What it means when a non-financial journo wins Financial Journo of the Year

It was of some significance that the Sanlam Financial Journalist of the Year Award was won not by someone who writes about markets, industries or monetary policy, but a hard-nosed muckraker specialising in exposing state shenanigans.

Susan Comrie is not a conventional financial reporter of the type that has dominated the 42 years of these awards. She works for amaBhungane, the independent investigative unit which has taken a lead in the #statecapture and #guptaleaks exposés.

Ama-B, as they are commonly known, have barely featured in these awards before – but this year Comrie won the Business and Companies category and the Print category (for her work in City Press) as well as the overall award. And Ama-B reporter Craig McKune also won the Online Financial Journalist of the Year category.

This highlights where the action is, and where the interest of the business and business journalism community are focussed: on investigative financial reporting as a bulwark against corruption. Investigative reporters have put themselves at the forefront of holding our government to account at a time when many of the institutions of accountability – such as the National Prosecuting Authority and the Public Prosecutor – show themselves to be compromised and ineffectual.

The tone of remarks at the awards event reflected this: the fate of businesses like Sanlam is dependant on the country’s prosperity; that prosperity is at risk; so they are looking for ways to reduce that risk. And that does – or should – means support for the muckrakers they would normally keep at a cautious arm’s length.

“At a time when South Africa faces a myriad of challenges, the role of financial journalists, in particular, is important in supporting the country in the efforts to build the sustainable and inclusive growth which we must all strive for, Sanlam Group CEO Ian Kirk said. “There have been many occasions when the media has proven its commitment to this role, but in recent times, particularly since that fateful early evening of 9 December 2015, this could not be more relevant and evident …

“While the country is currently consumed with the revelations that have surfaced from the leaked emails which seem to connect the dots, when all of it is done, we are dependent on financial journalists to report on the implications for the country’s economy and the impact on all of us. That is why Sanlam has continued to support these Awards and other initiatives aimed at contributing to the advancement of journalism, either through training or recognition,” Kirk said.

I hope this means that business will think about how they need to support our journalism, particularly of this hard-nosed investigative sort, and ensure that bodies like Ama-B survive the financial and political challenges they face.

It was also noteworthy who did not feature in the awards – and what this says about the shrinking range of financial journalism. Independent Newspaper’s Business Report got barely a mention, and that was true too of another long-time contender, Media24’s FinWeek. The rejuvenated Financial Mail won two categories (Claire Bisseker for economics, and editor Rob Rose for financial markets) and others went to MNet/Carte Blance, Moneyweb and Forbes magazine.

* The Lifetime Achievement Award went to another fiercely independent, hard-nosed muckraker, Anne Crotty – and it was much deserved.

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