Public interest in economic issues is growing and the media should respond
The economic situation of the country has become a subject for much discussion. The rise in food prices, the cause of power cuts, the financial support of the Gulf, the collapse of the tourist industry, government plans to increase the cost of transport, etc. and causes and culprits, solutions and saviours are all are all hotly debated.
This increased attention for economic issues can also be seen in the media; the same issues are debated on the television in newspapers and websites. Yet, the increased media attention has not automatically led to less concern about the economic situation or are all hotly debated to more confidence in the resilience of the private sector or government plans to tackle economic problems or developments in the global economy. .
How good are media in responding to the public’s need for information?
In spite of increased attention for economic issues in the media, the general feeling of confusion and anxiety on the present state of the economy prevails and extra information has not changed the nature of discussions. Uncertainty about the government’s handling of the economy has not changed and few people can explain what the government’s strategies are. The same confusion on pros and cons of international lending exist and the same for issues related to poverty and employment. There is more than one reasons for the continued anxiety.
First of all the nature of economic problems itself; even economic experts do not always agree on causes and remedies of the current problems; expert opinions differ even more on what will happen in the future. Economic science deals with facts and figures, but also with choices, priorities and their consequences and economic experts can differ in opinion according to their political orientation or economic specialization.
Moreover, scientists are not always good in explaining complicated issues to ordinary citizens: it is often not their first concern or area of interest. This is that the media are good at! They should help and work as intermediaries between the academic world and ordinary readers and viewers of news. Their role should be to translate complicated information into a language ordinary people can understand and to explain how and in what way economic problems, policies and decisions can affect their lives.
However, journalists have often not had a chance to study these economic problems themselves. Research conducted by al Sawt al Hurr has shown that few journalists working for the economic sections of mainstream media have followed economic studies and they are therefore ill-equipped to provide readers and viewers with real insights in the great potential and prospects of the Egyptian economy and the actions and strategies of both government and private sector to develop the country.
The public’s need for good information on economic issues is now extra urgent.
Egypt is about to take some important economic decisions.
Most economic experts in the country, at universities as well as in research centres in the private sector agree that the Egyptian economy has reached a critical stage in which important decisions will need to be taken which will have important consequences for all citizens.
The Egyptian state has traditionally had an important role in the economy and successive governments are aware of their responsibility and try to make policies and plans that deserve to be understood by the citizens.
The activities of the private sector are often even less covered by the media and therefore even less understood. However, decisions in the private sector also have their impact on lives of the people.
Egypt has embarked on a roadmap to democracy
A vital democracy needs well informed citizens who actively follow the discussions in parliament about policies and plans of the government. The media can contribute towards building democracy by informing their readers and viewers about important economic issues. It can do so by giving a voice to the academic and business communities and by presenting technical and complicated information in a way that is more accessible to the public.
How journalism and research can help each other?
The Arab Network for Media Support has launched a new project, called Economic Reporting and Research. The aim of the project is to improve the status and public appreciation of economic reporting in Egypt, which is important during a time of economic problems.
The project will bring together economic experts, economic researchers and journalists working for television, online and print media to bring about a fruitful exchange on current economic issues and dilemmas, making these issues understandable to a wider audience and stimulating public debate based on clear and factual information.
In addition to the general aim, the project has a number of specific objectives, as follows:
1. To increase public interest in economic and financial journalism;
2. To engage media organizations in qualitative improvement of their financial/economic reporting activities;
3. To introduce and propagate new journalistic templates and formats for economic reporting, with special emphasis on ‘explanatory journalism’; and
4. To promote fruitful cooperation between academia and the media, leading to in-depth and high-quality economic research and reporting;
5. To train journalists in advanced economic reporting and news-writing skills
6. To conduct operational ‘investigative’ research on economic issues of national concern, and in doing so to produce information that can contribute to meaningful public debates;
The project will particularly emphasize the introduction of three new journalistic concepts:
1. Explanatory journalism; the presentation of fact-based information, focusing on the ‘what’ and how’ of economic concepts and dilemmas and in plain and simple terms;
2. Investigative journalism, offering more in-depth economic analysis in a way that is attractive to a wide group of readers and viewers.
3. Reporting on topical debates, concentrating on presenting and reporting of both sides of an economic dilemma, or choice without bias;
This project will last for a period of more than 24 months and will include training, research and debates on economic issues; it will produce investigative reports, supervised by experts and the coaching of journalists. At the end of the project, journalists will be issues certificates and the best news stories will receive awards..
For this project, cooperation is established with all major universities and research centers in the country; training workshops will be facilitated by experienced trainers and economic experts.
Media outlet that will to participate are expected to benefit in the following ways.
1. The public interest in their economic news will increase and may lead to increased consumer interest, sales and advertisements.
2. Status and reputation of participating newsmedia will rise as result of increased credibility of news.
3. Cooperation with scientists and experts will increase reader satisfaction and reduce the chances of legal action.
4. Reporters will become skilled in ‘leading the news’ instead of just following it. They will produce exclusives and background information/ fact sheets that can be archived and used more often.
Background on al Sawt al Hurr
Al Sawt al Hurr, the Arab network for media support, is a programme aimed at the promotion of journalistic quality. It develops and organizes practical, high-quality training to journalists and other media workers, based on real needs, priorities and concerns, and sees this as a means to achieve its vision. It strives to cooperate will all possible partners, organizations and initiatives sharing the same ideals.
Al Sawt al Hurr, www.asahnetwork.org has worked in Egypt since 2007 and trained more 1000 journalists
Previous experience of al Sawt al Hurr
Since 2012, al Sawt al Hurr has worked closely with the Egyptian Journalism Syndicate to deliver training in financial and economic journalism, focused on developing journalists’ own understanding of economic and financial concepts, and improving their journalistic skills to convey these ideas to non-expert members of the public.
– Since 2013, al Sawt al Hurr worked on reporting on the national budget, aiming to train journalists to understand the national budget and to develop stories related to budgetary topics, focusing on human interest. This project also entails an element of investigative journalism, through which participating journalists carried out original investigative research into budget-related topics, resulting in in-depth and unique stories. To date, 92 stories related to the budget were published.
– al Sawt al Hurr carried out research into economic journalism in Egypt and found that the recent economic problems in Egypt have led to the public developing a greater interest in economic and financial news. However, members of the public often find the economic news presented by media outlets uninteresting or difficult to follow, due to its use of challenging vocabulary and complex concepts. A complete version of this research is enclosed for your perusal.