the environment, and frequent conflicts between multinational oil companies (MOCs) operating in the Niger Delta region and the oil-bearing communities due to oil pollution. This anxiety emanates from their decades of experience over the negative impacts of oil pollution, leading to thousands of deaths and even forceful shutdown and expulsion of Shell workers out of the region in the late 1990s. Previous writings or studies in the Niger Delta region focused on oil pollution, massive landslides, air pollution, famine, erosion, climate change, and biodiversity (AIOmamuyovwi, 2017) [8, 34]. However, despite all this evidence, the government has not done enough to prevent these atrocities caused by multinational oil companies (MOCs) in the region daily.

Past studies on framing oil pollution news stories in Nigerian newspapers have focused on oil pollution as “conflict” and “war.” However, they did not talk about the kinds of frames used and views of Niger Delta opinion leaders. Additionally, previous studies also revealed that 71.8% of Nigerians rely on newspapers as sources of information, especially in the South-east and South-west of the country [35, 36]. Although, in principle, the news media, in general, should be the fourth estate for the public, ownership of media could limit its roles and responsibility. Hence, it can be argued that any media organization may skew its news framing and agenda-setting towards the demand of the owners. Writing about the framing of oil pollution news stories in the Nigerian newspapers is essential because oil pollution has led to the economic crisis in the Niger Delta region. Elum et al. [4] posit that oil pollution has caused food insecurity, loss of arable lands for economic activities, death of fishes and other aquatic organisms. Also, Babatunde [37] adds that oil pollution is mainly associated with poverty, protests, insecurity, hunger, destruction of mangroves and livelihood, and damage to soil fertility. Since oil pollution leads to an economic crisis, it has become necessary to explore how they are framed in the Nigerian newspapers. This is because knowing how oil pollution is framed and the kinds of frames used would enable the members of the society to understand which newspaper is doing a great job in reporting the menace.

Furthermore, oil pollution is challenging to the environment and the farmers in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. This is due to the release of oil into oceans, creeks, rivers, seas, streams, rivers, and lakes in the Niger Delta region. As the region’s people are mainly farmers, the immediate impact cum problems resulting from oil pollution have led to economic depravations, destruction of farmlands, and livelihood [5, 38]. Framing has become necessary to help journalists, and news editors explain why oil pollution news coverage is salient or important. This is because oil pollution poses a massive threat to farmers and the environment. As Duru [39] argued, oil pollution causes considerable damage to plants; oiled shoots of cash crops wilt and die, and crop yield is stifled. This reduces the amount of disposable income available to farmers and their families. Oil pollution also disengages farmers from their farming businesses, causing economic hardship to themselves and their dependents [40]. Therefore, it is known that oil pollution causes considerable damage to Nigeria’s Niger Delta region’s overall means of survival. From Idumah and Okunmadewa [40], the above argument shows that oil pollution reduces the quality and quantity of food available to households in the Niger Delta.

Besides, oil pollution poses a considerable challenge to the oil-bearing communities of the Niger Delta region. For instance, when the oil-bearing communities eat food, such as vegetables, fish, and other aquatic organisms, exposed to oil pollution, it causes human health problems, such as skin diseases, rashes, neonatal deaths, birth deformities, and diarrhea [41]. On the other hand, when fishes get in contact with crude oil, the impact of natural and artificial elements levels in the sediments of fishes in Niger Delta water increases. As a result, oil pollution into streams, rivers, lakes, creeks, and farmlands could cause a 45% increase in the carcinogenic danger level in humans. Hence, after so many years of exposure to oil pollution, eating fish from these sources could cause harmful effects, such as cancer [42]. In the same vein, Sako [43] argued that plants and animals accumulate dangerous and harmful toxins in their tissues when exposed to oil pollution. In this scenario, media construction of oil pollution as human interest would enable the people to understand which newspapers, such as The Daily Sun, The Guardian, The Punch, Vanguard,or The Daily Post, used it the most in the coverage of oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Also, people exposed to oil pollution show high disease symptoms and environmental distress, such as worries, annoyance, and intolerance as some of the region’s health effects [44].

Oil pollution has led to constant conflicts in the Niger Delta region. Over the last fifty decades, oil pollution has led to numerous militant groups’ arms struggle and proliferation in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region [45, 46]. Thus, Babatunde [37] argued that the direct consequences of oil pollution have led to multi-dimensional and protracted conflicts in oil-bearing communities. Exploring the framing of oil pollution is significant to ascertain which Nigerian newspapers used the conflict frame more in the coverage of oil pollution in the Niger Delta region. This is because most of the affected communities sometimes resort to militancy as a last resort by joining groups like Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) or Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF) to attract the attention of both the multinational oil companies (MOCs) and the government of Nigeria for compensation. Hence, it is known that oil pollution causes considerable conflict and damage to Nigeria’s Niger Delta region [46]. Environmental pollution caused by oil plays a vital role in creating conditions for the present culture of conflicts in the Niger Delta. Such factors as poverty, media exposure, hopelessness among the youths in the region, and depressed economic situation are among other problems orchestrated by oil pollution.

Research from other countries, such as the United States, shows that US newspapers frame environmental and other public health-related matters to enhance general understanding. Framing also improves appropriate responses from individuals and communities [47]. Canadian newspapers’ framing of environmental issues also influences reporters’ news values and public opinions on topics, such as the Trans Canada Keystone XL oil pipeline [48]. In Malaysia, Saifudin [49] also acknowledged that when the media communicates environmental information via news articles and features, the public perceives the media as “green” and a “proper” media that takes responsibility for nature rather than profit-oriented. Thus, the public creates a relationship between the media and environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), especially when the public contacts the media to report environmental problems. Based on the above studies, those centered explicitly on media coverage failed to address framing, which is how a piece of news, such as oil pollution, is constructed and presented in the media. The argument over the ability of the Nigerian newspapers to use framing in the coverage of oil pollution are questions that continue to elicit varied responses.


