Are embargoes — and their accompanying press releases — an innocuous tool that give journalists time for the best coverage or are they a manipulation of the media by the publishing and scientific establishments?
In a lively debate, Vincent Kiernan — associate dean at the United States’s Georgetown University — argued that while journalists are constantly distracted by a stream of news releases we don’t have the time to seek out other, possibly more important, stories.
And he reminded us that this becomes all the more important in the developing world, where under-resourced journalists could come to rely on Western news sources rather than digging around in their own backyards.
“As we foster development of our craft in other parts of the world, is the embargo addiction really something that we want journalists in developing nations to take up?” he asked.
“Unwittingly the embargo system exerts a kind of Western hegemony on developing nations. It incentivises their journalists to cover embargoed research from developed nations rather than research and science related news from their own countries. How does that behaviour foster the public interest in those nations?”
Watts seemed bemused that the issue of embargoes was even being given airtime, so little of a problem does he see it. “I don’t really regard this as a controversial issue,” he said. “My feeling is that the arguments made against embargoes are made on false claims and false perspectives.”
But perhaps we should remember that developing countries often have to look to the West for resources. And as science journalism is promoted in developing countries, practices that have become standard in the West don’t necessarily have to be transplanted — particularly if we can’t decide whether they’re any good.
Katherine Nightingale, SciDev.Net