By Isaac Asabor
Agenda-Setting as a Mass Communication theory describes the ability of Journalists to play up an issue on the public agenda. Explanatorily put, if a news item is frequently reported and commented upon, the audience will regard the issue as more imperative. Practicably, the theory demonstrates the fact that Journalists are more on a better pedestal than other professionals to influence people’s opinion, and make them understand certain issues as salient. Thus, print, online and broadcast Journalists will then take away the audience’s ability to think for themselves. It is expedient to assert in this context that the foregoing was the reason why Tom Stoppard quotably said, “I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon”, while Oscar Wilde in a similar vein quotably said, “In America, the president reigns for four years, and journalism governs forever and ever.”
Ostensibly to buttress the expediency of Agenda Setting, media experts recently contended that the case that years back exposed DPO George Iyamu and Lawrence Anini, a notorious armed robbery kingpin, still serves as prime example of media agenda setting as it captivated the country, and news outlets for years, even as it recently reverberates and finds expression in the prevailing case of the now suspended DCP Abba Kyari, who is presently embattled over bribery allegation levelled against him.
For the sake of clarity, it is germane to opine in this context that Agenda-setting theory was formally developed by Dr. Max McCombs and Dr. Donald Shaw in a study on the 1968 US presidential election. In the 1968 “Chapel Hill study,” McCombs and Shaw demonstrated a strong correlation between what one hundred residents of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, thought was the most important election issue and what the local and national news media reported was the most important issue. By comparing salient issues in news content with the public’s perceptions of the most important election issue, McCombs and Shaw determined the degree to which the media sways public opinion.
Added to the foregoing, Agenda setting is the media’s ability to transfer salient issues through their news agenda. This way, the public agenda can form an understanding of the salient issues. Two basic assumptions underlie most research on agenda setting. Firstly, the media do not just gather news stories around events, they filter such stories and shape (edit) them, and secondly, media concentration on a few issues and subjects leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than other issues.
At this juncture, permit me to confess that if I am asked to choose, among topics of national importance, that the topic that would be topmost to me at the moment would be that of legislating against broken campaign promises. If I am asked why I am fingering legislating against broken campaign promises, I would not hesitate to say that due to incessant broken campaign promises by some elected and appointed political leaders that democracy has since it began to evolve in the country in 1999 has been on its head. Without any iota of exaggeration, broken campaign promises has culminated into a situation where democracy has failed to deliver dividends, and many leaders across the three-tiers of government have not been able to capitalize on democratic gains to better the collective wellbeing of the people. Aptly put, despite successive elections, democracy has failed to deliver on good governance.
Without any iota of exaggeration, if leaders are not kept on their toes and made to account for broken campaign promises, the wheel of democracy may literarily keep grinding without leaving lasting beneficial impacts on the people.
It is germane to say in this context that promises made by politicians during campaigns are tracked across many countries in the world. For instance, the “Biden’s Promise Tracker” monitors the 100 most important campaign promises of President Joseph R. Biden, elected in November 2020. Biden said his top priorities were fighting the coronavirus, improving the economy, responding to calls for racial justice and combating climate change. For each campaign promise, reporters research the issue and then rate it based on whether the promise was achieved, and categorized in the following order: Promise Kept, Promise Broken, Compromise, Stalled, In the Works or Not Yet Rated. As gathered, they are rated not on the president’s intentions or effort, but on verifiable outcomes. It would be recalled that the tracking organization previously tracked the promises of President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama.
Agenda-setting demands that for the mass media to successfully influence public opinion, reportages on chosen topic must be repetitive, as reportages are collectively like rain drops that ordinarily appear innocuous but with persistent drops it is potent enough to erode a rock. It is against the backdrop of this time-tested fact that always hold true that I am expressing this view, even if my article titled “Expediency Of Criminalizing Broken Campaign Promises” was published on this veritable online platform on August 16, 2021. Then, it may sound logical to ask, “Why are you writing about it again?” The answer to the foregoing question, no doubt, cannot be farfetched as this view, though from a different perspective, is meant to fulfil what Agenda Setting demands; Repetitiveness. Again, the reason cannot be farfetched as a politician who actually does what he told voters he would do seems almost unfathomable in Nigeria, thus making our country to be fast appearing as a nation of broken promises.
Finally, I am using this opportunity to call on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), which are engaged in advocacy, information sharing, research, and capacity building to bring their mission of strengthening the link between civil society and the legislature through advocacy and capacity building for civil society groups and policy makers on legislative processes and governance issues to bring their activities to bear on this challenge of ensuring that politicians who renege on their campaign promises are held accountable. Again, it is expedient to also urge Journalists and writers to make the issue a top priority on the scale of Agenda Setting.
Against the foregoing backdrop, it is expedient to encourage our lawmakers to throw up Bill on broken campaign promises in the house, dispassionately deliberate on it and hasten to pass it as it is imperative for political leaders to try to keep promises made during election campaigns. Why the haste in introducing such bill and hastily passing it? You may have asked. The answer cannot be farfetched as failure to do so can breed voter disenchantment, with both politicians and politics in general as we are already witnessing. It is also democratically dubious when seen from the fact that many voters cast their votes with these promises in mind, so it is not an overstatement to regard breaking them as a betrayal of voters’ trust.
At this juncture, it is demonstrable enough to liken the electorates to consumers in a given market environment, and graphically analyzed how politicians’ broken promises are reacted to. According to psychologists, such as Susan Kraus Whitbourne, consumers tend to be angrier when a product fails than happy when it lives up to expectations. Further, when products are deemed to be poor, we tend to generalize our anger to other similar products. Argued from the foregoing perspective, not few Nigerians are today angry with the politicians to the extent that the country is today overburdened with the threat of secession from two major ethnic nations that comprise the country.
In fact, political observers are of the view that Nigerians, more than ever before, are becoming angrier over broken campaign promises, and agreeing that mounting broken promises can poison the people’s view of all politicians.
Finally, it is expedient to opine that broken campaign promises should be legislated against as politicians mischievously renege on their promises as they are cocksure that the Courts will not enforce campaign promises or penalize them for not fulfilling campaign promises made by them. After all, Ecclesiastes chapter 8 verse 11 says, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil”.