UCA News - Issue 112
125 journalists undergo training on budget transparency and accountability
For journalists from the Kyrgyz Republic, reporting on national and local budgets is often a difficult and stressful task. Information may not be widely distributed, and budget data that is available is often hard to understand. In addition, journalists feel they are not prepared to report on budget topics, due largely to lack of knowledge and understanding.
"We are afraid to write about the budget, afraid to show ourselves as incompetent, illiterate," said Zhibek Zhoroeva, a journalist for the newspaper 'Alay Tany' in Osh Oblast. "Therefore, in most cases, we limit ourselves to a mere statement of official data, which is given to us by officials.
Administered by the World Bank and financed by the Global Partnership Facility, the Information Matters: Transparency and Accountability in the Kyrgyz Republic Project is helping journalists like Zhibek improve their ability to analyze, present, and disseminate accurate fiscal and budgetary information.
The project is being implemented by a Consortium, led by the University of Central Asia and including the Development Policy Institute, the Kyrgyz Stock Exchange Press Club, and the Alliance for Budget Transparency. Part of the overarching Information Matters: Transparency and Accountability in the Kyrgyz Republic (IMTAK) initiative, the project seeks to build the capacity of media to ensure transparency and heighten awareness of budget processes.
A total of 150 journalists will be trained over the course of this three-phase project, which began in the spring of 2011. The second phase of the project, which trained 90 journalists from across the country, will finish in Bishkek in December 2011.
At present, mass media outlets in the Kyrgyz Republic tend to neglect coverage of budget and public finance, and those that do provide coverage prefer to simply state figures with little to no analysis or commentary. While the Kyrgyz Republic has some of the greatest freedoms provided to the press in the region, there is a dearth of investigative and analytical journalism. Numbers and figures are often given without greater context or comparable data to help readers understand information provided.
To better understand the media landscape in the Kyrgyz Republic, Consortium members first conducted a needs assessment to ensure that the trainings met the needs of the country’s journalists. The results revealed some significant insights into journalists’ knowledge of and approach to budget analysis and reporting. Of the 35 journalists surveyed, only 2 per cent believed they had the requisite knowledge to report on and analyze budget issues. In turn, the journalists felt that their inability to critically analyze and interpret budget figures prevented their reading public from understanding the role that public finance plays in everyday services, such as education and transportation.
To help journalists build skills in budget analysis and reporting, the Consortium is delivering a series of trainings across all oblasts of the Kyrgyz Republic. To date, 125 journalists have participated in the first and second phases of the programme, representing a variety of media outlets and a range of experience levels. Session topics include the budget process and budget formation, budget information analysis, and transparency and accountability in public finance.
As part of the training, journalists also took part in ‘press sessions’, or mock press conferences, with prominent national experts and government representatives fielding questions on topics of particular significance for their oblast, or region. For example, in Naryn city, Ainura Balakunova, consultant for the economic department of the Ministry of Education and Science, presented on the Kyrgyz Education Development Strategy 2012 – 2020 and the relationship between reforms in fiscal policy and education.
Citing these ‘press sessions’ as an empowering exercise, journalists such as Aida Moldalieva now feel ready to ask the technical and difficult questions they previously avoided. “Earlier at a press conference on the budget, I was afraid to ask questions ... it was impossible to evaluate the information because of lack of knowledge,” said Aida, a journalist for radio “Manas” in Bishkek. “Now, I am not an expert on the budget, but I can ask questions, because I understand the issues.”