4. Roles of newspapers in the coverage of oil pollution in the Niger Delta

As the earliest form of traditional mass media, newspapers are widely read in urban and rural areas throughout Nigeria and African countries, including Ghana, South Africa, Liberia, Togo, and Ivory Coast. While some newspapers have a broader reach, others focus exclusively on the interests and information needs of the communities in which they operate. Community newspapers are published in the communities’ native languages and provide residents with information that aids their development. Community newspapers are growing in readership because people rely on them to fill information gaps. In contrast, national newspapers are experiencing a readership decline due to the emergence and growth of social media [50]. Newspapers in Nigeria sometimes take the role of educators, reporters, communicators, and sometimes agents of change and stability. Thus, the role of newspapers in representing societal issues, such as the environment, is sometimes complicated, dynamic, and chaotic. Due to substantial environmental problems in Nigeria, such as oil pollution, climate change, air pollution, erosion, and flooding, journalists, are sometimes under pressure to report these environmental issues promptly. As a result, the roles of newspapers in the coverage of environmental problems are sometimes either sketchy or confusing due to the complicated, chaotic, and time constraints faced by journalists in Nigeria. One of the problems that complicate the role of journalists in Nigeria is ownership and control, as owners tend to dictate news coverage. Also, there is the problem of lack of proper training and education on the part of journalists, financial constraints, and commercialization of news, management policy, the dependence of journalists on press releases, lack of adequate facilities, and apathy for reading and research by journalists covering environmental and other issues facing the country [51].

As educators, newspapers have a critical position in the coverage of environmental issues in Nigeria because of their ability to interpret environmental programs to the public and even follow and record their implementation. As a result, newspapers have the mandate to educate the members of the public by explaining in straightforward terms the problems at hand. In the same vein, Aiyesimoju and Awoniyi [52] described newspapers as potent forces in educating the public about society’s environmental and other social problems. Newspapers play significant roles in the existing knowledge of environmental problems in Nigeria in so many ways. Firstly, they are accessible to large proportions of the population. Secondly, newspapers dedicate more time and space to environmental topics. Thirdly, through newspapers, people are aware of crucial environmental information, such as oil pollution, climate change, and other forms of environmental issues.

Also, as a communicator, newspapers play the role of disseminating crucial environmental issues to all the relevant stakeholders, such as the multinational oil companies, government, and oil-bearing communities on the need to be environmentally friendly. According to Agwu and Amu [53], the media could offer valuable and practical information to the citizenry to make an informed decision about the environment. Newspapers also play the active role of communicating environmental problems in Nigeria and other issues, such as politics, business, entertainment, and other social issues. According to Uwaezu et al. [54], the role of newspapers as communicators is significant in the development of a world population that is aware of and concerned about the need and power of information. Additionally, newspapers act as educators and a catalyst for an informed society. However, it is also necessary to note that acquiring knowledge about making informed decisions about government programs and policies is one thing. Moreover, newspapers must ensure strict compliance and implementation of all relevant government policies, especially those bordering on oil pollution that has caused havoc in the Niger Delta region. It is vital to understand that newspapers play a significant role in the overall education of Nigerians about issues happening nationally and globally.

Newspapers play the role of agents of change and stability. They have the power to make aspects of environmental problems and other social issues more salient by drawing attention to them. Also, they have the power to distract attention from environmental issues and others facing the country by relegating them to the background. In this way, newspapers stabilize the state by thinking twice about the implications of their news reports before making them public. Similarly, Thaker et al. [55] argued that newspapers, as agents of change, have the responsibility to uphold the truth by being objective in their reportage at all times. So, there is a need for the media to always hold national interest utmost above personal or parochial interest for the country’s stability. However, insufficient training and education for media professionals like newspaper reporters and ignorance of some critical global and regional concerns might encourage sensational journalism without proper recourse to the country’s stability.

At this juncture, it is pertinent to argue that the public’s interest in environmental information is sustained by complex environmental problems, which frequently provide readers with obvious facts and figures. Individuals are aided in environmental decision-making through such detailed reporting. Even in the United States, where access to the internet has increased social media use, the local population continues to rely on newspapers for environmental news [50]. For instance, in their 2015 study of how newspapers in the US frame environmental information in community newspapers, Andsager et al. found that 44.4% or N = 68 of the people living in the communities surveyed rely heavily on newspapers for environmental information, such as climate change, global warming, and health-related information like nutrition, 26.8% or N = 41 does not depend on newspapers, while 17.6% or N = 27 depend on other sources for and 11.1% or N = 17 were neutral in their response. Also, in Nigeria, Obar et al. [56] described newspapers as potent forces in educating the public about environmental and other social problems facing society. Their study focused on reporting environmental issues in selected Nigerian newspapers. The results of their study showed that 78.1% of Nigerians surveyed depend on newspapers for their daily environmental news and other news items. Thus, as part of their detailed news coverage, newspapers advocate for public action to support commendable environmental programs or policies against harmful ones [57]. Apart from the uncommon environmental news covered daily, Nigerian media devote many pages to environmental news in their daily editions. The content of the pages keeps the readers’ informed of the newest environmental issues confronting the nation and potential remedies. Journalists contribute to environmental education and awareness via professional research, discoveries, and confirmation from prominent environmentalists [58, 59].

