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Media, Hate Speeches And The 2019 General Elections In Nigeria: A Democratic Participant Or Democratized Press?


Perhaps given the endorsed paradigm that the media are important institutions in the democratic process that play very salient rolesin political contestations and machinations especially in democracies, the press as the Fourth Estate of the Realm provides the platform for narratives and discourses in the service of elections, political negotiations and other features of the contestations among politicians and other civil organizations involved in election administration. Ordinarily, politics should be a platform on which politicians test the popularity of their programmes, desires and aspirations for improving the lives of the people. However, political contestations in liberal democracies today are often characterized by hate speech and its attendant socio-political upheaval.Hate speech plays a key role in interrupting political peace. Recent studies have shown that thenumber of headlines and news stories that vilify specific political groups on the basis of ethnicity, religion,gender or sexual orientation seem increasing in the Nigerian media; and that, media narratives and news reportsaffect the construction and representation of the Nigerian political gladiators and the social groups they represent. (Arcan, 2013)

There’s little consensus on how to define “hate speech” across the world. Broadly speaking, we can think of it as speech aimed at denigrating people based on some aspects of their individual or group identities.Legal discrepancies and local sensitivities mean that the same quote from a source or line in a story might be considered discriminatory, hateful, offensive, dangerous, libelous, blasphemous, treasonous, seditious or perfectly acceptable from one country to the next. It is important to familiarize yourself with local red lines when reporting on controversial issues at home and abroad.The Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightsbroadly defines hate speech as any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The U.S. outlaws speech intended to and likely to provoke imminent lawless action — a very high threshold. The legal bar is much lower in most countries, resulting in bans on homophobia, racism, blasphemy, religious defamation and a range of other speech and thought crimes.

Despite its frequent usage, there is no consensus on a definition of hate speech. Boeckman and Turpin- Petrosino (2002: 23) stress the wounding and denigrating character of hate speech, stating that ‘any form of expression directed at objects of prejudice that perpetrators use to wound and denigrate its recipient is hate speech.’ According to Vollhardt et al. (2006), members of targeted groups are delegitimised, demonised, or depicted as inferior in hate speech. Tsesis(2002) also draws attentions to the irrational, disapproving, hypercritical, unjustified expressional characteristics of hate speech.In the Appendix to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation no. R (97) 20, hate speech is defined as:

… all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin.

The definition above stresses the racist, nationalist and xenophobic origins of hate speech. Matsuda (cited in Schwartzman 2002) points out that racist hate speech must be defined according to its three characteristic features. (1) Hate speech contains a massage of racial inferiority; (2) hate speech is directed against a historically oppressed group; (3) hate speech is persecutory, hateful, and degrading. Given these criteria, racist speech is harmful not because of the words all by themselves cause harm and pain, but because of the social, historical, and political context in which they are uttered.

Parekh (2006: 214) states, ‘Hate speech expresses, advocates, encourages, promotes, or incites hatred of a group of individuals distinguished by a particular feature or set of features’ and ‘when hate speech is permitted to be propagated, it encourages a social climate in which particular groups are denigrated and their discriminatory treatment is accepted as normal.’ In summary, hate speech can basically be defined as racist, nationalist or sexist speech that hurts, wounds or causes psychological and physical harm. In other words, ‘Hate speech is the rhetoric of hate crimes and perpetuates racism, heterosexism, and sexism’ (Cowan & Khatchadourian 2003:300).

Hate speech has consequences because ‘[s]peech always matters, is always doing work; because everything we say impinges on the world in ways indistinguishable from the effects of physical action, we must take responsibility for our verbal performances – all of them’ (Fish cited in Hernández 2011:841). If speech kills and harms, we must take responsibility for our words and speech. This raises crucial questions such as: where we should draw line in order to protect historically repressed groups? Is the answer censorship? Is a ban on hate speech a violation of the freedom of expression? These questions are given consideration in most scholarly treatments of hate speech, with the fundamental aim of finding the most ethical and responsible way to deal with hate speech.

