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Boko Haram in the Nigerian press: The politics of labelling

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Labels shape and define public discourse. As condensational symbols, they can serve as political tools and instruments of policy due to the media’s tendency to use labels to create meaning and knowledge about political and social reality. This study examines the politics of labelling through a case study of the representation of Boko Haram in a selection of Nigerian national newspapers. Boko Haram, a transnational terrorist organization responsible for the death of over 20,000 Nigerians and the displacement of more than two million people, has been a major threat to the Nigerian state for almost a decade. Although it was originally perceived to be a domestic problem, its reach across national boundaries has extended its impact beyond Nigeria and it has now been recognized as an international threat. This article explores how labels used to frame this group in the Nigerian press echo geo-ethno polarities embedded in Nigerian politics. The study investigates the representations of Boko Haram to evaluate how the narrative about the sect has been constructed. It reveals that the dominant voices prefer labels such as terrorists and insurgents, which reflect popular understanding of the sect. Through a content analysis of a selection of national news stories, the study argues that the nature of Nigerian politics and media ecology plays a critical role in the media framing of Boko Haram.
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Keywords: Boko Haram; Nigeria; Nigerian newspapers; labelling; political violence; terrorism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Huddersfield

Publication date: March 1, 2019

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