Many readers are drawn to newspapers by the environmental sections, which they see as a repository for environmental knowledge; specific environmental stories are sometimes published in episodes (the narrative continues from one edition to the next). This strategy maintains readers’ interest in following the story. The majority of newspaper readers are mature adults capable of making healthy choices for themselves and others (family members, friends, neighbors, and groups). Children, who account for most television viewers, cannot interpret environmental information, alone making environmental choices. They are characterized as a “politically powerless, positively-constructed group that attracts sympathy” [60]. This group accounts for a smaller share of the newspaper readership, which may be because reading and comprehending newspaper content require a certain degree of literacy. Even though a portion of the media audience is exposed to environmental news through broadcast media, they will still consult newspapers for specifics before making environmental judgments [61]. This is why newspapers have always stood the test of time as a major source of news and information among the members of society.


5. Environmental communication in Nigeria

Rarely has studies or research ever opened discussions or criticisms on the importance of the media’s role in informing the public about oil pollution and other environmental problems that they faced. What has triggered arguments for many years now was how effectively the media play their roles in different issues bordering on the environment [62, 63]. Torwel and Rodney [64] summarized this point as they identified newspapers, television, magazines, radio, and social media providers of environmental information that have helped the public to make proper environmental decisions. Similarly, efforts have been made to discuss how print media contributes significantly to the development of environmental communication by providing information that assists audiences in making vital environmental decisions and often serves as a common source of environmental information about emerging environmental threats, oil pollution, human health concerns, destruction of means of livelihood, environmental impoverishment and degradations, and those responsible for it at the national and international levels.

However, what often raises eyebrows in terms of media coverage of environmental issues, such as oil pollution in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria are the following—the degree of success or failure of news framing recorded through environmental communication by the media in a particular oil pollution incident, environmental degradation, or other environmental challenges in comparison to other risks; how effective has the use of salience in environmental communication strategy been in promoting environmental protection in a society in comparison to others; which environmental communication strategy is used to achieve what environmental communication development at a particular time?; what environmental factors influence mass media roles toward environmental communication development. This statement implies that whenever there is oil pollution in the Niger Delta region, the types of news frames, such as responsibility, economic consequences, conflict, human interest, and morality used by media will determine how the oil-bearing communities respond to such news stories. For instance, if the newspapers blame the oil companies as the perpetrators of the oil pollution or repeatedly emphasize the damage done to the livelihood of the oil-bearing communities, the youths in the affected communities are likely to protest against the oil companies and the government. On the other hand, when such oil pollution incidents are treated with levity from the media due to corruption or journalists being afraid of losing their jobs for objectivity in their news reports, youths from the oil-bearing communities sometimes rebuke and see them working hand-in-hand with their oppressors. It will be empirically meaningless to attribute the Nigerian media’s success or failure in news framing to their role in promoting environmental communication without defining a particular aspect of the environment concerned. To make the same attribution on the success or failure of the role of media in Nigeria in environmental communication is essential to know the part of the country involved and many other significant criteria for justifications. Therefore, it is evident that some environmental issues require a distinct media approach since many environmental challenges in Nigeria provide additional news sources for the media. Ascertaining a suitable media approach to an emerging environmental issue has been one of the media challenges in environmental communication. As a result, mass media sometimes vary their approaches toward an environmental threat or sometimes use multiple approaches when not yielding the target result.

Since oil pollution joined the compendium of environmental threats faced by the people of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the role of environmental communication has become more significant in the country and globally, subject to the prevalence of numerous environmental catastrophes ravaging the mother earth. Without discarding the findings of a study by Roelofs et al. [65] on the role of environmental communication in promoting environmental awareness in Nigeria, Africa, and other parts of the world, it sometimes surpasses the evaluation of short-term effects Torwel and Rodney [64]. It is indisputable that some environmental communication strategies might be off-target at the onset of environmental problems. Nevertheless, the media in Nigeria, Africa, and the globe, in general, has made tremendous progress in environmental protection and conservation through continuous news coverage and information dissemination. The decrease in media coverage and advocacy messages on oil pollution is not exclusive to Nigeria or Africa but affects other continents. Countless questions have been raised in Nigeria and other countries such as the USA on whether media institutions suffer from “OIL POLLUTION” fatigue. This is because journalists’ coverage of oil pollution in Nigeria and other parts of the globe has dwindled over the years. Among the other criticisms leveled at the mainstream media is the inadequacy of coverage of global oil pollution problems, especially in the developed world; inconsistency in the environmental topics reported in the news, most notably between cleanup of oil pollution sites and prevention; and the media’s lack of or inability to emphasize the salience of using improved technologies in oil exploration activities. Oforibika et al. [66] explained that—nevertheless, the adage that media does not tell the public what to think, but does tell them what to think about, suggests that declining coverage of oil pollution in the news in Nigeria and elsewhere might have some relationship to the public’s decreasing understanding of the urgency of the problem. Consequently, coverage of environmental issues, such as oil pollution, by the news media serves as an influential gauge of how important the issue is on the nation’s policy and cultural agendas. It also epitomizes how the media’s general response to the environmental crisis has changed over time.

