Speakers at the workshop lamented the woeful state of business reporting in Lebanon, attributing to shortage of skills, understaffed newsrooms, poor access to information and a general lack of commitment on the behalf of publishers to producing quality news, preferring instead to use their publications to enhance their own personal glory.
OSB Dean George Najjar listed some of the problems plaguing business journalism in the Arab world, including a shortage of skills.
“What we are trying to do [with Reuters] is a very modest effort to create awareness and involve the constituencies in order to create a sustainable and qualified local workforces.”
adding the OSB-Reuters cooperation will produce locally-conceived, locally-created programs that help journalists, analysts and educators produce reliable, credible sources of business information.
AUB President Peter Dorman inaugurated the workshop, praising OSB on its “energy and forward-looking enterprises.”
Peter Dorman, said:
“The organization of a workshop such as this one only proves our need to produce reliable and timely business information on a regular basis.”
Addressing global issues and challenges shaping business journalism, guest speaker Anthony Hilton, the founder and chair of the Newsdesk Media Group and former managing director of The Evening Standard blamed the current financial crisis on the economic imbalance that was created over the past two decades, resulting in a relative decline of the United States and the rise of China, and more broadly the decline of Western economies and the rise of Asia.
“The emerging country builds up huge surpluses and reserves relative to the rest of the world and these destabilize the system,” he said. The extra surplus had to go somewhere, and it was absorbed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Australia, which are the same countries that saw the biggest bubbles in the cost of housing. “But the more money people have to spend, the less careful they are about how they spend it,” he added. As a result, bankers started lending money to people who did not have the ability to repay. This prompted the current credit crunch.
Hilton argued that Western capitalism is currently facing a crisis of legitimacy, something which journalists will have to confront. “There has never been a better time to be a business journalist,” he concluded. “The need for good business journalism has never been greater than it is today.
Jamil Mroue, the publisher of Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, said that in addition to poor access to information and a lack of specialized training among journalists in business journalism, the country’s news publishers and TV owners are more interested in “creating edifices for their own personal glory,” rather than investing in their human capital and building reliable sources of news information.
He added: “I don’t think that politicians are the repository of corruption in the country. In fact, bankers and leaders of the commercial sector are,” he said, adding that banks should play a role in investing in public services, especially since they are making significant profits, despite the shake-ups the country has been through.
Byblos Bank’s chief economist, Nassib Ghobril highlighted problems affecting cooperation between the three key stakeholders in Arab Business Journalism: Business Journalists, Industry Analysts and Business Community. He noted that there is an imbalance among the three stake-holders that is in favor of analysts and the business community, unlike the situation in the United States, where journalists hold the greatest power.
He added that coverage of business news is directly correlated to the size of the country’s stock exchange, which explains the disinterest in covering the Lebanese economy by local and foreign journalists.
Ghobril also acknowledged that economic analysts often have to take into account business interests when writing reports, in order to avoid loss of business. As a result, analysts affiliated with banks would rather scrap potentially upsetting reports rather than lose clients for their institution.
On the second day of the workshop, Nigel Stephenson, the editorial training manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Reuters Foundation, conducted a training session for more than ten practicing journalists from Lebanese news media, including Al-Hayat, An-Nahar, Al-Iktissad wal Aamal, Al-Mustaqbal, The Daily Star, Future TV, NBN and Now Lebanon. Stephenson trained journalists on how to plan their story, choose sources, and report accurately. He also gave them tips on how to develop sources.
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