By Julius Oweh
A mass communication scholar at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra, suffocating with intellectual arrogance and what could be described as after whiskey talk said that journalists are the casual workers of the intellectuals.
President, Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), Funke Egbemode (left); Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo and Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, arriving for the opening ceremony of the 14th All Nigeria Guild of Editors Conference (ANEC) in Asaba recently
This stripe of thought process could be a product of the notions that journalists are mere reporters of the views of the people in society without talking about their own views. However, the advent of opinion writers, columnists and editorial writers prove the lie that is the assertion of the said scholar.
Today, journalists are well educated even to the PhD level and most of them on retirement go to the universities to pass their experiences to the younger ones. Such people by any stretch of imagination cannot be casual workers of the intellectuals. Journalists are not only professionals but well-honed intellectuals in their own right.
Recently, the crème de le crème of the pen profession gathered in the historic town of Asaba to proffer the way forward not only for their profession but also the political run of the nation. I am talking of the Nigeria Guild of Editors conference that held from 10th of October to 14th. It was a gathering of who is who in the media industry as about four hundred editors converged in Asaba. The Event Centre along Okpanam Road, Asaba was a beehive of activities.
The most instructive day of that conference in my own estimation was the business session held on Friday. As one of the participants said, it was a case of journalists talking to journalists and more of soul searching and introspection. They talked about the problems facing the profession- lack of fund for the media, the purchase of equipment, training and retraining of journalists.
A lady from Radio Nigeria struck a chord with me when she said that the threat of the social media should not be exaggerated. While tasking the traditional media of the radio, television and newspaper to key into the social media by having a well-developed social media platform, she maintained that in the history of mass media and journalism, no new media is capable of replacing the existing ones and that would be the fate of the social media.
Ray Ekpu, a veteran journalist of many years standing, tasked editors to thread a careful line about ownership structure and the reportage of news. He argued that as for newspapers and magazines, what the owner can control is the editorial and that as for news and features, journalists were free to run stories even against the interest of their owners and that what should be done is proper balancing of the stories.
Thursday which was the opening session saw the host governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa delivering his speech and tasking the media on objective reportage as 2019 elections draw nearer. He also called on the Independent Electoral Commission to be truly independent and conduct election that is free and fair. Okowa stated: ‘One of the biggest steps towards sustaining democracy in Nigeria was when in 2015 the PDP conducted an election, lost and handed over to the opposition. This was a scenario previously thought impossible, but when that happened to the chagrin of critics and naysayers, a solid foundation was laid for sustainable democracy in Nigeria. For democracy to flourish, the opposition must be allowed to exist and play their role without hindrance. The current APC-led federal government should build on this foundation and resist the temptation to oppress the opposition. The abiding principle of a democratic government is majority rule where power is held by the people under a free and fair electoral system‘.
The governor also had words for the Nigerian media though lauding some of their efforts. Okowa observed the role of the media: ‘The Nigerian media has stayed on the side of the people and must be commended for its heroic role in standing against what is wrong. But there are three key issues the media must urgently address.
The first is that media practitioners who are known to be engaged as consultants to politicians and political office holders. That ought not to be because it compromises the editorial independence and objectivity of the press.
Finally the issue of staff welfare, a situation where a reporter is unsure of his next paycheck does not augur well for the journalism profession for it exposes him to undue influences from politicians and political office holders. Survival is a basic instinct of man and the person whose survival is threatened can care less about integrity and fairness. We need our journalists to report the truth but they cannot do that with boldness, if they are not paid, the reward of labour‘.
The Vice President of the country, Prof Yemi Osinbajo who was present at the opening day of the conference lamented the impact of social media, saying that many people now rely on the social media and wondered aloud if the end of traditional newspapers, radio and television was at hand. He shared his sentiments: ‘There are people who are now called online and social media personalities. They usually have no training in journalism or its ethics.
And some have even found more readership than newspapers and more viewership than television. Though newspapers now have online version, what it means is that they have been dragged into the competition by the digital media. The journalism profession is at risk more than any other profession ‘.
Speaking on the sidelines, Mr. Patrick Ukah, the Delta State Commissioner of Information declared that the imperative of the government hosting the editors‘ conference was rooted in the firm belief that the Nigerian media was critical in the advancement of democracy in the country. He said that the state governor was very much at home with the theme of the conference: Credible Elections, Sustainable Democracy and the Nigerian Media.
His words :‘The governor of Delta State, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa , being an apostle of credible election as an enabler for sustainable democracy was particularly excited about the theme because it reflected vividly his firm belief that the sustainability of any democracy is dependent on the credibility of the electoral process. Recalled that between last December and now, Okowa has chaired two national conventions of the PDP, the first being the convention which produced Prince Uche Secondus, the current chairman of the party and the recent convention which produced former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the party. Both processes were largely acknowledged as free, fair and credible.
At the end of the brain storming sessions by the editors, a communiqué was issued. In the communiqué, the editors condemned vote buying and election fraud. In a 11 point communiqué they observed with deep indignation that elections in the country were not based on truth and called on the electoral umpire, INEC to remain truly independent in practice.
The communiqué which was jointly signed by NGE’s President, Funke Egbemode and the Secretary General, Victoria Ibanga called on politicians, political parties and the security agencies not to intimidate voters during election, stressing that the cardinal principle of democracy is rooted in free choice. The editors noted that it was high time politicians imbibed the culture of sportsmanship in election and shunned the vice of winning at all cost.
The editors also appreciated the Vice President for his presence and the Delta state governor for the successful hosting of the conference. The editors also called on journalists at all levels to be more involved in investigative reportage spiced with balanced and analytical reportage as these were the ingredients that will not only deepen democracy but also earn the members of the Fourth Estate of Realm respect of the public.
The editors at the end of the conference pledged to defend the truth and uphold the ethical standards as regards the coverage and reportage of news. The five- day event by the editors demonstrated beyond doubt that in deed and in truth our journalists are professionals who can also hold their own in the best Ivory Tower in any part of the globe.