Even though oil pollution and other environmental problems are wreaking havoc in Nigeria, environmental communication is still relatively new for journalists. Numerous other researches on environmental communication and oil pollution problems in Nigeria and Africa [64, 67, 68] show that environmental communication by mass media plays a critical role in bridging the awareness divide between citizens and environmental challenges and in encouraging people to follow sound environmental management practices. In this case, the media fails to frame environmental communication stories to influence public attitudes about the climate. Similarly, Keinonen et al. [69] argued that the emergence of environmental challenges, such as climate change and global warming, could have been a valid reason for the dwindling media agenda on oil pollution. Criticism of Nigerian and other African media is not only in environmental communication, but the media are also accorded either praise or blame on other environmental problems. For instance, in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, various studies have discussed media involvement in environmental promotion. Others specifically emphasized how the various mass media outlets have influenced the oil-bearing communities toward environmental awareness and consciousness. While others, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Friends of the Environment Nigeria, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, the Nigerian Environmental Society, and Amnesty International, also synthesized their coverage and reported about the environment to accommodate problem-identification and problem-solving approaches toward oil pollution and other environmental problems. An example of such research is the study by Amnesty International in 2018 concerning the oil pollution from the oil facility of Shell that polluted over two thousand hectares of farmland in the Bodo community of Ogoniland of Niger Delta. The study covered various health challenges (skin diseases, diarrhea, and cancer) in the community alongside the effectiveness of the media approaches used in the coverage of the menace. After conducting a critical analysis of the different media positions on the coverage of oil pollution in the Bodo community, the study identified many minor hiccups in the context of successful media roles in environmental communication and protection. After critically assessing the media’s various roles in covering oil pollution, the study noted some inconsiderable hiccups for influential media roles toward environmental protection. Among the media errors found is that majority of the media stories on environmental pollution are not issue-based. Too much focus on oil companies and government agencies concerned overshadowed the analysis of the health consequences of oil pollution and, as a result, trivialized what should be the primary concerns.

In addition, the study found that environmental communication and editorial messages about oil pollution in the Bodo community were haphazard. The report also found that the Bodo oil pollution tragedy messages did not engage media audiences and critical stakeholders to develop positive attitudes toward environmental protection. Professionalism in environmental media reports has been questioned, as journalists have been at the mercy of oil companies and government agencies who frame environmental news. Many journalists who specialize in environmental reporting lack the investigative skills necessary to sniff out environmental pollution issues, such as oil pollution. They also lack the relevant skills to interpret oil pollution research findings by simplifying environmental jargon into terms easily understood by the average person and writing to warn, forecast, advise, encourage, or discourage people and policymakers on environmental issues. Another drawback observed by Amnesty International in their report was that the government’s and media’s positions amid environmental disasters did not corroborate the report’s findings. Government and media campaigns on environmental communication strategies and coverage collided, resulting in cooperation and collaboration breakdowns between the two.

Consequently, the environmental community’s goals were harmed, and the efforts were criticized. The differences between the positions played by the two major actors stem from the interests each is attempting to safeguard. Given the critical nature of environmental challenges among public interests, overcoming the illustrated entanglements would take a systemic solution. According to Schwitzer et al. [70], journalists’ responsibilities in covering environmental news go beyond factual and impartial, which are essential criteria for accessing news other than climate change. Covering oil pollution and other environmental news, according to them, requires journalists should not only report competing agendas from news sources but also balance the report by emphasizing the evidence-based submissions for the audience’s environmental decisions.

Other suggestions for environmental journalists include scrutinizing those media or environmental pollution topics that can deceive the public when using them to report on environmental communication issues. Every environmental terminology associated with the workplace that is likely to be misunderstood should be clarified in simple, unambiguous language. Journalists must also obtain collective perspectives on environmental issues in oil-producing countries. The majority of environmental issues covered by the media are those that newspapers deem newsworthy, not those that the population views as environmental threats. Involving the public in environmental matters that affect them will improve their comprehension of media content. This would, in return, enhance public behavior necessary to address the environmental threats under consideration. As a result, journalists’ roles in promoting environmental communication should include advising the government and other relevant stakeholders to formulate and execute favorable environmental policies that address environmental conservation in the Niger Delta and elsewhere.

Thus, environmental communication is a tool for solving ecological problems accurately from different studies [71]. This statement from Saleh implies that environmental communication helps to solve problems our societies face. It also solves problems for corporations, organizations, government institutions, and members of the general public. Environmental communication solves problems by helping all the relevant stakeholders to understand the need for environmentally friendly practices. This definition of environmental communication implies that if members of the community behave responsibly toward their immediate environment, they are bound to enjoy a healthy environment. Hence, Hasan [72] argued that members of society are part of the atmosphere. All our actions concerning the planet are bound to negatively or positively affect the natural ecosystem and human society in general.

As a result of the discourse above, a pollution-free environment in Nigeria is possible in the nearest future. The government must develop common ground between the ecological balance in the oil exploitation and exploration activities in the Niger Delta region. Striking such a balance will ensure moral responsibility, transparency and accountability, corporate social responsibility, and sustainable interactions with relevant stakeholders in decision-making processes.


6. Framing oil pollution in nigerian newspapers

The opportunity afforded by media framing is not just that issues can be interpreted and seen from various viewpoints. However, many assertions can generate problems, changing the message design or how the public interprets or perceives the message. According to the way media framing has been conceived in several studies, it would be unrealistic to conclude that a term encompasses it. Therefore, until a consensus is reached among media framing scholars on the concept’s complete separation from other related media phenomena, such as media agenda setting and priming. The study of media framing will continue to accept interest-based concepts. Matthes [73] concurs that framing is a multifaceted definition. Although attempting to define the different ways the word is theorized and formulated, he noted that the term had been applied inconsistently. This was reflected in his attempt to define “what framing is and is not” when he examined different meanings of “frame” as synonymous with “framing.” Besides, framing is also predicated on how a topic is portrayed in the news media may impact how the public perceives it. The way news stories are portrayed in the media impacts how the public perceives them is called framing. The creators of mass media messages determine when and what to emphasize in a story by their use of words, photographs, content, and style. Also, framing theory is concerned with how news organizations choose which subjects to cover. It examines the unique forms in which specific problems are presented.

