Over 80 business people and journalists registered for the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist’s (SLAJ) interactive dialogue on Friday 26th March, to discuss how to improve business and economics reporting in Sierra Leone. At the event, SLAJ members, participants from the world’s major financial news media and Sierra Leone’s private sector, explored how timely and accurate reporting on business issues can support economic growth, and committed to collaborate to improve business coverage.

Participants agreed there was substantial unmet demand for better business reporting in Sierra Leone. Ammar Kamara, Commercial Agricultural Producers and Processors Association (CAPPA) said: “One of the things we look for as investors, is what is happening in the country. We need relevant information out there that investors can use to assess Sierra Leone’s business environment.”

However, several challenges were identified. These include finding journalists with the skills to understand and report on business and economic stories. Speaking at the event was Dr Sanpha Koroma, leading Sierra Leonean financier and CEO of Union Trust Bank, who said: “The economy is an important area. We need journalists with the skills to disseminate economic policy and to explain other big economic stories. This is not currently the position.”

Also highlighted was the lack of trust between policy makers, the private sector and the media which inhibited information sharing. Lamrana Bah, President of the Sierra Leone Reporters Union said: “Reporters want to report on financial issues but it is difficult to get information from financial institutions and get financial experts to speak to.”

The event’s opening speaker, Joel Kibazo, Founding Partner of public affairs consultancy – JK Associates, drew on his background in journalism and finance with the African Development Bank, Financial Times and BBC, to highlight the significance of business and economic reporting, describing it is a “critical and transformative area of journalism” and using the Arab Spring and the Ebola epidemic to show that there is an economic angle to most major world events even if it isn’t immediately apparent. “Every individual is involved in business and finance in some way,” he said: “It is about life and how we live it.”

The next two speakers – Aguil Deng and Paddy Coulter – addressed skills development, bringing their experience of designing continent-wide training initiatives to the discussion.

Aguil Deng, leads the Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa Programme, which provides a range of training and support to expand business reporting in Africa, at all levels, including community and citizen journalism. She said: “Before we launched the programme, our newsrooms didn’t necessarily reflect the populations in the countries they served.” Now, all Bloomberg’s Bureau heads are local; the programme has also brought women into the sector in greater numbers – 42% of the programme’s 800 graduates.

Aguil Deng, Bloomberg

In collaboration with Thomson Reuters, Paddy Coulter, Oxford Global Media, co-designed a skills-development programme which brought journalists and economists together in joint training sessions, to raise the standards of reporting and improve the flow of information about economic policy. One of the main outcomes was increased trust and better relationships between the two groups.

Identified action points from the meeting include:

  1. Develop a platform to bring the business community, policymakers and other economic information gatekeepers together with the media community to facilitate information sharing, networking and skills development. Suggestions include reviving the Development and Economics Journalist Association (DEJA).
  2. Identify training and skills development solutions, including online, informal such as mentoring and coaching and on the job through continuing research, questioning and using contacts.
  3. Improving information gathering by encouraging the media to make use of Open Data Sierra Leone and the Right to Access Information (RAI) Act. Other suggestions included creating a subscription-based news and data hub.
  4. Incorporate gender equality perspective in the sector.

Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, President of SLAJ, concluded by assuring participants that SLAJ was prepared to build on the actions agreed: “A strong and independent media contributes to democracy and the development of the country. It is essential that the media in Sierra Leone are able to provide accurate and timely information on business and economic issues to help individuals and businesses make informed decisions. SLAJ looks forward to driving these actions forward with the support of the business community.”

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