Politics as a Source and Target of Hate
Conflict is bound to arise when different groups express mutually exclusive claims to truth and ideologyto be on the line. For this reason, politics and hateful or offensive speech often overlap in complicated ways. In Nigeria, we see Political Party A slamming the electorate for following a “false/bad/ fake Party,” We also see hatred within political groups.These inter- and intra-political tensions often result in interest and need-based hate speech; even if politics is just one factor in a broader conflict over resources, values, appropriation and other prebendal lines. (Joseph, 1991; 2013, Adebanwi and Obadare, 2013, Popoola, 2014; 2015a;)

Media and Hate Speech in Nigeria: A Situational Analysis
Scholarly investigations have shown that the Nigerian society and individual experiences have become so grosslymediatised that it is interesting that almost all of us validate our daily experiences by referring to the news or some other media offering. We live in a media saturated society. Yet these important meaning-­making institutions are facedwith some unprecedented challenges.First, public trust in the Nigerian media has waned over time due to ethical and professional inadequacies. There is a general belief that the media are failing in serving the public interest, and the requirements of democracy.

Related to this is the excessive commercialisation and commodification of the media. Viewership and circulation have assumed greater importance in news judgement than other social and professional values and norms. In some media organisations, the separation of the news from advertisement department has been obliterated; reporters now act as advertising officers, negotiating the fees for news coverage. Another factor is the preponderant growth of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs.) ICTs are rapidly expanding the public sphere just as they are somewhat equally undermining the traditional legacy media and communication structure. Last but not the least is the increasing influence of the ‘adjunct communication professionals’ in terms of propaganda managers, social media craftsmen and influencers on the editorial production process. The activities of these intermediaries often destabilise the news production structure, taking advantage of the unsecured nature of the Nigerian journalism boarders. (Oso,2018).

Consequently, the approach of the Nigerian media to hate speech in the polity is rooted in the identified factors and the concomitant peculiarity of the Nigerian politics and society which have, since the inception of the modern media, exerted a lot of influence on media practice, content, consumption and interpretation. Unfortunately, it is apparent that the various segments of the Nigerian society have been primed to see oneanother as enemies. Over time, we have constructed and generated so many stereotypes and negative epithets about each ethnic group that such stereotypes and epithets can easily be mobilised and find accommodation in the cultural and social frames of a particular group. Primordial sentiments and resentments based on cultural, ethnic and political polarities generate a lot of hatred and antagonism. Hate speech is more likely to thrive in this kind of social setting.

Because of economic pressure and what some have called back-­pack journalism, editorial oversight and leadership in the newsroom have declined. In many newsrooms, the sub-­desk has been eliminated; no more fact checking. It is like anything can go as far as it will bring in money and probably not libelous. The news gate has become more porous than ever. This is where propagandists and merchants of hate speech and fake news crash in. The internet-enabled social media are ready tools though the mainstream media are not spared. At least, we are all now citizen journalists and bloggers. No license. No professional training. No commitment to any social value or ethics. We must situate the current global concern about hate speech within the appropriate socio-­political context. It is not new; but its current manifestations and the moral panic it has generated, are part of the challenges ofthis period.

The point is that the socio-­political and cultural environment prevailing at a particular period is crucial in our understanding and contextualisation of what is considered as hate speech. Hate speech does not exist in a vacuum. It is socially situated, articulated and designed for some purposes. Consequently, it is suffice to submit that the structure of the Nigerian society, the nature of political machinations and contestations in Nigeria, the characters of Nigerian politicians and other elite groups, the structure of the media, the mediatisation of politics with all its sensationalism and cantankerousness; easy accessibility to technologies of production and consumption, citizen alienation from the political and economic system have made the propagation of hate speech and its consumption and interpretation quite easy and widespread.
The issue of legal regulation is becoming highly contentious. For instance, any attempt to regulate or control hate speech directly challenges the idea of freedom of expression; a foundational requirement for democracy. Such an attemptreadily offers an opportunity for intolerant and reactionarygovernments to silence critical oppositional voices and counter discourses on governmental performance and political mal administration.Evidently, political office holdersoften attempt to mislead the public by labeling any story they disagree with as hate speech. On the other hand, taking to self-censorship is inimical to the public interest. Freedom must be balanced with responsibility. (Oso, 2018

The Democratic Participant Press System:Hate Speech Signification in the Media
For those who have been keenly following the debate on hate speech and fake news in the Nigerian media, it is evident in the position of the critics of media hate speech signification in the country that hate speech is the preoccupation of the media and of journalists; and that, if one deals with the profession and its members extra judicially, the problem is solved. I wish to submit today that, in tune with the constitutionally-acknowledged tenets of the Democratic Participant Media system, there are no elemental and instrumental bases in journalism to accept any argument erected on that position. In addressing the problem however, it is accepted that what we have is a crisis of truth in the country in respect of which all hands must be on the deck to resolve for national progress.

