Thursday, February 29, 2024

“Let there be coherence between headlines and the substantive story”

I am pleased to join you at this workshop on the promotion of better economic reporting. It is self-evident that we all live in a world that is driven, by and large, by economics and organised around business, with ICT now increasingly playing a phenomenally facilitative role. It is therefore absolutely crucial for media practitioners, more especially those reporting on economic and development issues, to be grounded in at least basic understanding of how markets operate and how consequently businesses falter or prosper. The economist Murray Rothbard once observed, in this respect, that while it may be no crime to be ignorant of the discipline of economics it is (and I quote), “totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” Unquote.

This possibly is rather unkind to most of us mortals!! For members of the media to bring greater understanding of the world of economics to the wider public they must in the first instance understand it or at least command a fair amount of its rudiments. The importance of such understanding is hard to overstate for in the words of another prominent economist of his era, John Maynard Keynes, quote, “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.” Unquote. Rather brutal, isn’t it. In as much as economics is a broad discipline, originally known as political economy, and today has many sub-disciplines that the likes of Keynes would need an economics 101 Course to grasp e.g. the Stock Exchange, Global Stock Markets and Currency gyrations etc. I do appreciate that the organisers of this workshop, the Editors Forum working in partnership with the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA), wisely decided to focus this two day exercise on the crucial area of Small and Medium Enterprises. This is a highly commendable mark of visionary leadership. This is an especially timely topic given that Small, Medium and Micro-Enterprises or SMMEs have been identified around the world as critical elements for achieving sustainable inclusive development through a more diversified and productive economy. By their very nature, SMMEs serve as incubators of innovation and entrepreneurship. They are also, in the aggregate, labour intensive, while their success or failure is inevitably dependent on their productivity like any other business. The U.S. Small Business Technology Council, for example, has noted that it is the smaller firms in America that employ the greatest number of scientists and engineers. This observation is as true for our own country as it is elsewhere, which is why the promotion of SMMEs has become a core component of Government efforts to eradicate absolute poverty and promote citizen empowerment, including the youth, as well as a catalytic segment for growing and diversifying the economy as a whole.

Promotion of employment for both the skilled and unskilled alike. The promotion of SMME’s through self-help packages and concessional loans, training and mentoring and the facilitation of market access along the supply chain has thus been cascaded into Government’s flagship programmes, e.g. Economic Diversification Drive, Youth Empowerment Scheme and Poverty Eradication. Apart from market access, I think LEA and CEDA should also promote and mentor Rural Development Council projects like Oodi Weavers, Zutshwa Salt Project, Mogobane Irrigation Scheme etc. I am pleased that a total of 213 new businesses, with an expected domestic investment of P391 million have been financed by CEDA from April 2013 to date. These are expected to create 1859 jobs. Assuming an average family of four, it means 7436 lives should be sustained.

The businesses are in the sectors of property, manufacturing, services and agribusiness, and will be located across the country. In an era of globalisation that is based on the flow of information; in a global economy where knowledge and innovation drive profits; and in a world where the health of any country’s domestic economy, can to a great extent, be measured by the vitality of its private sector; economic business reporting at all levels should no longer be confined to back page advertorials. For the country’s economy to continue to grow in an increasingly complex and competitive global marketplace, the Government has focused on a number of key areas. Power and transmission lines to the North West Region, water ÔÇô the three new dams have a total capacity of 530 million cubic metres at a total cost of P6.4 billion, human capital, ICT, including the P395 million East West Fibre Optic Network. Undertaken concurrently are thrusts such as Minerals Investment Company, Okavango Diamond Company for independent verification of diamond prices, diamond sales migration from London to Gaborone, the Coal Road Map whose basic infrastructure entails the proposed establishment of an East West Rail network, Botswana Oil Company for the security of fuel products, Botswana International University of Science and Technology, the University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the 450 bed University Teaching Hospital, the Selebi-Phikwe Polaris II Project etc. The various thrusts cater for various strata of society, from social safety networks, to poverty eradication packages, to SMME’s to mega flagship programmes, to catalysts outlined above.

All of these address objectives of employment creation, economic diversification and economic growth. I am sure the more curious reports will want to know more about all these projects. The SMME approach should enable Batswana to successfully compete as players within a regional and global economy whose playing field is not always favourable to us. This puts an even greater burden on us to collectively achieve greater levels of productivity by knowing how to profit from opportunity. Such knowledge begins with better information and communication, which is the very business of the media. The Government appreciates that the private media, like the private sector in general have their own challenges. These include the relatively small market and the infancy of indigenous publishing and other media related activities. I am aware that local media are further constrained by a lack of adequate training and mentoring, which is due not only to under-investment in human capital but also because media houses often find it difficult to retain more talented and experienced journalists. Given such challenges it is important for media stakeholders to come together to constructively address their common challenges and opportunities.

Whether we are talking about advertising, visual production, online communication or more traditional electronic and print publication, the media have a big role to play in moving the country forward. To this end, the newsrooms should and must invest in more coordinated training programmes. I note that over the last few years Botswana Editors Forum has been engaged in a training programme at various levels across newsrooms. This is commendable considering the level of skills shortage that is so apparent across the media profession, the skills shortage that is itself at the root of some possible loss of public trust and faith in the media. Organizations like CEDA which like everyone of us, have vested interests in high quality journalism, should continue to support training programmes similar to today’s workshop. For in the end, a country that cannot effectively communicate its own interests is, in this era or epoch of information age, an endangered country. Endangered species.

For instance, without media there can be no serious marketing, without marketing there is no product appreciation and sales, without sales (at national level in services and exports) our society will have limited outlets and therefore no business. No business, no jobs. A paradoxical irony for an industry that is labour intensive. I wish to further appreciate that by organising today’s workshop and similar events, the Editor’s Forum has once more done a sterling job to promote higher standards of journalism. This rhymes well with Governments’ investment in education and skills training in various fields of communication. Many trainees must be ready for adoption and adaption for the market place. Given that the power of persuasion, like all forms of power, can corrupt, editors have a particular responsibility to protect freedom of expression by ensuring that it is not abused. Just as popular faith in democratic politics will be compromised by dishonest governance; the credibility of any free media will likewise suffer if it casts aside such professional values as truthfulness and ethics, accuracy, balance and fairness, while indulging in sensationalism and malicious insult.

I do find time to read newspapers, including the Mabijo satire that holds the mirror up to society. If I may share a light moment with you I think there is room for improvement in newspaper reports. Let there be coherence between headlines and the substantive story. Unfair innuendo is uncalled for. Some people avoid interviews to avoid being quoted out of context. Rebuttals and corrections be given some semblance of prominence and reader friendly font. In conclusion, through events such as this the Editors’ Forum Workshop, that make us better known to both ourselves and the wider world. In the interest of mutual understanding and progress, I think meaningful dialogue of stakeholders must be sustained in order to keep the ship of communication afloat, in the public interest. I wish once more to commend CEDA for showing leadership in sponsoring this event, and trust that the outcome will be seminal not only to enhance better economic reporting but also to advance the cause of good journalism and its ethical standards. It is now my pleasant duty to declare the Editors Forum Workshop open. Pula!

*This is a speech delivered by Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe when he officially opened a training seminar organised by Botswana Editors Forum. The seminar was sponsored by CEDA (Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency)


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