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International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists is commemorated due to the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 02 November 2013. On this day, the United Nations condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers.

In South Africa, our terrible Apartheid history has been documented through articles, documentaries, and photographs, amongst many other forms by journalists. We can commemorate historical days because of the invaluable and brave work of journalists — some of whom we may never get to know.

Just yesterday, we participated in the municipal elections, and our votes were influenced by the news we heard and read about the candidates/political party.

One of the biggest stories to come out of South Africa in the last 5 years is state capture – it was a group of investigative journalists who pieced together the elements of what grew into a remarkable story. This has changed the field of politics tremendously. Journalists are the eyes and ears South Africans rely on.

Considering this day – we are highlighting and celebrating the prolific work of journalists, their role and importance in society, and the challenges within the journalism field.

Today we celebrate Fifi Peters! Fifi Peters is an award-winning financial journalist with a career spanning over 10 years. She has worked for news publications such as Business Day and Financial Mail. Peters is passionate about financial markets and is currently the host of CNBC’s Power Lunch and SAfm’s Market Update with Moneyweb.

Here is our conversation with Fifi…

Q. Briefly tell us about yourself. What are other things, besides work, that make you who you are?

I’m pedantic about preparation and I prize it in everything I do. I am passionate about telling stories about finance and the economy in a way that’s understandable and accessible for all. I believe strongly in teamwork and subscribe to the African proverb that “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I believe in the African growth story, and it excites me to play my part in helping the continent reach its full potential by telling stories that are accurate, balanced, and fair.

Q. Can you take us through a typical day in the life of Fifi?

My day usually starts at 6am with a cup of coffee. I scroll through news that happened while sleeping, particularly in US and Asian markets as this tends to set the news agenda for the South African trading session. At around 7am I hit the gym to squeeze in at least an hour of exercise, following which I get ready to anchor Power Lunch, the midday market report on CNBC Africa at noon.

On some days I will facilitate a webinar/panel discussion after the show before heading to Houghton to prepare to host the SAfm Market Update, the express business show with Moneyweb, weekdays from 6pm – 7pm.

Q. What led you to study both journalism and economics?

My father. He felt it was important for me to balance social science with a more finance related qualification. It wasn’t common and I think I was the only student at Rhodes doing it at the time. It paid off and I do believe journalists should complement their qualification with a discipline they want to specialise in, be it law, medicine, or business.

Q. Your career started 10 years ago, and you are currently one of the most revered financial journalists. What are some of your proudest career achievements and what are some goals that you still want to achieve?

My proudest career moments were when I started producing documentaries for CNBC Africa. My colleague at the time, Karabo Letlhatlha, whom I regard as one of the best political economy reporters in this country, would often joke about how long it would take me to produce my 30-minute documentaries. He would call them, “di hard body” (reference to free range chicken that would need to be cook over long periods of time hours). I was just getting started so I was rusty and spent too much time trying to make it perfect. But I was so happy when they started coming together.

I produced content on some of the biggest business stories in South Africa at the time. This included the Steinhoff fraud, the legal battle between Old Mutual and its former CEO Peter Moyo, the impact of Eskom’s power cuts on the small business, and the importance of an independent South African Reserve Bank. It was the story on the SARB that got me recognition at the Sanlam Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism and made me an award-winning journalist.

Q. In the financial journalism field, what are the challenges that you face and how do you deal with them?

I think the biggest challenge is getting our sources to formally come on the record. Unlike the protagonists in politics or current affairs, businesspeople tend to be less vocal and public about matters that happen in the boardroom. It is changing slowly, and I think the change was introduced by the resignation of former Liberty CEO, Thabo Dloti, with immediate effect due to differences with the board who said they lost trust and confidence in his leadership. This was followed, in 2019, by the public battle between Old Mutual and its former CEO Peter Moyo.

Presently, we have businessman Sipho Pityana suing the South African Reserve Bank. However, there are still a lot of holes we need to plug in these stories because commentary from sources is usually on condition of anonymity. In some cases, sources refuse to comment at all. It’s even more challenging when it is the protagonists, themselves. For example, to this day, we still have not heard from former Reserve Bank Deputy Governor, Daniel Mminele about why his stint as Absa CEO was so short and why the exit was so abrupt. (He “quit” barely a year into the job).

We still haven’t heard from former African Bank CEO, Basani Maluleka, about what really happened at her former bank that caused her to leave. There are still a lot of question marks around the resignation of Adapt IT founder Sbu Tshabalala, who quit as CEO following allegations that he hired thugs to beat up his estranged wife’s partner.

If these were political or current affair stories, we would have heard the canaries singing from the rooftops, calling a spade a spade. I think such commentary is important to truly transforming South Africa’s corporate industry and making it more inclusive. We need to know the good, bad, and ugly to know what needs to change to level the playing field for future generations. But we can only do so, as journalists, if more sources speak on the record and address wrongs head on.

Q. We are highlighting International Day to End impunity against journalists. If you were the President of the country, what policies would you implement to ensure the safety and protection of journalists’ and their rights?

South African journalists are fortunate in that we already have laws that protect media freedom and the freedom of speech. Even throughout the most difficult years in our democracy of state capture, the media were not held back from exposing the rot in government and corporate corridors. But the same freedom is not shared elsewhere in the continent where journalists are arrested, silenced, and sometimes killed for telling the truth that governments and corporations in those countries want hidden from the world.

