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Hanne Aho: chief editors should be close to newsrooms

UJF president highlights importance of trust between chief editors and newsrooms.

Hanne Aho and the president of the Association of Chief Editors, Arno Ahosniemi, were guests of the radio show Ykkösaamu 20 February, where they debated the role of chief editors and politicians’ relations with the media.

The previous week, the Association of Chief Editors released a statement that dealt with the rights and responsibilities of chief editors. The interviewer referred to the statement’s suggestion of undue influence being used against chief editors.  He also referred to the notion, which has emerged from recent public debate, that journalists misconceive the position of chief editors.

Aho said that the chief editor clearly has the final say on policy and content. The chief editor has both a legal responsibility for a publication as well as for managing its daily work.

“The chief editor doesn’t write or take photos, and is not able to check all the facts. The chief editor has to trust that the journalists, photographers and other members of the newsroom seek out the truth and find facts. If there’s not that sense of trust in the newsroom, the work becomes extremely tricky.”

Aho said that there are some newsrooms where chief editors have become distanced from their employees.

“It’s important for chief editors to be close to the newsroom. Discussions on what to publish need to be open and frank. And everyone should be privy to them.”

Aho and Ahosniemi took the same view that chief editors need to rebuff any pressure on newsrooms, so that journalists can get on with their work undisturbed.

“Chief editors have to be able to protect their immunity. It goes with the job, and politicians as well as owners of the company should be aware of this,” said Aho.

No such thing as ‘alternative facts’

The interview also took in US President Donald Trump’s relationship with the media. Aho and Ahosniemi discussed how to respond to the US government’s false claims, which the president’s spokesperson calls ‘alternative facts’.

“Alternative facts don’t exist,” said Hanne Aho. “It’s a way for Trump to try to deflect attention away from himself and on to something else. He did that to Hillary Clinton, and now he’s doing it to the media. I can’t see any change in how the media in the US deals with the president. Journalists there have been continuing with their normal work, which is what goes on in a democracy.”