Therefore, it is necessary to explore some of the meanings of framing to understand better how framing is conceptualized and how each study adapts its use to accommodate various areas of emphasis and adverse aims in framing studies. According to McCombs and Shaw [74], framing may be thought of as second-level agenda-setting in terms of the impact of salience on media coverage on the public interpretation of news reports. According to Entman [31], framing is the process of culling a few elements of perceived reality and assembling a narrative that highlights connections among them to promote a particular interpretation. Additionally, the study further addressed the four roles of frames—problem definition, causal analysis, moral judgment, and remedy promotion. Also, framing influences and changes audiences’ interpretations and priorities by increasing the salience or obvious importance of some concepts and igniting schemas that enable target audiences to think, react, and decide in a specific way. According to Entman’s study, framing is viewed in news reporting as a causaland effectfeature. This suggests that if a news story is structured in a particular manner, the impact on the public is likely to be different if the news report is structured differently. Gitlin [75] defines frames as “principles of selection, emphasis, and presentation comprised of small implicit theories on what exists, what happens, and what matters.” There is some similarity between Entman and Gitlin’s meanings of “frame.” Both emphasize making a choice from a plethora of competing information and structuring the choice to emphasize the message. For Goffman [76], the definition of framing is more sociological than communication. However, it is one of the earliest versions of the term. Goffman’s study is broad in scope, encompassing the potential and need to construct frames of formal understandings of how various facets of the world work.

On the other hand, the definition by Iyengar [77] raised the question of journalistic integrity in news framing. He defines framing as a term related to subtle alteration in the way decisions and questions are stated or presented. The term “subtle alteration” implies that framing is not entirely free from bias during selection, inclusion, exclusion of words, and vocabulary during news writing and reporting. Gamson and Modigliani [78] are credited with developing a directional meaning that focuses on message form rather than on principles of selection and emphasis. They argued that a frame provides a core guiding idea or storyline that gives meaning to an ongoing sequence of events by weaving them together. However, it suggests that the controversy is the root cause. The essence of the definition is based on the premise that similar past stories can be linked together to provide context for understanding the current event to influence audience decisions. For example, the lack of maintenance of thousands of obsolete oil pipelines that crisscross the Niger Delta region and oil pipeline vandalism may be cited as significant causes of oil pollution.

Understanding how newspapers in Nigeria frame news about oil pollution in the country, problems associated with oil pollution, roles of newspapers in the coverage of oil pollution, environmental communication in Nigeria, and framing of oil pollution in Nigerian newspapers have become necessary as part of the effort to explore environmental journalism practices in Nigeria. Exploring the kinds of frames used by journalists, why they use salience, and the problems they face while covering oil pollution becomes a focus to appreciate the foundation of how media news stories are framed [79]. Furthermore, Wasike [80] argues that framing involves emphasizing certain aspects of reality in a particular definition, interpretation, or evaluation. Besides, framing corresponds to the process, which implies a strategic selection (conscious or not) of language features for a purpose [81, 82]. The placement of a news item on the front page and format will help to render the story more salient. Thus, the more salient, “significant” news stories are typically located at the top of each page.

In contrast, the day’s most important stories are displayed on the front page. Hwang et al. [83] emphasize how frames influence how people perceive or comprehend an event, potentially twisting their judgment. However, framing theory recognizes that individual or viewer frames may influence media content. Frames are shaped by psychographic, media usage, government, and socioeconomic factors. Druckman [12] and Chong and Druckman [84] emphasize that almost all policy discussions require some level of rivalry between contending groups to define and interpret the issues. For example, they clarify that as people partake in debates about Social Security, Foreign Aid, a Hate Group Rally, or Affirmative Action, they must contend with competing frames designed by opinion leaders to sway public preferences. Invariably, consumers of newspapers, magazines, and other information outlets are confronted with the stakeholders’ opposing and conflicting frames.

According to [83], the frame’s effectiveness depends on how well it suits a person’s pre-existing schema. The effect might be more significant when a media frame is more closely aligned with an individual’s experiences, ideology, or stored information. According to [85], framing theory is a mass media theory that examines how certain information is manipulated to make an issue salient for people’s attention and understanding. The framing theory asserts that the media critically frames national problems, emphasizing some elements above others. Although framing emphasizes how contents are selectively organized, peoples’ perceptions are mainly based on their interests. In the case of the oil pollution in the Niger Delta, the print media, namely, The Daily Sun, The Guardian, The Punch, Vanguard, and The Daily Post,can either blame the government, multinational oil companies, or the oil-bearing communities for the environmental crisis. The media could even frame oil pollution as economic consequences, human interest, conflict, and morality frames. Additionally, the media could also focus on the oil pollution problem in the Niger Delta region by using thematic frames instead of episodic ones.


7. How framing is used to analyze the works of literature in this chapter

In the coverage of news events, including oil pollution, the media usually frame or label some issues with greater salience than others through some journalistic devices. In using particular words or phrases, the media might influence how the readers perceive a situation, such as the oil pollution ravaging the oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta. Against this backdrop, the multinational oil companies, politicians, the government, and other relevant stakeholders engage the media in framing. In media framing analysis, words and phrases are among the smallest or safest recording units, which help readers to understand a phenomenon as portrayed in the media. Also, journalists often have to decide which information to include in their news stories. Reporters and editors use frames to decide what information should or should not be included in news events. These choices combine to form a frame, which refers to presenting a point of view so that the audience member is prompted to interpret the news stories in specific ways. This conforms to the views of [74]; Entman [31] that framing may be thought of as second-level agenda-setting in terms of the impact of salience on media coverage on the public interpretation of news reports.

According to Adekola and Lamond [86], the environmental conservatives and the non-governmental organizations in Nigeria leverage the media to promote their environmental ideologies. Some of the methods used include slanting of stories, placements, words, and phrases so that the opponent would be viewed negatively by the readers. They found out that the choice of words, phrases, and images journalists make when covering a story sometimes conveys a broader “angle” as they take on a controversy that can substantially portray the very same event differently than the broader controversy it represents. They explain that alternative portrayal of frames can cause appreciable influence on citizens’ perception of the issue and, ultimately, their opinions. The use of words like militant to refer to the youths in the Niger Delta region could have contributed to the increased oil pollution incidents in the region. This is because the youths, out of anger and frustration, often engage in oil pipeline vandalization to register their displeasure to oil companies and the government in the region.

