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Reporting for investment

When considering how Africa can better fulfil its investment potential, few commentators consider the intrinsic role of the very people penning the discussion – the media.

p>When considering how Africa can better fulfil its investment potential, few commentators consider the intrinsic role of the very people penning the discussion – the media.

Rather than international correspondents, it is African journalists who are best placed to debunk the myths surrounding Africa as an investment destination by accurately reporting on the continent’s business potential, educating and informing investors. Explicit and accurate reporting can enforce accountability and transparency in most sectors, expose corruption and transform both international and domestic investors’ perceptions. Without this, investors will continue to be deterred by real or perceived barriers to doing business on the continent.
The 2005 Commission for Africa Report found that media can play an effective role in areas as far reaching as encouraging sustainable development, fighting corruption and promoting good governance. Therefore, African journalists must actively seek to fulfil their role in securing a prosperous future for the continent by proactively seeking out news, analysing stories through independent and investigative research and reporting on the implications of these stories for wider society. Reporting should be very much ‘by Africa for Africa,’ projecting the continent’s investment potential to the international audience.
However, limited resources and embryonic skills can make it difficult for African journalists to effectively scrutinise the business environment and deliver insightful coverage on investment and financial issues. Insufficient training opportunities mean journalists can also be limited in terms of their understanding of wider implications of financial issues. Such restraints can make it hard to deliver challenging and informed commentary that can increase public pressure for greater business and political accountability.
ICF believes that Africa will succeed in fulfilling its investment potential if the continent’s media act as independent advocates for regulatory and institutional change. Media have a key role to play in ensuring that the right questions are asked of both business and government, that investors and entrepreneurs are provided with accurate financial and business information and that the need for investment climate improvements receives public attention and support. In other words, improvements to the investment climate will go hand in hand with the strengthening of Africa’s financial media.

Representing new standards in journalism
The fundamental importance of journalism on the continent led ICF to initiate a journalist training programme, in partnership with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, at the beginning of last year. The programme represents the most ambitious of its kind in Africa to date and focuses exclusively on raising the standards of business, financial and investment journalism across the continent. Through a series of dedicated training sessions, we aim to equip journalists with the knowledge and understanding they need to better question, scrutinise and analyse news so they can deliver accurate and insightful reporting on key financial and investment issues.
By increasing the number of skilled financial journalists on the continent, we hope to reduce the reliance on international newswires for business and financial news and increase the importance (and column inches) given to investment issues by African news outlets. In today’s economic climate, such training is even more crucial and our workshops will help journalists to identify the dangers and the opportunities brought about by the economic turbulence.
In 2009 we successfully completed our first training program, which we hope to repeat this year. More than 75 journalists from 17 African countries participated in the programme which was held in two phases. The first comprised six introductory sessions held across Africa, in English, French and Portuguese during which participants were given detailed briefings by expert speakers and the opportunity to put theory into practice through multiple source gathering and story writing exercises, with simulated scenarios and tight deadlines.
The second phase saw the most promising 15 journalists invited to attend two advanced courses in Paris and London. Here, journalists were able to hone their learnings further, to meet peers from the other African countries, exchange ideas and experiences, and immerse themselves in the respective European country’s commerce and media. While in Paris, meetings were organised with l’Agence Française de Développement and the OECD, and the journalists visited the Elysee’s Cellule Africaine where participants attended a lecture on President Sarkozy’s African Policy. In London, meetings were held with the African Development Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DIFD), and field trips were made to the London Stock Exchange.
We have received an influx of positive feedback from journalists that attended the courses, testimony to the enthusiasm and commitment of the journalists involved. Feedback from business and government leaders has also been extremely positive.
I am confident that training African journalists is one of the most efficient ways to quickly and effectively improve Africa’s investment climate and ensure more of the continent’s financial and business reporting is ‘by Africa for Africa.’ Journalists, as well as media managers, editors, publishers and owners, have a very real responsibility to help transform Africa’s reputation as a place to do business. Accurate and transparent financial and business reporting can directly contribute to informed, confident investor decisions, which in turn can help stimulate wider economic growth. In such a way, Africa’s media houses have a critical role to play in helping to unlock the continent’s real investment potential.

Omari Issa, CEO of the Investment Climate Facility for Africa (ICF) -

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