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AUB and Reuters flesh out plans to help improve business journalism in region

The Reuters news agency and the American University of Beirut (AUB) unveiled the curriculum of the Business Information Academy Friday, initiating the program announced last year to improve the quality of business journalism in the Middle East and promote regional economic growth.

The venture is the first global academic outing for UK-based Reuters, which sponsors a research institute at Oxford University. It plans to offer a two-day workshop on business journalism in May, and a conference on business information in December.

The facility aims to raise the standard of available business information in the regional media by refining the skills of journalists and providing a networking forum for media and businessmen, said George Najjar, dean of AUB's Olayan School of Business. By holding three or four workshops yearly with about 20 professionals, the academy stresses the importance of information in today's knowledge-based economy.

"It's about taking mid-career journalists on a regional scale and giving them the best training we can provide," Najjar said, adding that the program would be limited to reporters. "This is not about journalists - this is about business information. This is a resource on whose effective utilization and whose success many businesses in the region will depend."

Improving financial-sector reporting can quickly translate into better performance across the economy, said Rosemary Martin, president of the Reuters Foundation. Markets here might not be ready for the level of transparency found in Western media, but the region is ready to make a significant leap.

"We think that the Middle East is at a very interesting turning point," Martin said. "We feel that it is right at that kind of tipping point moving toward more transparent markets. We believe that having transparent information will help the development of capital markets here and will help in the development of the economy as a whole."

Insufficient information is partially responsible for plummeting capital markets in the Gulf last year, said Henry Azzam, CEO of Jordan-based Amwal Invest. Opaque markets breed the kind of speculation that led to the rampant sell-offs of 2006, which had little to do with the performance of the companies whose valuations plunged. A culture built upon precise information given willingly by publicly traded firms, would drive speculators away and create a healthier basis for the market to function.

"It's not just buy and sell to make a quick buck," Azzam said. "We need to develop an equity culture. We cannot develop an equity culture without business information."

The academy will also launch specialized diploma programs next March, followed by a degree program in April 2008.

Marseille,04 02 2007
The Daily Star
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