There Will be Ink: A Study of Journalism Training and the Extractive Industries in Nigeria, Ghana, and UgandaJuly 23, 2009
Recently, we published a new study on Initiative for Policy Dialogue‘s site called “There Will be Ink: A Study of Journalism Training and the Extractive Industries in Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda“.
The backstory is this. I spent the last year at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs researching extractive industry journalism (oil, gas, mining) in Nigeria, working closely with Acting Director of International Media, Advocacy, and Communications Specialization, Anya Schiffrin. As part of this research, I spoke with Nigerian journalists and experts on media and development in Nigeria. These interviews focused on the challenges journalists face in covering oil and monitoring government revenues from this industry, and what is needed to overcome these challenges. Of course, this is an extremely important issue in Nigeria, given that oil revenues comprise the lion’s share of government income, and therefore play an important role in paying for government expenditure on infrastructure and services. And, Nigerian oil is rife with corruption, secrecy, and violence. The effect is that the money from this resource often goes into the pockets of the privileged and the powerful, rather than funding development that could overcome rampant poverty in Africa’s most populous. When people talk about countries experiencing a resource curse, Nigeria is very much drinking martinis at that party.
During my second year at SIPA, we expanded this research into a team project, targeting a much larger sample of interviewees in Nigeria, and adding Ghana and Uganda-both depending on extractive industries for income-to this list. (That team was guided by Schiffrin, and included our friends “Jack Fruity” and “Long Gone Daddy“, as well as Emily Gann, Jonathan Hulland, and Adriana Diaz). This research was funded by Revenue Watch Institute and Thomson Reuters Foundation. The former works on promoting extractive industry revenue transparency, the latter conducts journalism training for developing country journalists. They asked us to look deeper into the challenges, needs, and business journalism training of extractive industry journalists. Our goal was to evaluate what has been effective in the business journalism training these journalists had received, and what could most benefit them to improve their capacity to cover extractive industries and monitor government revenues to promote transparency, and ultimately (and hopefully) pave the way for more money to be allocated for developing these three countries to help alleviate poverty. The thinking was that journalism was a traditionally important factor in playing the watchdog of government, and the more effective they could watch, the less corrupt these industries could be, the more money would go where it should.
We interviewed approximately 100 journalists, experts, trainers, and NGOs from these three countries. We then took all of this information, boiled it down, and produced the study linked above.
One of the things that made this research fascinating, and cool to be a part of, was that we were studying issues that really hadn’t been studied before. Looking around, we couldn’t find any substantial reports on journalism training and the extractive industries. So, we had an opportunity not only to be a part of something important, but also totally unique.
Our conclusion was that business journalism training was vital to raising the level of journalism, particularly since there was a tremendous overall dearth of business journalism training, though there have been pockets there and there. More importantly, that training should absolutely include extractive industries, because these journalists had access to almost no extractive industry training, if any at all. However, we also concluded that training wasn’t enough. Two other factors had an important impact on the quality of journalism there.
First, news media have very limited resources and therefore struggle to pay their journalists adequate salaries (if at all), leaving many journalists in a position where they have little choice but to accept payment from sources, undermining the credibility and quality of their information. Also, few news media businesses can afford to invest in their journalists to improve their skills. So, any solution should take into account that the business of news media itself needs help. This is further complicated by the dependence of news media on advertising from many of the businesses involved in corruption, raising existential questions for news media considering of publishing potentially damaging information.
Second, the legal situation in these countries provides many barriers. Freedom of Information Acts are non-existent, offering no compulsion for the government to provide information. There is also little legal protection defending journalists to publish information that could be politically and commercially damaging. Libel laws in these countries tend to side with politicians and businesses, and are often used as a weapon against journalists trying to publish the truth.
So, any organization wanting to work on the issue of promoting extractive industry revenue transparency in Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda should consider a solution that takes each of these issues into account. However, if an organization only has the resources or capacity to tackle one of them, we concluded that training journalists was the most important and could have the greatest impact.
To see what kinds of training-length, format, topics, etc.-we recommend, you are going to have to take a look into our report. It’s all there. This study’s extremely detailed and pretty close to exhaustive.
Photo 1: Courtesy of darksida.