Lao-Vietnamese Media Exchange to Help Promote Balanced Reporting on Hydropower
Ekaphone Phouthonesy, Business News Editor of Vientiane Times, is one of the most experienced journalists covering stories on hydropower development in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Yet, he still finds a banking workshop held in Hanoi by IFC and the Institute of Manpower, Banking and Finance immensely helpful for him to uncover new angles to a field he knows so well.
At the mid-May workshop, which attracted dozens of bank executives and reporters from Vietnam and Lao PDR, Phouthonesy learned about Vietnamese financing of cross-border hydropower projects in the Mekong region. Vietnamese companies and banks are involved in about 20 hydropower projects in Lao PDR, accounting for up to 15 percent of the country’s hydropower potential if realized.
The workshop aimed to demonstrate how managing the environmental and social risks of large-scale infrastructure projects can help banks lower their risk exposure and promote sustainable investments that benefit the people, the environment and the investors.
“Understanding how banks identify project risk was very valuable for my reporting,” says Phouthonesy. “To ensure that our reporting is balanced, we need to tell all sides of the story. This workshop in Hanoi presented a side of the story we’ve never reported on before.”
Phouthonesy says the workshop enabled him to report on how Vietnamese banks can better manage their lending risks to improve the sustainability of hydropower in Lao PDR. “But to be effective, Vietnam journalists also need to report on Vietnamese investments in Lao PDR,” he says. “This awareness raising will help pressure hydropower projects, developed by outside investors, to be more sustainable.”
He also says training will help groom more reporters to cover the rapidly developing hydropower sector.
“Everyone is hungry for news on hydropower development in Lao PDR,” he says. “Local people need to understand how they will be affected by change, while developers need to receive news on government policy reform to better understand their investment choices. To balance our reporting, we simply need more people writing on this topic.”
Thonglor Duansanavh, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Vientiane Times, agrees that the country needs dedicated journalists who specialize in hydropower to lift the quality of reporting on the field. He believes a good place to begin is by learning from neighboring countries such as Vietnam and improving knowledge sharing among journalists.