Media workshop debates challenges of science communication in East Africa

ECA Press Release 152/2012

Addis Ababa, 19 September 2012 (ECA) - Journalists attending a two-day workshop in Addis Ababa, jointly organized by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Ethiopian Association of Science Journalists, have been urged to sharpen their reporting skills on Science, Technology and innovation (STI) issues to help promote economic development in Africa.

The workshop, held at the UN Conference Centre in Addis Ababa under the theme Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development brought together over 60 science and technology journalists from various African countries, heads of key media institutions and scientists to discuss how best to communicate scientific issues to the public.

According to the organizers, the workshop was convened based on the realization that sustainable development in Africa has to be science-led and this has to be driven by an unprecedented transfer and acquisition of technology and knowledge. This multi-sectoral flow of knowledge in science between the different actors and players which are end users, policy makers, scientists and innovators must be catalyzed by a robust communication system put in place by the professional journalists on the continent. Whereas the media can play a critical role in Africa’s socio-economic development, the greatest impediment to the development of science, technology and innovation sector in Africa and its contribution to Africa’s development at large is the communication gap that exists amongst the major actors and players both within and outside the sector.

In his opening remarks, Mr Mahmoud Gaas, Ethiopia’s State Minister for Science and Technology, noted that in this era of globalization, it is critical to improve communication in Science, Technology and Innovation to create conducive environment for sustainable growth and development.

“Science, Technology and Innovation are key to socio-economic development. But for this to be realised, there is need to package information using the latest gathering and distribution methods to ensure the message reaches the intended recipients in a clear and concise manner”, the minister added.

In a speech read on behalf of Ms. Aida Opoku-Mensah, Director of the ICT, Science and Technology Division of ECA, Mr. Thierry Amoussougbo, Regional Advisor at ECA said the media has a great, noble and enabling role to play in this field, by imparting needful, accurate and timely scientific information, communicating effectively the meaning of scientific knowledge, its role in the society and in economic growth and prosperity, in a language understood by common people.

“By targeting policy-makers and the general public you will definitively help to ensure adequate and continued support for science, technology and innovation. While science reporting is usually put on the periphery of mainstream media, journalists have an important role to play in creating awareness about various scientific and technological activities, particularly home-grown endeavours that advance African solutions for African problems,” Mr. Amoussougbo noted.

For his part, Mr Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, UNESCO’s Regional Adviser for Communication and Information, Dakar, speaking on behalf of Mr Janis Karklins, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information sector and M. Edouard Firmin Matoko, Director of the Addis Ababa office, underscored the critical role that the media plays in facilitating public understanding of science and technology. In this process, he said, journalists typically assume the position of intermediaries between the scientists and members of the public who are interested in a given scientific subject or issue.

He noted that the launching of the East Africa Science Journalists Network and the adoption of its Plan of Action is very important and that UNESCO will "continuously support such initiatives which contribute to the sustainability of actions in favour of science journalism in Africa and which make effective science and technology information more accessible for Africa’s development."

In his keynote address titled, Science Journalism for Inclusive Development, Mr. David Dickson, Founding Director, Scidev.Net, UK noted that policy makers at all levels need accurate, timely and reliable information about the role of science and technology in meeting sustainable development objectives.

“It is in this regard that the media and other intermediary organizations can act as a bridge between scientists and the society, based on factual and accurate reporting”, Mr. Dickson noted.

He went on to explain that the role of the media is therefore to empower through information and ideas and for that to happen, there is need for greater openness of scientific institutions and greater willingness of scientists to share information with the media.

For his part Mr. Otula Owuor, a pioneer science journalist and editor/publisher of Science Africa, Kenya, emphasized the need for journalists to be adequately equipped with the correct knowledge to report scientific issues more accurately.

According to him, journalists must be proactive in their approach to science reporting and be able to convince their editors on the relevance of science stories to their newsrooms.

“The notion that science can only be communicated in a non-African language should be discarded and journalists must be able to package the information they come across in the most understandable manner, devoid of any jargon,” Mr Owuor added.

The meeting concluded with the launching of the East African Network of Science Journalists (EANSJ) and recommendations for UNESCO, ECA, AUC, member States, National Science Journalists Associations and Media Houses.

Issued by:

ECA Information and Communication Service
P.O. Box 3001
Addis Ababa Ethiopia

Tel: 251 11 5445098 Fax: +251-11-551 03 65

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© 2012 Economic Commission for Africa