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The success of a recent SciDev.Net meeting on science journalism in Bolivia reflects growing recognition for the field in Latin America.

Latin America's growing awareness of the need for effective science journalism suggests that efforts to promote science communication are bearing fruit.

Last month (30 July–3 August) in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a meeting on Iberoamerican science journalism and the mass media — of which SciDev.Net was one of the main organisers — was held.

It indicated that a new phase in science journalism is emerging in Latin America, in which journalists are keen to develop skills and strategies for improving dialogue with their audiences and with the scientific community.

Positive early signs

The objective of the event was to address the main challenges in science journalism in the region, using both theoretical and practical approaches to develop strategies for improving its quality. SciDev.Net was actively involved in organising 12 similar meetings across Latin America over the past five years.

The Santa Cruz event's success suggests that further initiatives to achieve improvement will find fertile ground.

The high number of applicants to participate in the meeting illustrated growing interest in the topic. A total of 145 applications were received from 18 countries. Forty participants were selected from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, México, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The selection criteria ensured that participants — primarily young science journalists — represented a wide range of media, including press, TV, radio and Internet, as well as a good geographical mix.

The holding of the meeting was itself something of a regional landmark in the region. It resulted from a growing recognition of the importance of science journalism among major regional organisations, which provided support for the event. These included AECI (the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation), CYTED (the Iberoamerican Programme for Science and Technology), RICYT (the Iberoamerican Network for Indicators on Science and Technology) and the Organization of American States.

The Santa Cruz meeting was also a landmark for key mass-media organisations in Latin America. By allowing their employees to take a break from their daily work to participate — and in some cases providing financial support for them to do so — they demonstrated recognition of the importance of science journalism.

The fruits of past labour

Growing recognition of science journalism appears to be a delayed response to a wider movement to promote science communication across Latin America that started in the 1990s.

This movement began with a focus on science museums and science centres, and has more recently turned to organising science weeks and street-based activities aimed at reaching a wide audience (see Challenges for science communication in Latin America).

Reflecting the growing desire to improve the standard of science journalism, a number of countries, such as Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, have set up science journalists' associations over the past five years. In the next two months Argentina, Chile and Peru will hold science journalism national workshops and meetings.

Bolivia has only recently joined this movement to promote better science journalism. Two years ago, efforts by SciDev.Net to organise a Bolivian meeting on the topic identified a number of interested individuals, but did not have sufficient support for the meeting to take place.

Since then important changes have taken place. One is the establishment of a new Vice-ministry of Science and Technology less than two years ago, which identified popularisation of science — including promotion of science journalism — as a priority area.

The National Academy of Science in Bolivia has also identified science journalism as key area in need of improvement. And in May this year a group of journalists and scientists set up the Bolivian Association for Science Journalists.

This change in national attitude to science journalism lead to two events in Bolivia before the Santa Cruz meeting, one in Cochabamba and a second in La Paz, organised jointly between SciDev.Net and the Bolivian Association for Science Journalists and the Vice-ministry on Science and Technology respectively.

A bright future

The three meetings brought together around 150 people, demonstrating the enthusiasm among both scientists and journalists for increased dialogue.   

The success of the meetings reflects a broader trend in which a growing number of science journalists in Latin America are willing to develop their professional skills, with some media organisations prepared to support their efforts.

At the same time, governmental support for science journalism is growing, as is awareness among funding organisations of the need to provide financial support.

All those committed to enhancing science communication in developing countries — as SciDev.Net is — need to find more ways of taking advantage of this favourable situation.

The past five years have shown that much can be gained by encouraging different sectors of society to collaborate in developing projects to promote science journalism. Hopefully these collaborative efforts will continue to grow.

Luisa Massarani
Latin America and the Caribbean regional co-ordinator, SciDev.Net