So, to cut a long story short, I think South Africa can export its policy on media freedom and the freedom of speech to countries that currently restrict this. I also think there needs to be some form of regulation preventing governments from making telecommunication companies complicit in restricting freedom of speech. Take for instance what happened in eSwatini recently, where telecoms company’s implemented internet blackouts, on the directive of the government, to prevent citizens and journalists from reporting what’s happening in the country. We do need policy to prevent this kind of thing happening

Q. You have worked in print media and are currently broadcasting on radio and television. Which medium do you enjoy the most and why? 

Radio is still a new platform for me and honestly, I am still trying to find my voice. While I do love writing, nothing beats the buzz of live television. The immediacy it gives you of getting to the story; the thrill of breaking news that happens when you are live and forces you to be agile in addressing the news just in; the drama behind the scenes that the viewer will never see where shows almost fall apart due to technical challenges but what is aired looks like a “perfect product”. Nothing beats this kind of thrill.

Q. Access to news is at the tip of our fingers, and with the ability to publish news easily through social media, fake news spreads faster. Speak to us about how you ensure accuracy, factualism, and objectivity in your work and what are some things that can be done to ensure that we don’t consume or spread fake news?

I work with numbers. Accuracy is everything in my world because the wrong number can have a negative impact on the stock market and cause people to lose money. While there is pressure on news houses to be first to get the story out, there is even more pressure to be accurate, factual, and objective in doing so. Most of the news houses I have worked for have understood this and have made sure their journalists also understand this.

There’s nothing worse than having to publish a correction on a story or having to retract it due to inaccurate facts. It taints the credibility of the news provider and in our industry, being trusted is everything. It can also open the journalist or media house to litigation. And revenue in our industry has been squeezed because of the weak economy that has caused advertisers to cut back spending so paying legal fees is the last thing anyone wants to do.

With that said, the rise of citizen journalism and social media has brought with it the rise of fake news. But the onus is on the journalist in ensuring they are telling stories that are truthful and objective. Especially if you want to be trusted and respected in the industry as a source for information. Presently I think there are punitive measures for those that spread fake news.

Following all the false information shared during the Covid19 pandemic, South Africa introduced legislation that made spreading fake Covid19 information a prosecutable offence. I think the effectiveness of such laws should be monitored and scaled up if it doesn’t address the problem.

Q. You are studying for a CFA Level 1 certificate (a professional credential that demonstrates mastery of advanced investment analysis and real-world portfolio management). Why was it important for you to pursue this?

It’s taking me a lot longer than I expected. I have failed the exam twice and honestly, it’s the toughest qualification I have ever studied for. I plan to keep trying.

The reason I embarked on the journey was to elevate my understanding and knowledge of financial markets and investments. This has enabled me to one, debunk complex financial terms and explain them simply; two, identify market trends and three; converse better with industry professionals because I have a greater understanding of their world.

I believe elevating one’s knowledge should be important for everyone but as a journalist, it definitely helps you tell better stories.

Q. In our Womenomics segment, we always explore smart money investment options for women. We’re two months away from 2022, what markets would you suggest women invest in?

Oh goodness, I am not certified to give investment advice. And I am certainly not a financial expert. But I can say, there is a lot of smart money going into industries of the future. This is reflected by the phenomenal performance of technology shares throughout the pandemic. We all know their names. Facebook (now trading as Meta), Apple, Alphabet, Google, Netflix that benefited from most of the world having to work from home during Covid19.

Energy is also an interesting space as the continent tries to plug its power gap. Presently more than half of Africa’s population don’t have electricity. And there’s a lot of action taking place to address this with policy making it easier for independent power producers to plug the gap with clean energy.

I also think industries that provide basic goods and services that people need will always be relevant. Like companies that sell food and medicines, for instance. But one would need sound financial advice to pick out the gems in these sectors that can make you money.

Q. What do you do to take care of your mental health?

I exercise. I believe a good workout can resolve most emotional challenges. With that said, I also have a therapist, whom I speak with on a regular basis. I think therapy is so important for everyone. It helps keep me together. In fact, I think the government and the private sector need to make changes to make therapy more accessible and affordable for everyone because a lot of social challenges we experience in this country, from depression to gender based violence, boil down to mental health.

Q. What does selfcare mean to you and can you please share two or three selfcare practices?

Selfcare for me is a combination of mental health and physical health. It’s important to feed your mind with positivity and important to feed your body with good nutrition. As I mentioned, I have regular therapy sessions to protect my mental health, I try not to consume too much negativity in the world, I eat healthy most of the time and I try to exercise regularly. Surrounding yourself with positive people is also important.

I also try to reward myself for working hard. Occasionally I will visit the spa to relax, and I do a lot of shot lefts, away from the city, to take time out.

Q. What book(s) would you suggest to women who would like to take charge of their finances?

I really enjoyed “Make Your Money Work for You’’ by Anthea Gardner. It teaches you about smart investment moves you can make to help you create wealth. If you’ve ever met Anthea, you will know how colourful her personality is. And it comes out so strongly in her book, which makes it such an easy and relatable read. 

Q. What was the last book you read or are currently reading?

The last book I read was “Across Boundaries” by Ton Vosloo, which tells the story of how Naspers became the biggest listed company in Africa through its acquisition of Chinese technology giant, Tencent. But lately, most of my reading in the past two years have been my CFA textbooks. I have started reading “What It Takes” Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence” by Stephen A Schwarzman.

Please don’t ask me when I will finish it☺

This year’s theme for International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists is: the instrumental role of prosecutorial services, in investigating and prosecuting not only killings but also threats of violence against journalists.

We hope for a future that doesn’t include violation of our journalists’ rights, but a future where they are protected and can do their job with freedom.