Furthermore, according to Elliott [87], media organizations occasionally withhold information that may aid in comprehending news events. According to Ward [88] and Nygaard [89], this may include the journalistic norm of objectivity as an attempt by journalists to adhere strictly to deadlines. This is even though some news stories do not suit this style of journalism. Thorough coverage of oil pollution is one kind of journalistic endeavor that has shown its ability to withstand this deadline-driven approach to news reporting. Nonetheless, newspapers and radio stations have shown that they adhere to this time-honored practice of deadline journalism while covering news events. The argument by Ward [88] and Nygaard [89] is that the competitive nature of the mass media industry and the belief of many journalists that the public prefers news reporting were some of the reasons why the media adhere strictly to known news frames to cover news items like oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Hence, in a constantly polluted environment like the Niger Delta region, the media should pursue news framing and agenda-setting tasks, contributing significantly to thorough coverage of the problem. The media should provide content that enables journalists covering an issue like oil pollution to assess the situation and use the right news frame for the coverage.

The relationship between the use of the various news frame in oil pollution news reports and the opposition to oil pollution indicates a relationship between multinational oil companies, responsibility, and economic consequences and between conflict, human interest, and morality frames. Thus, according to Semetko and Valkenburg [23], there is a significant relationship in using the attribution of responsibility frame most commonly used in the news. It follows the conflict, economic consequences, human interest, and morality frames. Also, the use of these news frames depended on both the type of media outlet and the kind of topic. In the circumstances of the current study, the responsibility frame shows the inevitability of journalists and news editors not to hold multinational oil companies, such as Shell, Agip, Chevron, and Total to account for oil pollution, in Niger Delta region. Also, this study revealed that journalists use the responsibility frame to hold the Nigerian government-owned oil company like the NNPC accountable for oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Because of oil pollution, the environment in the region, such as seas, streams, rivers, oceans, and creeks, is not safe for human consumption. For instance, most communities in the Niger Delta are fishing and agrarian communities. When their drinking water sources and fish in the river are contaminated, their livelihood is threatened. This leads to severe financial losses and lowers the quality of the people’s economic lives. Also, the survival of other aquatic animals becomes uncertain. When people eat contaminated marine animals such as fish and crabs, they are equally exposed to health-related illnesses. Such illnesses include cancer, neonatal deaths, skin diseases, and diarrhea. Thus, human health implications set in, and people began to oppose the presence of the oil companies in their various communities. The opposition to MOCs is often in staging peaceful protests, which sometimes result in confrontation between the oil companies, security agents, and youths from the oil-bearing communities in the region.

Furthermore, numerous studies have reviewed the use of the news frames developed by Semetko and Valkenburg [23]. Still, their research objectives ignored the kinds of news frames used in reporting oil pollution [2, 45, 90, 91]. However, some studies in the literature have been found to use news frames to report environmental issues, such as climate change [53, 92, 93, 94]. Thus, the current study has found that the five news frames were used to cover oil pollution in the Niger Delta in The Daily Sun, The Guardian,and The Punch newspapers. This study also found a relationship between responsibility and economic consequences, responsibility and conflict, responsibility and human interest, responsibility, and morality frames. As a result, it can be understood that the relationship between the kinds of news frames used in reporting oil pollution in Nigeria is linked or related to each other. For instance, using the responsibility frame in news reports leads to holding the firms accountable for the economic problems caused. Similarly, the financial issues in the form of income loss or depletion of means of livelihood lead to conflicts between the relevant stakeholders. The conflict between the stakeholders results in human health catastrophes, which asks questions such as “Do these multinational oil companies or even the government have a conscience at all.” (morality). For the current study, the use of the different kinds of news frames as developed by Semetko and Valkenburg in reporting oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region is a chain reaction or multi-dimensional. This is because journalists and news editors cannot necessarily use the responsibility frame, for instance, without stating the apparent damage caused (economic consequences). This results in human problems (human interest), even disagreements, accusations, and counter-accusations (conflict), and sometimes rebuke or prescriptions for good behavior (morality).

Besides, journalists gave salience to the people’s livelihood through repetitive coverage and amplification of the extent of damage done to the oil-bearing communities due to oil pollution. In this regard, information about loss of income, destruction of aquatic animals, farmlands, pollution of creeks, seas, rivers, and other sources of sustenance of the people mainly appeared as headline stories. The positioning of these stories was strategic to the agenda of the selected newspapers. Such agendas include eliciting public attention and condemnation of the multinational oil companies (MOCs) atrocities, such as Shell, Agip, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total, and Texaco. Another agenda of the three newspapers is to publicize the destruction of the environment by government-owned companies, such as NNPC. According to Jonkman et al. [95], the salience of a particular issue on the public agenda is a function of its salience on the media agenda and its salience competing issues on both the media and public agendas. Just as Entman [96] puts it, “the essence of framing is sizing; magnifying or shrinking elements of the depicted reality to make them more or less salient.” As a result, Moernaut et al. [97] argues that news values help to select and construct (the most) salient participants, attributes, actions, implications, or contexts.

Since Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm first proposed media agenda-setting, several academics have offered criticisms, changes, and improvements about it. The incorporation of significant perspectives based on ongoing research on the theory by various scholars is intended to ensure that agenda-setting is consistent with and prove right the findings in—various related communication issues of study regardless of the environment of studies, classification of audience structure involved, methodological approaches, and the type of media practices under which they are studied. Agenda-setting is believed to apply to all matters vying for public attention. Mustapha [98]concurs that the public not only learns about competing issues through the media; “…they are primed to attach different importance to those issues in response to the media emphasis, and salience.” Thus, the media narrow the public’s attention to a specific issue such as oil pollution in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria by emphasizing it at the expense of others to achieve the agenda.

