Obstacles to good science reporting in Asia

Veteran journalists and editors who work in Asia said there are many obstacles to good science reporting in the region.

From Vietnam to more developed countries in Asia, such as India, science coverage is still thought to be less important than other issues.

Science coverage is still thought to be less important than other issues. Credit: Flickr/Espen Faugstad

“The picture is uneven and patchy. Some dailies and television channels in India, for example, have dedicated science pages and correspondents, ” said  T. V. Padma, SciDev.Net’s South Asia regional coordinator. 

But coverage in countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka is irregualr, and “scattered” in Bhutan and Maldives. 

In some South Asian countries, some topics, such as genetically modified (GM) crops or climate change, do get mentioned. “But they may not be covered in a way that would be recognised in the West,” she said.

The challenges are many. But it is journalists’ poor contact with scientists that poses a critical barrier across the region.

“The threats to science journalism have changed,” said Fiona Fox, who heads the United Kingdom’s Science Media Centre. “The old threat was that scientists would not speak out.

“The new threat is that governments will not let scientists speak out.”

Richard Stone, Asia editor of Science, said that scientists often say they are not authorised to speak to reporters.

“One rule for science journalists across Asia is: avoid press officers at all costs,” he said, adding that their mission is to protect scientists rather than to help them communicate with journalists.

Building trust is one solution he proposed to improve the access problem.

Another obstacle is that there is a lack of professionalism among science journalists, the conference heard, mainly because of their lack of scientific knowledge or background. Their organisations and editors do not see the significance of science reporting.

Last, but not least, journalists need to be able to trust that they have freedom of speech. As T. V. Padma put it, science journalists in South Asia, in particular, have to face reality.

“It’s [about] how strong democracy is in the countries as this is linked to freedom of the media,” she said.

Pratchaya W., SciDev.Net contributor

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