Tag Archives: media

Do you exercise?

Launching CIPE's Corporate Governance Guide for Family-owned Companies in Pakistan.Like all that exercise you planned to do but failed to implement, neglecting corporate governance will come back to haunt you. Poor corporate governance can take down a firm, and poor corporate governance practices can take down an entire economy.

Corporate governance is also like exercise in that it’s not something you should stop worrying about once your economy is in shape. Effective corporate governance is based on external and internal relationships that change over time. If corporate governance practices don’t change with them, they can no longer enforce the principles they’re meant to enforce.

In the early 1950s, individual investors held 92 percent of all U.S. stocks; while today individuals hold 25 percent and institutional investors (such as mutual funds or pension funds) hold 75 percent. That change is merely one example of how the relationships between investors and company managers has altered over time. Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing but failure to account for it is, and the consequences can be hard to swallow. Perhaps next time, public and private sector leaders won’t need a global financial crisis and recession to force such a re-examination.

Corporate governance is like exercise in yet another way. As public and private sector leaders are more vigilant about maintaining good corporate governance practices, economies improve their future prospects for growth and resiliency in the face of uncertainty. In terms of physical health, regular exercise helps the body prevent and recover from injury and sickness. Just as the highest caliber athletes can get sick or injured, no matter how well an economy performs it remains subject to a degree of uncertainty. Instead of healthier bodies, good corporate governance practices build resilient economic institutions to better cope with unforeseen problems causing slowdowns or recessions.

In the end, corporate governance as a topic for discussion has about as much appeal as discussing the benefits of medicine ball exercises for kids; but just the same, constant vigilance brings constant reward.

Coverage of The Financial Crisis

Russia and Ukraine have many things in common in the current financial crisis and economic downturn.  As Russia is watching the capital run out of the country ($50 billion last month alone), politicians in Ukraine are bickering about that check from the IMF.  These days, whether its Russia or Ukraine, everyone wants and needs every last million.

But there is one thing that sets apart Russia and Ukraine – its not the financial crisis itself but the coverage of it.  Simply put, the state-dominated Russian media presents a much more limited view of the ongoing economies woes than media in Ukraine.  How so and what are the implications? – Marc Schleifer and I talk about it in more detail in our recent op-ed in the Moscow Times.

There is just one comment there, but it is quite groundbreaking – apparently there is more media freedom in Russia than anywhere else.  Media Freedom Index authors would probably disagree.

The Largest Drop

Georgia dropped almost sixty spots in the latest media freedom report by Reporters Without Borders – going down from the 66th to the 120th place in the rankings.  This could be one the larger drops in one year that the index has seen. 

The conflict with Russia is mentioned as a key reason for Georgia’s poor performance in the report.  It certainly contributed to the fall with the dangers to journalists in conflicts, but restrictions placed on media in Georgia have not helped either and, perhaps, have been the driving force.  For example, when anti-government demonstrations were sweeping the country last year, the president simply shut down the independent media.  

Earlier this month, this NY Times article  painted a bleak picture of media freedom in Georgia.  An ombudsman for human rights, for example, notes a gap between laws on paper and what the government actually does in regards to media freedom:

We have some of the best freedom-of-expression laws in the world, but in practice, the government is so afraid of criticism that it has felt compelled to raid media offices and to intimidate journalists and bash their equipment.

Another interesting trend highlighted in the report is that bloggers are targeted as much as journalists in the traditional media.

You can view the index here.

If a Bank Fails and No One Reports it, Does it Still Fail?

As my colleague Alex Shkolnikov noted earlier, the Russian press has been relatively mum on the topic of the financial maelstrom enveloping Russian markets.  Now news comes from the Financial Times that the first retail bank has experienced a run on deposits

Globex, a mid-sized retail bank with assets of $4bn (€2.95bn, £2.32bn), is the first Russian bank to experience a run on deposits during the crisis. It lost 13 per cent of its deposits last month, according to Maxim Raskosnov, an analyst at Renaissance capital, and a further 15 per cent this month according to Emilya Alieva, Globex’s vice-president.

At least a dozen other Russian banks have reported a sharp rise in withdrawals and account closures.

Although Prime Minister Putin has directed his government to inject over $84 billion into Russian banks it seems to have had little effect.  The fact that the majority of money was injected directly into the largest state run banks has left those with deposits in other smaller privately run banks wondering just how safe their money really is.  The favoritism has already lead many to transfer their accounts to one of the larger banks that has received the financial blessing of the Kremlin.

Simply omitting bad financial news from the nightly television broadcasts will not solve the problems that Russian financial institutions face.  As Lenin once famously stated, “A lie told often enough becomes truth.”  Unfortunately, with a strategy of opaqueness and misinformation the truth that is stored in many bank accounts across Russia may run out, leaving many impoverished and hungry for answers.

