Sudanese media have a rich history, but they have failed to cover science

September 20, 2012

Ochieng’ Ogodo

Ochieng’ Ogodo
Sub-Saharan Africa regional news editor, SciDev.Net


 

You may not know but the modern press has existed in Sudan since 1903 with the first publication being Al-Sudan newspaper.  But even with that long history, the media in Sudan have been dominated by political issues with science having little or no place in the print or electronic media.

And a Sudanese journalist, Ishraga Abbas, could not have put it more precisely: “Despite the fact that the Sudanese press has succeeded in attracting and mobilizing the Sudanese people in all political issues, it has failed at the scientific level.”

She told the workshop that about 60 press companies are in the hands of the private investors whose main interest is in reeking in huge profits and does give science journalism a chance — they do not consider science news as capable of gaining following among their readers and listeners.

In Sudan, there are no segments in the media dedicated to science news, training programmes on science journalism and any journalist thinking of cutting a niche for herself in science journalism could be “making a grave mistake” according to  Abbas.

The media in Sudan allocates very little space for the scientific issues — a little surge is only seen when there is an emergency, especially those to do with public health, food safety and the environment.

But even in these noble efforts, according to Abbas, the quality still is still wanting in meeting the depth and the professional standards that guide by journalism.

Perhaps, the saddest thing about this is that this revelation came against a backdrop of a visible surge in African science communication and science journalism, of which this meeting clearly demonstrates.

Something needs to be done to rescue Sudan science journalism from its present state.

“The people of Sudan need scientific information to help them address the many changes they face in their daily lives,” Abbas.

This blog post is part of our Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development blog, which takes place 19-20 September 2012, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.


Improving science communication for Africa’s development

September 17, 2012

Ochieng’ Ogodo

Ochieng’ Ogodo
Sub-Saharan Africa regional news editor, SciDev.Net


Science journalism continues to gain grounds in Africa: from Nairobi to Cairo, Abuja to Addis Ababa and Johannesburg, something positive is being done by science journalists, their networks and other concerned organisations and bodies.

Addis Ababa is this week hosting a two-day science communication training workshop with the theme ‘Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development’.

The meeting organised by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the African Union Commission, in collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ethiopian Association of Science Journalists, puts yet more emphasis on how science is important for Africa’s socio-economic transformation and democratisation.

Africa still suffers from myriad developmental challenges ranging from poverty, disease and ignorance. The need for dissemination of science and its tools for change for the continent cannot be gainsaid.

One of the bottlenecks to the development of science, technology and innovation sector in Africa and its contribution to the continent’s development is the communication gap among the major actors and players, both from within and outside the science sector.

Much as Africa still faces many challenges in producing home-grown science. There is high level of illiteracy and lack of appropriate communication tools. This is leading to scientific works remaining on the laboratories’ shelves instead of being tapped by those who need them most, the end-users.

The scarce funding for science and technology sectors, among others, can be attributed to poor understanding of the role of science and technology can play in development within the policymaking circles.

The media can play a great and critical role for Africa’s socio-economic development.

But the communication of scientific knowledge through mass media requires a special relationship between the world of science and news media, including the ability of journalist to report on complex issues in a way understandable by policymakers and the general public.

SciDev.Net will have three science journalists, including former editor David Dickson, Esther Nakkazi and myself to feed you with quality blog and news stories on the Addis Ababa meeting. Keep your eyes on this space.

This blog post is part of our Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development blog, which takes place 19-20 September 2012, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.


ASJC declaration on effective science reporting

August 24, 2012

George Achia
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


Approximately 180 delegates from all regions of Africa have committed to lobby for an African country to host the World Conference of Science Journalists in 2015.

The journalists were attending the first ASJC on promoting science journalism for socio-economic development. International and local scientific research institutions, officials representing the Kenyan government, and funding partners also committed to seek strategic partnerships with funding, research, academic and media institutions that recognize the need to promote science journalism in Africa.

“We commit ourselves to sustain the continuous engagement between journalists and scientists to build trust and ensure appropriate information flow to the public,” reads part of the statement.

The declaration also called on scientific research agencies and academic institutions to ensure that African science journalists are included throughout the duration of their research.

Journalists in Africa. Photo credit: Internews Network, flickr

The declaration was read during the closing ceremony of the ASJC, by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture secretary Aghan Daniel. He called on scientific research agencies to prioritise working with African journalists through regular forums, networking, training, conferences, and exhibitions.

The declaration also recommended that African governments take the lead in ensuring that there are reduced ‘red tape’ measures on legislation that promotes science and development.

“The civil society organisation should ensure the recognition and reporting of the work of African scientists without distortion. There should be meaningful involvement of journalists at all stages in the development of research findings from the various African research and academic institutions,” said the statement.

According to Daniel, this is a working document, but there are hopes of turning it into a policy document to help guide how science reporting and communication is carried out in Africa.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.


Prioritising science as a tool for sustainable development

August 24, 2012

George Achia
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


The media are seen as a critical partner in the development and promotion of science, technology and innovation (STI) in Africa. Now, they have been challenged to make science a priority for sustainable development.