With reference to the media, the democratic participant standard, among other provisions, widens the spectrum of freedom of expression through the media and calls for greater attention to the needs, interests and aspirations of the receiver in a political society; but with absolute adherence to professional and ethical standards.The democratic participant media prototype for democracy holds that the media must be used to express ideas, opinions, views and aspirations of the citizens especially without any restraint, gagging or censorship aimed at inhibiting press freedom and freedom of expression. However, the media are forbidden to invade private right or disrupt vital socio-political structures in which they operate. Socially acceptable and development press behaviors are thus anchored on self-regulation; but, if the media would not voluntarily behave properly, then there are definite social structures and mechanisms like constitutional prescriptions and professional code of ethics which must be strictly applied, so as to ensure that the mediabehave in compliance with recognized social standards.

Also, John Lloyd makes a very important point when he proposes that, “Journalism has meaning for those who practise it if it allows the free pursuit and publication of facts seen as important, and if it is permitted to operate in a society ready to host a competition of ideas and political positions.” Lloyd states unequivocally:

Facts provided as accurate and truthfulinformation are the first principles of journalism and the current failures in practice all over Africa that has led to the massive erosion of trust in the profession does not diminish that point. Verification of claims is the next important element of the profession while the complement factors that independence of agency and the practitioner as well as an unalloyed public purpose as the DNA of the profession offer a near complete characterisation of the experience called journalism. Any formulation outside these core principles may define other types of media practice but certainly not journalism.

Journalism’s challenge of helping the public reach decisions through information and evidential facts is primarily through the separation of what is true from what is taken to be true. This construction of the epistemological cycle of journalism is basically a progression from facts to truths that anchors in knowledge.Journalistic truth as a day by day truth does not operate on the grounds of absolute certainly. It rests on the simple proposition that some claims that are made can be better supported by arguments and experiences than others.Journalism at a purely professional level therefore operates on the principle that the truth must be dug to revel its nuggets rationally, that is evidentially, and the beauty of this method is that it at least helps us clear the air that truth is independent of us.(Olorunyomi, 2018).

The 2019 General Elections in Nigeria: Hate Speech Two Five-Point Tests and Fact Checking
Because of the reality that societal peace is a strong condition for development, a major expectation from a democratic participant media system is that such a press is socially-responsible and development-driven in signifying hate speeches. It suffices therefore that, a Journalism enterprise assumes the status of a democratized press when in dealing with hate speech, the press fails to use its agenda-setting power to direct the attention of the general public to salient issues that can determine the survival or otherwise of the democratic system. Evidently, there are situations in which Nigerian media, in their own capacities, serve as shadow parties to political conflicts that are rooted in hate speech and vituperations in the polity; thus having pervasive influences on journalistic contents and reportorial directions. The Nigerian press is presumably democratized, when in dealing with hate speech, there is recklessness in the political reportorial process, when partisan political considerations are given priority over the social responsibility roles of the press, and when little thought is given to the likely effects of unprofessional reportage on the reading public to the extent that what is uppermost in the minds of media gatekeepers are gratifications of varying sorts. Evidently, there are situations in which Nigerian media, in their own capacities, serve as shadow parties in hate speech reporting; thus having pervasive influences on journalistic contents and reportorial directions.

