350 editors expected at NGE conference in Asaba tomorrow
Editorial independence is important in the practice of journalism. If editors are free to do their work and determine editorial content, there is certainty that they will perform optimally in the media’s gatekeeping role in holding government and the powerful in society accountable for the overall development of the polity. And as Nigeria’s media top gatekeepers converge on Asaba for the 14th annual conference of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) tomorrow, it is important to examine the continuing existence of that body and its role in advancing the cause of journalistic practice to society at large.
NGE was formed about 55 years ago for the highest strata of working journalists, who have attained the exalted position of editors in the different newsrooms. Since the conference was introduced in 2004, every year NGE picks an issue that is national in nature to deliberate on and possibly proffer solutions. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘The Nigerian Media, Sustaining Democracy and Credible Elections’ is apt in view of the election year.
A look at previous themes would suggest total adherence to the code and ethics of the profession through objective reporting and editing, but many have argued that the editors have fallen short of their glory due to a number of reasons and pressures.
A professor of Mass Communication and president of Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN), Lai Oso, said in as much as the editors want to uphold the ethics of the profession, “It is one thing to have the intention to be professional and do the right thing, and it is another to execute due to forces. An average editor will be concerned about professionalism and would want to do his best to produce very good news, but when he considers the circumstances around him, especially the economic pressure, he finds it difficult to actualise the intention.
“That is why the economic pressure on media organisations is so heavy now that for them to remain in existence, there is a tendency to bend the rules to accommodate that pressure.”
He said the country’s political terrain was tough for the average journalist, adding, “What I have seen of recent is that a good number of them, including the editors, have taken a position based on ethnic, religious interests. So, when they have these conferences, they know what is right but these pressures would not permit adherence. I urge the editors to continue to strive for the best. I would encourage that these conferences serve as constant reminders for the need for serious journalism, because whatever happens, journalism is still very important to any democracy.”
Also, Director of International Press Centre (IPC), Mr. Lanre Arogundade, lamented that the impact of NGE’s conferences on the profession has been limited “because the conferences haven’t often been strictly devoted to professional issues. An ideal editor’s conference should have technical and specialised sessions that aim at improving skills and broadening knowledge. These days such sessions are called Master classes. The NGE as a prominent professional body is expected to contribute significantly to the implementation of this agenda. It hasn’t done much in this regard, but I can see some commitment to do better. It is important for the guild to structure it’s conferences in such a way that adequate time is given to discussions on improving professionalism and making the media to serve the public interest.”
President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, (NGE), Mrs. Funke Egbemode, in a telephone conversation told The Guardian that the annual conference brings together editors to bond, review the profession, network, learn new things and discuss national issues. She pointed out that the editors intend to look at how to ensure credible elections next year.
According to her, “The guild of editors is a professional body, not a trade union. We are the elite body of the profession and we tend to do things differently.”
On how NGE caters for member and journalists, she noted, “When our members are arrested or prosecuted, we issue statements, but I can tell you that that is the easiest thing to do. But I prefer to do things a bit differently. When an editor is arrested, first thing I do is to find out which agency of government is responsible, then we make calls. I do not believe in spoiling for a fight when I can get the IG or any top official to say, ‘Funke, why are you calling me?’ If I can get the person released, or to see his lawyer or get his drugs if he or she is hypertensive, by making a call, I find this more effective than issuing statements. Because issuing a statement is the traditional thing, and trust me, it is the easiest one; that is playing to the gallery.”
She said the present executive of NGE resorts to statement when all the strings behind the scenes have been pulled.“I know that there have been situations that I have had to call the former D-G, DSS and other people to say, ‘please, can you allow his wife to get his drugs to him? And he needs to his lawyer tomorrow.’ I find that more effective than issuing a statement, as I can be done with that in less than 20 minutes. This is a human being and I cannot use him to score points. Maybe because I am a woman, I cannot imagine having my husband in custody and somebody is casting headlines with him.”
On how the conference has fared since 2004, she said the guild has moved from just being an association to being a force to be reckoned with, adding, “Annually, the Chinese Government invites six editors to a tour of China. This is the kind of education, the training and retraining my team and I campaign for. This year we are also able to get the support of the Central Bank of Nigeria to sponsor 10 editors to Global Editors Network in Lisbon, Portugal. We have three members currently at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Plateau State. “Our former president, Mr. Femi Adesina, also ensured that NGE has a roof over its head. We are a force to be reckoned with in and outside the country.”Egbemode said not less than 350 editors are expected at the conference in Asaba.