Agenda-setting means the “creation of what the public thinks is important.” It occurs when the media present specific issues frequently and prominently to get large segments of the public to perceive those issues as more important than the others. It can also be described as “the more coverage an issue receives, the more important it is to people” [74]. This description makes the theory the central obligation to manage news in favor of societal development in the real sense. The above argument remains valid as long as the media are ready to combine their editorial interests in prioritizing public interest stories such as oil pollution ravaging the Niger Delta region through agenda-setting and framing. As previously stated, there should be no fear of where the public interest lies since the media agenda affects news coverage. The media’s agenda-setting sways popular opinion toward issues it deems vital for debating, prioritizing, and acting upon. Media emphasis on the issue transforms the issue into agenda and ultimately manipulates the audience to perceive the issue as the most significant. As a result, the audience attributes the importance to the government’s decision to act or respond. [99] concurs that the agenda-setting theory may be applied to a variety of topics.

Besdies, McCombs and Shaw [74] affirm that scholars have adapted the agenda-setting theory to discuss and understand various topics. However, the question is how agenda-setting affects public agenda and decision-making. It is also about how media and public agendas move from one topic to the next, mainly as varying salience issues compete for audience attention and public concerns. As a result, mass media does not show the public what to think on that particular issue but tells its audience what matters to think about.

Over forty decades since the inception of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, other issues of equal importance competing for audience attention, such as air pollution, biodiversity, erosion, flooding, and deforestation. Mass media, mainly the three selected newspapers, explored the many news angles through which the issues surfaced to keep public interest aglow of the oil pollution problems in the Niger Delta. Making decisions from conflicting news stories that affect the media narrative is a challenge influenced by various factors, including the media’s view of truth and the dynamics of the world. Audience suspicion is a binding force that distinguishes between what the audience considers significant and what the audience believes to be necessary, a dichotomy that leads to salience [100, 101]. Before the advent of massive oil pollution in the Niger Delta, air pollution, erosion, and flooding were the main agenda (media and public). Despite the increase in gully erosion and flooding in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, the media subdued its saliency. They focused more on oil pollution, which is at the center of public attraction [102].

Furthermore, agenda-setting theory emphasizes that the media significantly impact listeners by selecting which stories to deem newsworthy and how much prominence and space to devote to them [103]. The emphasis is on how media reports can influence the priority accorded to artifacts of media content (issues, candidates, events, and problems). According to [104], agenda-setting asserts that listeners derive salience from the press, adding identical sets of weight into their agenda. Although the transmission of these saliences is an unavoidable by-product of journalistic experience and culture, saliences are one of the characteristics of the messages conveyed to viewers. This description implies that the media influence how the public learns about problems. Bernard Cohen, credited with developing the principle of agenda-setting, argues that the press is something more than a conduit for facts and opinion. This is because they are more frequently than not effective in influencing readers’ decisions on specific topics based on the salience assigned to those stories.

The agenda-setting theory often pays little attention to the impact of viewer experience on media message reception [105]. Everything portrayed in the media inevitably conforms to the audience’s pre-existing stereotypes of the problems. For example, a segment of newspaper readers may accept the media’s portrayal of events in the Niger Delta region. Thus, reinforcing the assertion that people subjected to similar media coverage have similar perspectives on the issues. However, oil-bearing communities of the Niger Delta, directly impacted by oil pollution and other environmental hazards, economic hardship, human health problems, insecurity, corruption, and inadequate basic facilities, may deny the majority of stories that differ from reality on the ground. By applying agenda-setting theory to the selected three newspapers’ coverage of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, it becomes clear that most oil-producing communities learn about oil pollution from what the media present to them. The public’s interpretation of the oil pollution ravaging the Niger Delta region is shaped by how news reports about the problems associated with oil pollution are presented in the selected three newspapers for this study. Hence, this study suggests that oil pollution in the Niger Delta region is one agenda that the media should cover in their reporting on the economy, climate change, and global warming as continuous oil pollution and other environmental degradation in the region has dire consequences for other parts of the world.

As a result, the primary interests of agenda-setting and framing theories are distinct and of different impacts on the audience. Another challenge is what issue the public considers most important and how the problem is interpreted depending on the organization of the news stories. Due to the unproven impact of second-level agenda-setting, it is not a complete resemblance of framing. Despite their related and supporting saliency positions for issues, the convergence of agenda-setting and framing is nevertheless subject to methodological justifications for the existence of the second-level impact on the public.

On all accounts, the overlap between second-level agenda-setting and framing is minimal, except for the duo’s unfavorable influence on the public. Continuous consideration of scientific justifications for the contrasting impact on the viewer can close the difference, thus reconciling agenda-setting and framing. The argument made in several studies by McCombs and Ghanem [106] and Ghanem [107] that agenda-setting is about issues salience reinforces the strong relationship between second-level agenda-setting and framing. This is because attribute salience is the importance placed on a subject by the media to make it seem more important to the public. At the same time, second-level agenda-setting is focused on attribute salience. However, discussions of similarities are insufficient to conclude that framing is a second layer of agenda-setting used to describe the same phenomena.

