Launched in October 2013, a new independent financial and business news service called ‘the Source’ is thriving in Zimbabwe. Supported by Thomson Reuters Foundation and the European Journalism Centre, the Source provides citizens, media organisations, and potential investors in Zimbabwe with greater access to financial and business news and analysis.
We spoke to Editor in Chief Nelson Banya about the challenges of telling a complex economic story in a difficult climate.
Why was the Source launched?
Until recently, there was little quality information on Zimbabwe’s economy. A year-long study by Thomson Reuters Foundation showed that policy makers, investors and some media organisations would welcome a service providing trusted economic, business and financial content. Given the political crisis Zimbabwe has gone through since 2000, the country’s media tended to focus on the political story. But the formation of a power-sharing government between long-ruling President Robert Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 2009 put the focus more on the prospects for reconstruction. We think we can contribute by providing quality information to those who need to make sound investment decisions on Zimbabwe.
What is the impact?
With our national network of stringers, we look beyond the capital to provide much broader economic coverage, including exclusive content from previously ignored zones of economic activity. We aim to shine a spotlight on the economic fortunes of farming, mining and tourism areas which do not make everyday news. The Source will promote debate on economic policy as the government and business try to set a clear direction for the recovering economy. Our reports are also starting to enrich the economic pages of newspapers, websites and radio stations.
Why is it important to tell "the often complex economic story of Zimbabwe?"
A protracted political and economic crisis, which according to the IMF peaked with hyperinflation at an astounding 500 billion percent in December 2008, makes Zimbabwe’s a rather complex story to tell. At the same time, it has to be told accurately, dispassionately and fast, if the information is to serve ordinary citizens, policy makers and business leaders. More important, given Zimbabwe’s dire need for foreign investment to revive its economy, a business news service has to provide trusted information for external investors. The key sectors – mining, manufacturing, infrastructure and the financial sector – need up to $45 billion in investment for the country to achieve sustained growth. Given the lack of capital in the country, such funding can only come from outside and will only come from investors who have quality information.
The Source also intends to shed light on the regulatory environment. This is very important, considering the impact of a 2008 law limiting foreign ownership to 49 percent in any major investment in Zimbabwe, especially in mines. Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned farms from 2000 to resettle landless blacks disrupted the economy, unsettled investors and worsened the foreign investment climate. But the government appears to be more flexible in applying the 2008 firm ownership law, and this gives us the chance to shed light on the nuances of the ownership policy.
The Source has a key role to play in debating all policies that impact foreign investment. For instance, highlighting the impact of the current policy - de-investment, company closures and job losses – helps government to consider policy adjustment or changes. Experts writing opinion columns for the Source can also debate the merits of these policies, potentially influencing government policy to improve the foreign investment climate.
What are the day-to-day challenges of reporting the news in Zimbabwe?
In 2002, Zimbabwe adopted tough media laws, including a criminal defamation clause that has seen several journalists arraigned before the courts. This has created a pervasive climate of fear and has been used by public officials, and some business executives, to keep probing journalists in check.
A journalist working in Zimbabwe also has to contend with a lack of credible official statistics, especially on key economic indicators. One example is the unemployment figure, which the official state statistics agency insists is 11 percent, while most independent economists put it much higher at 80-90 percent. The poor data is, in part, a result of the hyperinflationary period, when the government simply stopped publicizing statistics it thought reflected badly on its management record.
Journalists working for non-state media are denied access to some important news events or information. They face similar problems when trying to report on some private corporations, due to a poorly developed corporate communications/investor relations culture. For instance, only a few firms listed firms on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) maintain useful, regularly updated websites.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2014?
Our target for 2014 is to consolidate our position as Zimbabwe’s first domestic financial news service. We hope to improve our content, both in quality, through continued staff training, and quantity, by expanding our stringer network. We also hope to generate more exclusive content to ensure more pick-ups by our media clients as we grow our brand in the market.
As a former Reuters correspondent and now editor of The Source, what advice would you give to budding journalists?
My advice to budding journalists is to stay hungry, stay curious and aspire to the highest standards of journalism by consuming quality content and, better still, continuous training, such as that offered by Thomson Reuters Foundation. If they can, they should find a mentor – a seasoned journalist who can help them through their formative years in the trade. One of the key lessons I took from Reuters is the importance of preparation. Preparation – equipping oneself with basic tools for an assignment, or background research to understand a beat, an interview subject or an issue – is perhaps two-thirds of an assignment done. Above all, they should stay true to ethical conduct in their work.