While officially closing the ASJC yesterday evening, Kenya’s permanent secretary in the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Professor Crispus Kiamba, said STI has been globally recognised as a driver for sustainable development.

“Research and STI are the cornerstones of most economies in the world. Thus, the poor performance of the sector in Africa directly translates into dismal living conditions of people in the continent, particularly those in the rural areas and the urban poor,” said Professor Kiamba.

Research is to be used as a tool to drive development. Photo credit: Gates Foundation

For science to be given precedence as a tool for sustainable development, Kiamba noted there must be effective communication. He said the media must play an “agenda-setting” role by appropriately sensitising policy makers, the general public, scientists, industrialists and entrepreneurs.

“It is important to recognize the need to stimulate home-grown technological innovations and scientific discoveries in the fast-changing global business climate,” he said.

Kiamba emphasised the need for Africa to create competitive grant systems for research and development activities targeting the continent’s rich natural resources, agriculture, health and biotechnology.

The first ASJC brought together approximately 180 participants from various African countries. It came to a close last night with a declaration on effective science reporting. Africa has been accused of having many declarations, policies and documents that never get implemented, so many are waiting with bated breath to see what the next course of action will be.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.


Which way for Africa’s biotechnology development?

August 23, 2012

George Achia
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


With only three African countries – South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso – commercially growing genetically modified (GM) crops and others including Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria carrying out field trials, Africa remains at a crossroads on how to tap into the potentials of biotechnology to address her myriad food and development challenges.

In an emotive presentation at the ongoing ASJC on biotechnology titled ‘Promises and Reality of the GM Revolution’, Professor Eucharia Kenya, the director at the International Centre for Health Interventions and Research in Africa, pointed out that biotech crops are a product of innovation and there is the need to “manage change as an opportunity, not as a threat”.

Professor Kenya also noted that conventional crop improvement alone will not double crop production to cater for the burgeoning world population, which is expected to shoot up to nine billion by 2050.

“We need a crop improvement strategy that integrates the best of the old [conventional methods] and the best of the new [biotechnology] to optimize productivity and contribute to food, feed and fibre security and address climate change,” said Eucharia.

Which way for Africa?

While answering the question, Kenya noted that there is need to engage in discussion on biotechnology issues. “We need to communicate with society objectively and consistently. Choices must be made from informed points of view,” she said.

According to Professor Kenya, inadequately developed legal and institutional frameworks for GM regulations, thin capacities for inspection and monitoring compliance and inadequate fora for public engagement are some of the regulatory challenges facing sub-Saharan countries.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.


Engaging Vulnerable Communities in Health Research

August 23, 2012

George Achia
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) Wellcome Trust Research Programme has revised its research activities to include vulnerable community members as key stakeholders.

“It seems curious that we invest millions of dollars in product development, clinical training, design and building of facilities but often leave out vital processes of community engagement,” Ruth Wanjala, the communications officer for the KEMRI Wellcome Trust told participants attending the ASJC.

Engagement is coordinated by the programme’s community liaison group, elected representatives who act as an interface between the research centre and the community.

Community meeting in Kenya. Photo credit: waterdotorg, flickr

The group is also responsible for community relations between the research centre and the locals.“The community liaison group meet with local administrative, religious and opinion leaders to engage them with our research activities and distribute information, education and communication materials to other community members,” said Wanjala.

She noted that it is necessary to have a structured engagement mechanism with policymakers through Kenya’s ministries of health to translate research outcomes into policy and practice.

The KEMRI Wellcome Trust works across several African countries and is recognized for its research in malaria and many other areas of health.

According to Wanjala, the centre has so far produced over 45 African PhDs and another 44 are currently undertaking their PhD training.

The ASJC is expected to come to a close later today with an African declaration on effective science reporting.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.


Telling stories using data and numbers

August 22, 2012

George Achia
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


After an evening involving a tranquil dinner and free-flowing drinks at the ASJC’s opening ceremony yesterday, the participants embarked on serious business by dividing into various topic-specific groups.

Of particular interest was the session on data journalism run by Ernest Waititu, the programme director of health and digital media for Internews in Kenya.

In Waititu’s own words, “we live in a world where almost everything is expressed in numbers”. As the concept of telling stories using figures, numbers and data was fairly new, participants attending the session were shown how to get started with data journalism by being taken through sets of data.

“Mine the data first to find where the story is and humanize it,” said Waititu. It was an interactive session where journalists were taught hands-on data mining, filtering and analytical skills.

“In data journalism, there are so many stories to tell,” he said, adding that journalists need to know how to process numbers in Excel and other similar software programs.

Data journalism training in Nairobi. Photo credit: Friedrich Lindenberg

According to Waititu, journalists need to know how the public system works and how to interpret laws for effective use of data. “If a journalist doesn’t understand how the institutions of his or her country work, the data trail can be frustrating,” he said.

With most university journalism schools not teaching data journalism, journalists were encouraged to utilise any available training opportunities.

The first hands-on training session on data journalism was held earlier this year in Nairobi by the World Bank, Google (Open Knowledge Foundation) and the African Media Initiative.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.


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