Journalists at the Forefront of Corporate Governance Reporting: The Story that Lies Beneath

March 05, 2013
10:00 am - 12:00 pm


Bethany McLean
Vanity Fair

Andras Petho

John D. Sullivan
Center for International Private Enterprise

Moderated by:
Philip Armstrong
International Finance Corporation

About the event

Good journalists can spot a good story even in the most innocuous press release. While the phrase “corporate governance” doesn’t set off any alarm bells, what about: fraud, theft, waste, incompetence, nepotism, abuse of power, conflict of interest, or corruption? These terms light a fire under journalists, because they may lead to exclusive, groundbreaking stories that are the essence of good journalism.

As a new media guide by the International Finance Corporation and the International Center for Journalists notes, not all corporate governance stories are about scandals, however. They can be about heroes and visionaries, about brilliant ideas and charismatic leaders, about men and women who build great fortunes by giving the world new products and services that improve lives.

Governance, at its heart, provides the direction for a company, family-owned business or state-owned enterprise. Guidelines, standards, and best practices established worldwide define what constitutes good governance, and a savvy business journalist quickly learns the difference between good governance and bad. Both can lead to great stories. Both are essential to promoting transparency and accountability in emerging democracies.

In this discussion, panelists examined the media’s role as a watchdog, what constitutes good practice, and how reporting on corporate governance fits into overall development, democracy, and governance efforts.

About the speakers

Bethany McLean is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine since 2008, a columnist at Reuters, and a contributor at CNBC. Mclean is recognized for her work on the Enron scandal while an editor at large and columnist for Fortune magazine, and best known as the co-author, with Fortune colleague Peter Elkind, of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, exposing the corrupt business practices of Enron officials. The book was the result of her reporting on Enron for the magazine and she is widely acknowledged as being the first journalist to question Enron’s inflated stock price with her article in the March 5, 2001 issue of Fortune entitled, “Is Enron Overpriced?” The book was later made into an Academy Award nominated documentary. She co-authored a second book with Joe Nocera about the 2008 financial crisis, All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis. McLean earned her bachelor’s degree in English and mathematics at Williams College in 1992. After college and prior to joining Fortune, she worked as an investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs.

Andras Petho is a Hungarian journalist, currently based in the United States as a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at the University of Maryland. During his fellowship, is focusing on innovative methods of investigative reporting to track public spending in Hungary. He has been a senior editor and investigative reporter at Origo, the leading news portal in Hungary, since 2005, and was a reporter there from 2002-2004. His work has focused on the close relationship between some of Hungary’s most powerful politicians and corrupt businessmen. Petho has also worked for the BBC World Service and Media 6 Radio. He earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Szeged in Budapest and was a fellow with the World Press Institute in 2009.

John D. Sullivan is the executive director of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Under his leadership, CIPE developed a number of innovative approaches that link democratic development to market reforms: combating corruption, promoting corporate governance, building business associations, and programs to assist women and youth entrepreneurs. Sullivan is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Russian Institute of Directors’ Advisory Board, the Bretton Woods Association, and the American Political Science Association. He serves on the Advisory Board for the Ira M. Millstein Center for Global Markets and Corporate Ownership at the Columbia University Law School. He is also a member of the U.N. Global Compact Working Group on the Tenth Principle and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Middle East/North Africa Investment Task Force. Additionally, Sullivan serves as the vice chair of the Development Task Force of the Business Advisory Committee to the OECD. He received a doctorate in political science from the University of Pittsburgh and is the author of numerous publications on the transition to democracy, corporate governance, and market-oriented democratic development. He is an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University’s Graduate School of Public Affairs.

Philip Armstrong is the head of the IFC’s Global Corporate Governance Forum, based in Washington DC. The forum, part of the IFC Corporate Governance Group, was co-founded by the World Bank Group and the OECD to promote global, regional and local initiatives to improve the institutional framework and practices of corporate governance in developing countries and emerging markets. Armstrong is an internationally acknowledged expert on corporate governance, has been instrumental in producing the Commonwealth guidelines on corporate governance, and previously served as an expert resource on corporate governance for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development initiative in Africa. Armstrong has had a long career in executive and senior management in a number of South Africa’s most prominent companies and has served on several boards, governing bodies, and policy initiatives. He continues to serve on advisory bodies around the world and is regularly cited in leading journals and publications for his work on corporate governance. He has been conferred an honorary doctorate in business administration from the Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom in recognition of his contributions to corporate governance.