The Nigerian media are presumably democratized; when the hate speeches and the vituperations that mark political contestations, are reported in very reckless manner, and when partisan political considerations are given priority over the social responsibility roles of the press. The media assume the negative status of a democratized system when little thought is given to the likely effects of unprofessional reportage on the reading public to the extent that what is uppermost in the minds of media gatekeepers are the political interests of the parties that take to hate speech combativeness. A democratized media system has sacrificed its essence and being on the altar of political partisanship. Such media system defies adherence to professional ethical standards; and, is by implication, a socially-irresponsible media system. (Kunczick 1988; Folarin, 2004; Mc Quail, 2007; Popoola, 2015a; 2015b; 2015c; 2015d; Popoola and Adegoke, 2016; Popoola and Olatubosun, 2017); Popoola, 2018.

Inevitably, an explanation for the somewhat subversive role of the press in this regard is anchored on the Political Economy of Media Operations. Political Economy of the Media is an approach to studying the ways in which media products are produced, distributed and consumed, rather than analyzing the interpretations of the signs and symbols found within texts. Political economy of the media is a reference to the fact that media organizations are business organizations and profit-making commercial outfits that exist to generate income and serve the financial and other attendant interests of their owners. Political economy of media production tenet holds that the mass media are first and foremost industrial and commercial entities which produce and distribute commodities. (Murdock and Golden, 2000; 2016, Oso, 2014, Wasko, 2014) Consequently, in capitalist societies like Nigeria where public communication systems are both public and privately owned and are dedicated to generating maximum returns (both intrinsically and extrinsically) to shareholders, and where media ownership strategies shape the Nigerian communication landscape in fundamental ways, it is inescapable that media contents take on the colouration of Nigeria media owners and financiers. This paradigm shapes news construction and other media content directions in particular ways.

There are political machinations already in respect of the general elections that Nigeria will hold in 2019. The Nigerian media are expected, more than before, to foster and stabilize Nigeria’s democracy and political development so as to continually prevent any unwarranted and retrogressive interventions in the nation’s political life. Consequently, the Ethical Journalism Network’s (EJN) five point test of speech for journalism highlights a few points that the Nigerian journalists and editors as prime movers of the Nigerian democratic participant media system should consider when deciding how to report hate speech and potentially inflammatory political news in relation to the Nigeria’s electoral process:

1. The Content and Form of the Speech
Journalists should ask themselves whether the speech they are quoting is dangerous. Will it incite violence, intensify hatred or lead to prosecution under local laws?

2. The Economic, Social and Political Climate
Hateful speech can become more dangerous amid economic, social and political strife. Where insecurity and instability reign supreme, journalists should evaluate what impact quoting hateful speech might have on its intended targets.

3. The Position or Status of the Speaker
Journalists should not act as indiscriminate megaphones for hate speech. If a prominent source makes hateful, false or malicious claims, those claims should be scrutinized and reported accordingly. If a nonpublic figure makes unsubstantiated claims, they should be ignored if not newsworthy.

4. The Reach of the Speech
Limited off-color remarks in private conversations are unlikely to produce much harm. That changes if hateful remarks are repeatedly broadcast for all to see, a good indicator that the speaker may be trying to deliberately promote hostility.

5. The Objectives of the Speech
Journalists should strive to determine whether speech is deliberately designed to denigrate the rights of others and should know what forms of expression are subject to legal sanctions.

When confronted with incidents of political hate speech, the EJN advises journalists not to sensationalize the story and to pause for a moment before publishing to think through potential consequences.

Identifying Dangerous Speech: A Five-Point Test
“Dangerous speech” is inflammatory speech that has the capacity to catalyze violence among different groups. Susan Benesch, says the most dangerous speech acts occur when the following five factors are maximized:

1. The speaker is powerful and has a high degree of influence over the audience;
2. The audience has grievances and fear that the speaker can cultivate;
3. The speech act is understood as a call to violence;
4. There exists a social or historical context propitious for violence, for any of a variety of
reasons, including long-standing competition between groups for resources, lack of
efforts to solve grievances, or previous episodes of violence;
5. There exists a means of dissemination that is influential in itself, for example because it
is the sole or primary source of news for the relevant audience.
These two five-point tests should be used always to help determine whether your sources’ statements, your colleagues’ broadcasts and your own writing could be considered dangerous hate speech. Also, Nigerian media professionals should always endeavour to:

■ Evaluate before they publish;
■ Be sceptical: not rushing to be right;
■ Identify the original sources and interview them
■ Investigate the network, the history of a social media account (who do they follow and
who follows them; does their content align with what they say they are, do credible
organizations follow them?)
■ Confirm content of the information, especially date, time, location (is it representative of
what it says it is, what is the time?)
■ Research similar events and contents;
■ Verify the person spreading hate speech and the content. It does not take so long to do
■ Speak to additional sources. When sources assert something, ask “How do you know
■ Triangulate all collected information. Look at everything that has been gathered
■ Communicate and collaborate. Verification is a team sport; make use of journalistic
angle in asking questions.

