The workshop organizers picked a theme which is so crucial but often overlooked —making science and technology information more accessible for Africa’s development.
Yesterday there seemed to be a growing consensus that in Africa communication gap remains to be one of the greatest factors impediment to the advancement of science, technology and innovation as a sector and limiting its contribution to development.
Speaking at the workshop founder and former director of SciDev.Net, David Dickson, explained (citing studies) that lack of dissemination of research findings is the third major obstacle to uptake of scientific information in development policymaking, following low scientific understanding of policymakers and limited openness of politicians.
“The communication of accurate and accessible information about science to both policymakers and the wider community is essential in two major ways: to achieve inclusive social and economic development, and to ensure adequate and continued support for scientific research,” Dickson noted.
By way of addressing the needs of both policymakers and the general public, the media play an essential role in providing the conditions in which a knowledge society can flourish.
As Africa moves ahead towards attaining sustainable development — aided and driven by science, technology and innovation — the role of the media in communicating such development to the public will remain vitally important.
Such essential role of the media is now already being recognized in Africa, according to Dickson.
“The demand for improved science communication and for improved science communication skills is increasing rapidly across the developing world, and in particular across Africa,” Dickson said.
Nevertheless science journalism in the developing world is still grappling with various challenges.
Lack of openness on the scientific world; lack of professional capacity of journalists; and lack of capacity of media editors represent few of the major challenge being faced in communicating science. Science journalists’ role as science communicators — when they get it all wrong —will be dangerous for they will fail to be critical and instead end up doing a public relation work for the scientist or the research organization.
And the consequences of such mistakes will be more grave with science reporting than in other areas of journalism.
SciDev.Net Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor, Ochieng’ Ogodo stressed that investment in the professional development of science journalists in Africa is a key to addressing media professionals’ capacity needs on science, technology and innovation reporting.
The role the media should play can be summed up into three major areas, Dickson concluded: to provide accurate and accessible information; to provide platform for debate; and to act as a protector of the public interest.
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.