Furthermore, Aday [108] states that a frame is a more elaborated concept beyond stressing an issue’s feature. Thus, framing might reinforce the first-level agenda-setting by highlighting an issue attribute, which results in “frame-setting” [109]. This analysis does not highlight or diminish the importance of framing as an extension of agenda-setting or as a distinct theory with distinct attributes. Instead, the result of the theories (effect on the audience about oil pollution problems) remains the primary concern. The three selected newspapers’ framing of oil pollution issues has improved considering evidence relating to early prevention and containment of oil pollution. Nevertheless, prioritizing oil pollution prevention strategies to minimize oil pollution’s destruction of livelihoods, human health impacts, conflict, and economic consequences requires media attention. This has become necessary as the accumulated media attention on the oil-bearing communities of the Niger Delta in the coverage of oil pollution will reinforce the three selected newspapers’ coverage of the environmental problems in the region.


8. Conclusion

This chapter investigated news framing of oil pollution as an environmental issue in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, the problems associated with oil pollution in the Niger Delta region, roles played by Nigerian newspapers in the coverage of oil pollution in Niger Delta, what environmental communication is all about, especially in the Nigerian context or elsewhere, and framing of oil pollution in Nigerian newspapers. Thus, the study delineated the broad scope of environmental communication as embracing framing oil pollution by the print media as responsibility, economic consequences, conflict, human interest, and morality. Also, the three selected newspapers for this study mainly used the five news frames developed by Semetko and Valkenburg [23] to frame and cover oil pollution news stories in the Niger Delta region. The three selected newspapers covering the oil pollution in the Niger Delta used more responsibility, economic consequences, conflict, human interest, and less of the morality frames at different degrees. This implies that the three selected newspapers differed, to some extent, in their provision of an appropriate explanation for the oil pollution ravaging the Niger Delta, Nigeria. As a result, the people of Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, to a certain degree, have good background information for the region’s oil pollution predicament. The use of more responsibility, economic consequences, conflict, human interest, and fewer morality frames to cover oil pollution enables the public to report current oil pollution events in the Niger Delta without comprehensively explaining the issues that led to this environmental problem.

Based on the findings of this research, there is a relationship with the understanding of the agenda-setting and framing theories of the press. As a result, this study concludes thus: The five news frames used in news coverage on oil pollution differed significantly between the three selected newspapers (The Daily Sun, The Guardian,and The Punch). The Daily Sunnewspaper used more of the five news frames of responsibility, economic consequences, conflict, human interest, and morality in framing and coverage of news on oil pollution than The Guardianand The Punch newspaperswithin the study period. The three selected papers used the five news frames to heighten and convey information about the adverse effects of oil pollution in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. They used words, such as pollution of our only source of drinking water, destruction of our means of livelihood, health problems caused by oil pollution, Shell has destroyed our environment, asking for compensation to frame their stories. Also, they used words like ecosystem and mangroves pollution; we can no longer go fishing, our people are dying because of oil pollution, oil pollution has brought insecurity, oil is a curse to our region to draw the attention of the Nigerian government and global community to the plight of the oil-bearing communities.

Findings also revealed that the various news frames used in the content analysis by the three selected newspapers to cover oil pollution were replicated among the newspapers to form part of the relationship between the three selected newspapers in their use of the frames. This means that there was enormous information on the frequent use of the various news frames by the selected newspapers to cover oil pollution in Nigeria. Vreese [110] noted that the potential of the framing concept lies in focus on communicative processes that involve frame-building, frame-setting, resulting in numerous types of frames. Likewise, Mercado et al. [111] explain that the framing process consists of the intervention of the productive routines of the media, the content generated, and the use of the various frames to communicate messages to the audience. In addition, the use of these frames in The Daily Sun, The Guardian, and The Punchprovides empirical evidence to prove that journalists are echoing their views on Nigerian oil pollution issues. It also provides the journalists a forum to relay their voices more broadly than other forms of news media in the country. This notion is corroborated by De Vreese [112] that news framing has become one of the most popular concepts in communication, and recent overviews show the popularity and tremendous increase in the use of the idea in news coverage.

Based on the findings of this study, the following recommendations are made: The first recommendation is the inclusion of editorials, features, and opinion articles in future studies. It is imperative to understand that these news items provide the piece(s) of information to the mass audience. They also help to keep the public abreast of what is happening in society at any given point in time, just as straight news stories. As a result, the information about oil pollution from the editorials, features, and opinion articles news sources could improve the outcome of future studies. Secondly, another recommendation is that future researchers should endeavor to source funds on time before engaging in massive research of this nature to enable them to have the resources to reach out to the staff of oil companies operating in the Niger Delta. This is because oil pollution in the Niger Delta is a severe problem that has lingered for decades in the region. Any meaningful study in the future should include the perpetrators of the pollution to get their views on the subject.

Besides, future researchers on framing oil pollution news stories in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, should include qualitative analysis (focus group discussion) to interview traditional rulers and their cabinet members since they are closer to people and would understand the impacts of oil pollution on them more than anyone else. These traditional rulers and their cabinet must be assured of confidentiality and anonymity as per information divulged during interviews. This allows the interviewees to reveal every possible information about oil pollution in their various communities without fear or favor of being reprimanded by the government in power.

On the part of journalists, it is recommended that they undergo some training or further studies, especially in environment reporting to learn the scientific jargon associated with environmental communication. As the fourth estate of the realm, it is not only the responsibility of professional journalists to be objective in their daily news coverage and report. They are also expected to understand the intricates of their profession to avoid being sued for misrepresentation of facts in the course of carrying out their professional duties. This is because, as educators, journalists have a critical role to play in the coverage and explanation of environmental issues to Nigerians because of their ability to interpret environmental programs to the public and even follow and record their implementation. As a result, journalists have the mandate to educate the members of the public by explaining in straightforward terms the problems at hand. In the same vein, [52] described journalists and news organizations as potent forces in educating the public about society’s environmental and other social problems.


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Written By

Chika Ebere Odoemelam

Submitted: December 20th, 2021Reviewed: January 18th, 2022Published: April 20th, 2022