Baku — THE media in Africa has been challenged to learn more about oil and gas if the new and booming sector is to impact positively on the continent's socio-economic sphere.
This was said here by Mr Hatem Ghandir, Head of Business News at Al Jazeera in Qatar during the opening of a two-day conference on gas, oil and media hosted by the International Press Institute (IPI).
He said that most journalists in developing countries especially in Africa lack specialized reporting which, he said, was a setback in getting the inner part of the complex stories. "General news reporting will not help a journalist to uncover rampant shoddy deals and corrupt malpractices in the oil and gas sector, thus a need for specialization," Mr Ghandir said.
He also challenged media owners to pay journalists well so as to reduce possibilities of being bribed. "If you train and pay the journalists well and if they have good background, chances are that they will expose more shoddy deals and by doing so the people will start pushing the governments for more transparency and accountability", he said.
Mr Godber Tumushabe, the Executive Director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment in Uganda, said that a true partnership between the media and civil societies was vital in making life tougher for oil and gas companies that hide information of public interest.
"The strategy here is very simple. The media should write widely and wildly from the facts they have in hand and the oil and gas companies will have to get out of the shell and respond", he said. Currently, he said, there is a growing trend of mistrust between governments and their people. "The people no longer trust their government and vice-versa," he added.
He warned that African governments must be careful when signing production sharing agreements with multinational oil and gas companies which are more experienced in the sector. "In Uganda for instance, the company that has invested in the exploration of oil will always say that they are for the welfare of the people but if you look at the contracts critically, you will see a lot of shortfalls which are not beneficial to the country," Mr Tumushabe said.
Ms Elizabeth Souder, Energy Reporter with 'The Dallas Morning News' in the US said there was a need for the media to know the fundamental issues about oil and gas exploration. "When things go wrong, exploration companies will always tell you it's BP not us," she said, referring to the worst oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Mr Toyin Akinosho, Editor and Publisher, Africa Oil & Gas Report in Nigeria said African journalists need training to enable them tackle serious challenges such as grand corruption in the sector. "Most African journalists need training about oil and gas. We are forced at all times to prepare press releases for them so that they can make sense out of it, otherwise they are not familiar with the oil and gas sector," he said, adding:
"Now, if you ask me, what would be my take on this, number one is training, number two is training and number three is training." More than 170 journalists from 27 countries are attending the first-of-its-kind event, which began with a statement from President Ilham Aliyev.
The opening ceremony, at which several dignitaries were present, including the ambassadors of Iraq and Austria, was immediately followed by the first of several panels, 'Oil and Press Freedom -- Rig over Troubled Waters?' Several speakers from around the world are lined up to discuss the oil and gas sector at length.