How to bypass the media office

“We are not allowed to speak to the media.”

Journalists in many countries regularly have to deal with this response from scientists they are trying to talk to … and it can even prevent them producing their articles. Governments in some countries will go to great lengths to erect barriers and limit journalists’ access to scientists’ work.

Collect phone numbers so you can avoid the media office in the future. Credit: Pratchaya W.

Richard Stone, news editor of Science‘s Asia-Pacific office, said that journalists should keep on trying: “You must always look for alternative sources … Do not stop your work if the source does not speak. Just as there are sources who refuse to cooperate, there are others who are ready to do just that”.

But to succeed in this task you must build confidence with the source, said Stone. Avoid getting facts wrong in stories, which destroys the confidence of the scientist you have interviewed.

That’s all very well in some countries but, in Egypt, journalists are forbidden from building direct relationships with scientists – whether or not they demonstrate they can write accurate stories, said Mohamed Azam an Egyptian science journalist.

“The media office officials just say “tell us your questions and we will bring an answer from [the] researcher””.

As a science journalist in Egypt, I have had many experiences of media offices obstructing, rather than improving, my communication with scientists. To get round this, I attend as many conferences as possible and talk to scientists there to establish a direct relationship. And I collect their phone numbers so I can avoid the media office in the future.

But, to maintain this, I agree with Stone: avoid writing incorrect information that could embarrass the source.

Hazem Badr, SciDev.Net contributor in Egypt

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