Workshop on illicit trade attracts top journalists

4 Aug 2016 - 12:00

30 African investigative journalists attended a UCT workshop on illicit financial outflows reporting. Given the success of the pilot event, the Centre for Film and Media Studies are considering hosting an annual event with an award going to the top investigative journalist, in this field.

The Centre for Film and Media Studies (CFMS) hosted 30 investigative journalists from across Africa for a three-day workshop on reporting taxation and illicit financial outflows from the continent. The workshop, which was held from 27 - 29 June on UCT Upper Campus, was a collaboration between the CFMS, the Nairobi-based Tax Justice Network Africa, the Open Society Foundation of South Africa, and the UK-based non-profit group Finance Uncovered. The practice of illicit trade, corruption and irregular financial reporting are all serious issues facing African countries.

This was the first such workshop hosted by the University of Cape Town. From 2017, the CFMS intends to host this initiative annually and will introduce an annual award for investigative journalism in the area of financial reporting. Dr Wallace Chuma, a senior lecturer at CFMS and co-ordinator of the workshop, said the success of the 2016 training initiative and the importance of the subject had inspired both the Centre and its partners to make this an annual event. “This year’s training attracted senior journalists from all parts of the African continent, and the feedback has been extremely positive. We’ve decided, together with our partners, to make this an annual event hosted by the CFMS. The subject of illicit financial outflows and other tax avoidance and evasion activities by both multinationals and individuals, and the implications for Africa’s development, is so important, yet receives scant media attention. Our intervention is designed to help build capacity among African journalists,”said Chuma.

The UCT-hosted training comes against the backdrop of recent revelations that Africa loses up to US$50 billion annually to illicit financial outflows, according to a report by the African Union’s High Level Panel investigating the matter, chaired by South Africa’s former President Thabo Mbeki. Even more recently, the Panama Papers revelations showed complex and illicit movements of money offshore from Africa. The Panama Papers are a series of leaked confidential documents detailing irregular financial information involving more than 200 thousand offshore entities. These documents, some of which date back to the 1970s, illustrate how wealthy individuals and corporations side-step regulations in order to avoid declaring personal financial information. The Panama Papers ‘whistleblower’ remains anonymous, even to journalists, to this day.

Dr. Marion Walton from the CFMS, presented a session on new trends in data journalism and, discussed how data sources such as Wikipedia; Google maps and news visualisations still largely informed by ‘colonial constructions of Africa’. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to engage such a fascinating group of African journalists while discussing new trends in data journalism.” She says, “Together with veteran journalist Ray Joseph we saw how local projects such as Code4SA are revitalising investigative journalism with open data in South Africa. We also looked closely at the pitfalls of visualisation in African media. Beyond a small "data elite" there are real problems communicating numerical data and arguments. We have to avoid the tendency to simplify complex events with irresponsible or uninformed visualisations. Yet rigorous data journalism can also work with creative storytelling and non-mathematical genres. Finally, digital projects also need to be designed around the dominance of mobile phones in local infrastructure and communicative practices,” said Walton.

According to Chuma, feedback from both workshop attendees and presenters has been extremely positive and, supports the need for Africa media training opportunities in the near future.

Fantastic Program, it was great to network with different personalities. I also liked the fact that the topics were timely - illicit financial flows out of Africa - the same was reiterated during the UNCTAD 14 in Nairobi. We should have more of such with more time for in and out of class interactions. Laban Cliff – Business news Anchor, Nation Media Group, East Africa.