Is it worth setting up science media centres (SMCs) in the developing world?
Science media centres seek to promote more informed science in the media. Patricia Scholtz, communications manager at the Academy of Science of South Africa, is hoping to establish such a centre in South Africa — potentially collaborating with Nigeria and Uganda.
Playing devil’s advocate, she asked the panel at the session “Different strokes for different science folk” whether, for developing countries with other priorities such as education, such centres would be a “luxury”.
Peter Calamai, a consultant at the Canada Foundation for Innovation, who chaired the discussion, doesn’t think so. “The way to get [developing] nations out of poverty is development; to have a public that is well-informed and engaged in science”.
But would developing world science media centres encroach on press officers? Kenyan delegate Juliette Mutheu said that press officers in her country had expressed concerns that such institutions would “take away their role”.
Several delegates at the WCSJ have lamented the state of press officers in the developing world. Christina Scott, SciDev.Net’s African news editor, pointed out that there are very few of them. In South Africa, she said, the quality of press releases could be improved.
Surely media centres would help, then? Fiona Fox, director of the UK’s Science Media Centre, thinks they would complement each other.
She said the role of SMCs is to “add value to existing institutions”.
“We need to listen to press officers and ask them what they want. It is a critical relationship”.
And Scholtz, a former journalist, believes that science journalists must be helped in any way possible to overcome the obstacles in getting science to the public.
She and her team have submitted proposals for the centre and are awaiting the results.
“It’s definitely worth trying,” Scholtz told SciDev.Net. “There’s a long road ahead but I’m very excited.”
Naomi Antony, SciDev.Net