Concluding Remarks
In 2010, a Florida pastor with just a few dozen followers attracted international media coverage when he announced plans to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the September 11 Terrorist attack on the United States (U.S.). By taking the bait, media outlets became complicit in advancing his hate-filled agenda, making Terry Jones a household name in the U.S. and far beyond. Nigerian Reporters have a responsibility to cover the facts, but they also have a responsibility to avoid unnecessarily stoking hatred and violence, especially when religious or political tensions are running high.Hate speech masked as journalism is all too common in many parts of the world and does a disservice to both readers and society. Sometimes it merely reinforces unpleasant stereotypes; other times it contributes to evils far worse.

Consequently, the Nigerian media professionals should be conflict sensitive oriented by adopting the Conflict Sensitive Reporting (CSR) style. CSR has its antecedent in the propositions and submissions on Peace Journalism which canvasses for totality of activities involved in journalism practice that fosters minimization of violence and promotion of peaceful behaviors in the society. (Galtung, 2002, Okunna and Popoola, 2017; Popoola, 2015a; 2015b 😉 Apeace media system orientates its culture and the cultural development of the society within which it operates towards peacefulness. It is a system that has developed ideals, ethics, mores, value systems and institutions that minimize violence and promote peace within it and among the audience. The cultural orientation of the media and how they are able to minimize the impacts and spread of violence in the society in addition to preventing the culture of violence ingrained in reporting are the most important factors that determine the virility of the peace media. In essence, the cultural dynamics of a peace oriented media are towards peacefulness. The success of a peace media system is in how it deals with conflicts and violence when, for whatever unfortunate reasons, such occur in the society. (Okunna and Popoola, 2017, Popoola, 2015a)

The Nigerian mass media system can be transformed into a peaceful media system whereby it plays a central role in the promotion of peace in our multicultural and diverse socio-political environment. It can emphasize the benefits of peace by raising the legitimacy of groups and political leaders that are working for peace. It can help transform the images of the enemy among rival political and social groups that are involved in the country’s recurrent social and political conflicts. In the midst of most social conflicts, the media are privileged to be in a position to contribute to peace initiatives, especially in reconciling various factions after political turbulence because:

(1) They help in defining the atmosphere in which peace negotiation takes place in political processes.

(2) They have active influence on the strategy and behaviour of stakeholders in political and social conflicts in conflict environments.

(3) They have important influence on the nature of debates during peace processes and negotiations.

(4) They can buttress or weaken public legitimacy of the stakeholders involved in peace processes.

Stemming from this perceived deficiency of peace journalism is the Conflict Sensitive Reporting approach to handling conflict. Unlike peace journalism, CSR gives the media the latitude to cover all aspects of a conflicting issue, but it emphasizes and gives prescriptions on careful use of language in reporting the conflict, in such a way that the reportage will focus on de-escalation of the conflict, rather than the escalating of conflict to violence and disorderliness. The conflict sensitive approach to reporting is rooted in thebelief that the news media in many societies canbe a powerful force to reduce the causes of hate speechand to enable an hate-speech stressed society tobetter pursue peacefulness. (Howard, 2002, 2004b, 2009; Popoola, 2015a; 2015b; 2015c; 2015d)

The media can do this by training their journalists to better understand hate speeches and media role in them. The journalistscan strengthen their reporting to avoidstereotypes and narrow perspectives on thecauses and processes of hate speech. The media cancontribute to a wider dialogue among disparateparts of the community in hate speech, through improved reporting. They can explore and provideinformation about opportunities for resolution. At the same time, the media must maintainits essential standards of accuracy, fairness, balance, and responsible conduct.


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