Perhaps the Economist summed the situation up most perfectly in its article “No Crisis Here”  with its typical dry British wit:

Now the Russian media, particularly television, is under tight control.  What most Russians have heard on the news is that America’s financial system has crashed, damaging other Western countries with it. Russia is all but untouched. And Mr Putin got a tiger cub for his birthday, and has released a DVD about judo.

Media Freedoms and Lack Thereof

I was in the Hague earlier this week, participating in an anti-corruption conference, and was able to follow the financial crisis by checking in whenever possible with CNN and BBC on TV and the Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune – all that was easily available around me.  It may not have been much, but enough.  The coverage was certainly extensive, with much time and column space devoted to discussions on problems, solutions, finger-pointing, and other related issues.

One thing that was hard not to notice while in Europe is that the media there spent a considerable amount of time covering their own financial issues, just as in the US much focus is on domestic implications of the crisis as well.

A few days before that, however, I was watching a Russian television channel and it was hard to ignore the fact that in covering the financial crisis in a news segment, they spent about 10 minutes on problems facing developing countries.  At the same time, they included only a brief note on the fact that the Russian government is taking care of things at home.  The bias in coverage, as well as the different tone between Russian and foreign reporting, were quite interesting to observe.

The Moscow Times also noted this divergence, pointing out that on a day when trading was suspended on the Russian market due to the sharp declines:

Instead of reports about the markets’ losses, the three main television channels — state-controlled Channel One, Rossia and NTV — showed billionaire Mikhail Fridman telling President Dmitry Medvedev that the global financial meltdown offered new opportunities for Russian companies abroad. 

“I am convinced that the Russian financial system is protected from such a fundamental shock to a greater degree than many other countries,” Fridman told Medvedev at the Gorky presidential residence outside Moscow.

At the same time, on the cover of WSJ there was an interesting image that showed the declines on the Russian market year-to-date as compared to their developing counterparts.  While developed markets showed around 30-35% declines for the year, Russia was at the bottom of the chart with more than 60%. 

The difference in coverage in Russian media should have been in the opposite direction, at least if one were to look at the markets’ slide.  But I wonder if state media sources have the desire/willingness/and ability to do so (like their counterparts abroad)?

Slipping up on the details

It’s difficult to know exactly what is happening in the north of Sri Lanka these days (media representatives are not allowed into the conflict-riddled war zone), but it’s clear that recent police actions in Colombo could have potentially disastrous effects – in an area rather open to international scrutiny at the moment. As reported by The Economist and the BBC, civilians who have arrived from the northern [Tamil-majority] areas to the [Sinhalese-majority] capital and surrounding areas in the past five years have, over the past week, been required to register with the police, supposedly in an effort to combat the suicide attacks that have become tragically more frequent of late.

The “census,” as it is being called, could of course be just that – a simple tally of how many people are living where, most of them ethnic Tamils. Yet set against the context of the government’s recent push to end the war in the north, such a list could have a sinister application in the hands of the wrong people. Now – today, right now, and before it is too late – is the time to ask why the census has been taken, and to what end it will be used. The government has not announced what it intends to do with this information. We should be reminded that at other times in history, such lists have played conveniently into the plans of ethnic elitists.

While no one is watching, we may later discover later that the freedoms of these Tamils have quickly slipped away into what could be a truly horrific humanitarian crisis. In a country where media freedom is granted only selectively, the world needs to be taking a good hard look at what is currently being reported. And it needs to be asking what is going to be done with that list.

Losing Press Freedoms

Significant growth in violence in Afghanistan has been capturing the headlines over the past few weeks.  But somewhat beneath the surface, another type of attacks has become everpresent in the country — attacks on media.  These attacks are carried out by government agencies unhappy with reporting.  Interesting is the government’s position in regards to media, especially when reports clash with national security interests:

Some officials argue that these bounds are crossed when critical reporting weakens the central government and strengthens the Taliban. They point out that given present security conditions reporters also have an obligation to protect the national interest.

“The media does not reflect the achievements of the government,” Sadeq Mudaber, the deputy director of general policy, told reporters in November. “Although the media law guarantees freedom of press, the national interests of the country should be a priority over anything else.”

A few months ago, leading a training session for African journalists, I came across a similar issue.  A presenter from the President’s press office noted that media should be responsible as far as not weakening the position of the fragile government through negative reporting.  Interestingly, the response from journalists was quite mixed.  While some noted that it is their responsibility to cover what happens in the country, others took to heart the idea that journalists should think about the shaky foundation that governments stand on before publishing their stories. 

My take on this is that governments should be capable of dealing with criticism.  The ethical responsibility of journalists in this regard is not withholding information for fear of their own well-being — it is to provide constructive criticism; highlight problems and the institutional sources of those problems to give governments some idea on how to address issues.

In the end of the day, journalists in countries like Afghanistan already have many more enemies than friends.  Not having the government on your side (moreover, having the government after you for doing your job) does not help.