The 14th All Nigerian Editors Conference 2018 (ANEC) held in Asaba, Delta State capital the other day fittingly became an avenue for self-examination for Nigeria’s media gatekeepers and their profession (journalism) within the context of disruptive technology that have changed the face of all professions.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a law professor and the host governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, a physician, spoke clearly and candidly to the relevant issues that can save many professions including journalism from irrelevance, odium and possible extinction.
Osinbajo, in his goodwill message at the opening ceremonies, enjoined the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) to save journalism from total collapse by enforcing the rules and values of the profession that is fast losing the news to the vagaries of disruptive technology.
He noted that most professions including law but particularly journalism had been threatened by the advent of digital technology to the extent that social media had virtually taken over the conventional media in terms of readership and followership.
He noted that apart from the challenges of technology, the professionals remain a challenge to themselves such that people have lost confidence because most information pieces lacked objectivity and accuracy.
He told the editors that the (journalism) profession had become partisan and was being influenced by politicians and non-professionals.
He then charged the media managers to fight corruption in their system, adding that corruption, like cancer could eat up and eventually kill the victim if not checked.
The scholar also reminded the editors that journalism as a profession has always been at a greater risk than other professions. So, who is to blame for the near-death of this profession? His response:
“The first culprit is technology; its inheritable evil also has the capacity for overwhelming good as we need technology in every aspect of our livelihood; the second and most important culprit is the professional himself,” he said, observing that “over time, we have lost the trust of the public.’’
Governor Okowa also spoke some truth to the media when he had in his address, observed that the independence, objectivity and credibility of the media had been undermined by some unethical media practitioners who surreptitiously engage in public relations consultancy services to politicians.
To Okowa, such editors who are PR consultants and are seen to be canvassing for positions for politically exposed people in the social media could not be trusted to set credible agenda for the people.
He also fingered dearth of investigative journalism and inadequate remuneration for journalists in their places of work as part of the new trouble with the media.
Specifically, the observation by the host governor that some members of the Guild of Editors who abuse their privileged positions to carry out public relations consultancies to political leaders in office and power should be seen as the highpoint of the engagement at the Asaba ANEC 2018.
The unethical consultants in the Guild are obstacles to business growth as investigative journalism, which should be the robust response to the adverse effects of social media incursion cannot be produced anymore, where consultants are at work.
What is worse, media business is customer-centric. And so, if the customer no longer trusts a product, the producer will certainly lose steam and wither away.
This is a cancer that should not be allowed to destroy journalism, which has been acknowledged as ‘the best profession in the world.’
The role of the media is not assigned at the instance of anyone in power: It is a constitutional responsibility to the people – protected by Section 22 of the Constitution.
As it was noted at the ANEC, what professionals and indeed gatekeepers should bring to the table at this time are sound knowledge, information management, objectivity, and integrity.
Specifically, if integrity is compromised, business will collapse. That truth should not be kept in a grave. Journalists question those in authority every day.
They too have a responsibility to listen to what others are saying about them, lest they become complacent and arrogant in ignorance.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors should be run as a society of gatekeepers of the highest order. And to the Guild belongs the enormous task of defining the ethos, mores and standards of the profession.
This task has certainly been made greater by a society where corruption is systemic and concomitantly, there is need for a sustained fight to deal with systemic corruption.
So, it is not just about just setting the rules, it is also about the gatekeepers ensuring that the rules are enforced and kept.
When it is a self-regulatory profession, like law and journalism, this is a very difficult but necessary thing to do.
Like leaders in power, editors must therefore be held to account as they seek to weather the storm of technological disruption and prosper in this new age of digital journalism.