Humboldt Research Fellow: Dr. Ayo Osisanwo

Power and the Media

2023-03-13 The Senior Researcher investigates the portrayal of violence and terror in Nigerian media. As a visiting scholar, he is conducting research at the Institute of English Studies. His work should unearth human security and complications of safety in newspaper reports, and help people in Nigeria feel safer.

Humboldt Research Fellow: Dr. Ayo Osisanwo - Power and the Media ©Leuphana/Marie Meyer
Humboldt Research Fellow: Dr. Ayo Osisanwo - Power and the Media ©Leuphana/Marie Meyer
Humboldt Research Fellow: Dr. Ayo Osisanwo - Power and the Media ©Leuphana/Marie Meyer

Hardly a day goes by in Nigeria without the press reporting on terror, attacks or armed confrontations. Among the violent groups is the Islamist terrorist militia, Boko Haram. For years, settled farmers have also been fighting nomadic farmers who let their herds graze on other people's land in the so-called herders' war. In addition, there are kidnappings and attacks: "The government has not been able to bring the situation under control," says Dr. Ayo Osisanwo

The Nigerian linguist does research at the Institute of English Studies on the portrayal of violence and security threat in Nigerian newspapers. "The choice of language can mitigate conflict, but it can also fuel it," says Ayo Osisanwo. From October 2022 to March 2024, the senior researcher will be funded by the George Forster Fellowship for Experienced Researchers of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The fellowship is aimed at experienced researchers, especially from the global South. With the fellowship, he receives financial and non-material support: "On the one hand, I benefit from the large network of fellows. On the other hand, I have access to all German libraries and can expand my research skills through the international exchange in Professor Anna Barron's working group." At the Institute of English Studies, he also has access to software that enables him to identify certain words in texts: "Often, the frequency of a word used reveals something about the ideological orientation of a text," says Ayo Osisanwo.

The methodological basis of his work is critical discourse analysis. The researcher compares reports, commentaries and editorials: "It is the latter that allows us to understand and classify the attitude of the respective newspapers," explains Ayo Osisanwo. The focus is especially on the relationship between language and domination: "There is a power play between the news producer and the reader. With critical discourse analysis, we can tell who determines the narrative and thinking," explains the linguist.

Simply to sell newspapers, headlines are sharpened, the researcher explains: "Media want us to read them." Then, for example, it says "murder" instead of "kill", although the legal facts have not yet been clarified. Or someone "whines" instead of just "claiming" something. Images are also part of the narrative, as in the reporting on Boko Haram, for example: masked and armed fighters, destroyed villages and desperate people are shown: "The visual representations in the newspapers cognitively and imaginatively influence the readers' experiences of the terrorists' activities. The images imply that the government is not sufficiently capable of dealing with the problem on its own."

The researcher examines whether the claims in the articles are true in their linguistic presentation: "Newspapers are not neutral. Therefore, the media plays a crucial role in sustaining or ending security challenges in Nigeria," concludes Ayo Osisanwo.

Dr Ayo Osisanwo studied English at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (Ondo Chapter), Nigeria and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English Education in 2002. He obtained a master's degree in Discourse Analysis and Stylistics from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in 2006. In 2011, he was awarded a PhD in Discourse Analysis. He started his career at Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo before getting a full appointment at University of Ibadan, Ibadan in 2013 as a junior lecturer until he was elevated to Senior Lecturer in 2019. In 2015-2016, he joined the School of Journalism, Rhodes University, South Africa, as Linguist Postdoctoral Fellow, African Humanities Program/American Council of Learned Societies. Earlier in 2022, Ayo Osisanwo also taught as Senior Lecturer and Head, Department of English at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Nigeria (on Sabbatical). Ayo Osisanwo publishes, among other things, on the media representation of topics such as election, terrorism, violence (against women), and Covid-19.