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.


Kenya to establish grant for women in science

August 22, 2012

George Achia
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


Women scientists in Kenya got a major boost yesterday when the government announced it would establish a grant which awards female scientists up to three million Kenyan shillings. The announcement was made during the opening ceremony of the ASJC in Nakuru.

The move will put women scientists on a par with their male counterparts, allowing them to conduct research of relevance to the country.

“Participation of women in research has been low in many developing countries,” said Moses Rugutt, deputy secretary of Kenya’s National Council of Science and Technology during the ASJC opening gala. “Negative social and cultural practices have not allowed full exploitation of their research potential.”

Female PhD student collecting samples in Uganda. Photo credit: Karen Homer, AWARD

Rugutt noted that national development depends on a well-trained technical labour force, especially in science and technology.

“Kenya still lags behind in the technical human capacity required to unlock the huge potential within its agricultural fields and drive its industries,” he said.

Rugutt called for the need to lobby for at least one per cent GDP investment for Kenya to reap the full potential of science, technology and innovation (STI) for socio-economic development.

He challenged the science journalists attending the ASJC to help push the STI agenda to enable African countries to use science and technology as a platform to boost economic development.

According to Rugutt, there is a need to engage science journalists in effectively articulating STI issues by disseminating research information on STI, setting national and regional STI agendas and exposing scientific malpractice.

Many developing countries of the world have used STI to drive their development agenda based on sound research and innovative technological investment.

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.


ASJC kicks off in Nakuru

August 21, 2012

George Achia
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


The first Africa Science Journalists Conference took off on a high note in Kenya’s Nakuru town, the scenic tourist attraction in the spectacular Rift Valley. On the first day, journalists visited various field sites to give them an insight into the work of research institutions within the town.

Journalists had the chance to see a Home-Based Testing and Counselling programme which operates door-to-door among the manyattas (Maasai houses). This project offers HIV testing within the Maasai community and is run by Liverpool VCT, a Kenyan NGO. Other tour sites included Egerton University’s agro-based science park and a project to increase rust resistance in wheat at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. Nakuru’s Nuru farm was also open to visitors, a former hospital dump which now produces 60 tonnes of fruit and vegetables a year.

Nakuru, Kenya. Photo credit: meg and rahul, flickr

Over the next four days, ASCJ 2012 will attempt to answer questions around communicating new information and countering scepticism, with talks such as ‘Using nonsense detectors: how journalists can expose bad science’; ‘Community based Interventions in Science’ and ‘Ethical issues in science journalism in the age of new media’.

The apex of the conference will be an African declaration on effective science communication, which will “seek a binding commitment from African journalists, communicators and researchers to improve science writing in the continent”.

With high hopes for this high-profile conference achieving its objectives, the SciDev.Net team attending the forum will keep you posted on the latest developments.

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.


Science journalism: filling gaps in Africa’s development at #asjc2012

August 17, 2012

Ochieng’ Ogodo

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



On Monday, and for the following five days, African journalists will converge in Kenya’s Nakuru town, situated in the bewitchingly scenic Rift Valley.

They will be attending the Africa Science Journalists Conference (ASJC). Among others, they will seek to delve deep into science news reporting, looking at various interesting issues such as transforming communities through digital technology, Africa’s fight to achieve its full agricultural productivity potential and intriguing debates like: ‘Why we do not need more science reporters’.

But what is the significance of this gathering and similar conferences elsewhere in Africa?

To me, the conference is one of the many noble efforts by journalists and journalists’ networks in the continent to inspire and mainstream science journalism. They aim for science reporting to become one of the integral components for Africa’s socio-economic transformation and democratisation.

The meeting, like many other similar meetings, will be held against the backdrop of a continent under political transition and the role of science journalism in the emerging socio-economic and political dispensations cannot be gainsaid.

In the mid-1980s, democratic theory and politics in Africa entered a new phase and a fresh wave of struggles for democratisation spread across the continent. It elicited vibrant debates on the processes, prospects, and problems of Africa’s democratic projects.

Many countries introduced political reforms and became somewhat democratic or were in the process of becoming so. Literature on African democracy exploded and the media has been awash with news about the changing political circumstances, but there has been very little on the scientific tools needed to transform the socio-political changes into tangible economic gains for the benefit of the majority of Africans.

Largely, there has been a lack of simplified scientific information for making informed choices.  But science journalism seems to be gaining more currency. Other upcoming science journalism meetings are scheduled: 19–20 September will see ‘Making Scientific Information more accessible for Africa’s development’, taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the first Pan-African Science Journalists Conference is planned for the end of the year.

But more needs to be done: for example, there have been recent calls for more science in the media in Ghana, and in Senegal, and for a dedicated science news service for Africa.

The ASJC, organised by Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture seems promising, and we will keep you posted on the proceedings through incisive blog posts from our esteemed writers. Watch this space.

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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