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[MONTEVIDEO] Latin American scientists have a public duty to communicate about their research, and journalists need to improve their reporting of scientific news, says leading Brazilian science writer Marcelo Leite.

Leite, a freelance journalist who won the José Reis Prize for Science Journalism in Brazil last week, stressed these points at a meeting on Latin American science and environmental journalism, held in Montevideo, Uruguay, on 7 June.

He said that because most research in Latin America is publicly funded, scientists had no right to not communicate about their work. But he added that journalism needed to improve if science was to be communicated accurately to the public.

"Scientific and environmental journalism is a colossal challenge," added Leite. "It should be practiced by professionals, not amateurs."

According to Leite, journalists often consider scientists to be authorities. Instead, he said "Science and environment journalists should be prepared to pose questions to scientists, and question why and how they reach their conclusions."

Javier Crúz, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, agreed that science journalists needed to be more rigorous in their reporting.

Crúz told the meeting that his study of the Mexican coverage of news relating to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) revealed that journalists did not report scientific information accurately, and often published information that diverged from previous stories in the same newspaper.

Hernán Sorhuet, a Uruguayan environmental journalist for El Pais spoke about challenges the meeting had identified.

These included "The need to strengthen networks of journalists in the region, the need to create solid strategies and accessible mechanisms for training, and the need to produce printed material to help improve the professional practice."

The Montevideo meeting was organised by SciDev.Net, the Environmental Communication Network of Latin America and the Caribbean (RedCalc), the Uruguay Science and Communication Commission of The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Latin American and Caribbean regional office of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), with the support of the World Federation of Science Journalists.

It was attended by 57 people from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela and Uruguay.

Luisa Massarani co-organised the Montevideo meeting on science and environment journalism. Marcelo Leite and Javier Cruz have reported on science in Latin America for SciDev.Net. IDRC is one of SciDev.Net's funders.

Click here to read the presentations made at the meeting (in Spanish).

Read more about science communication in SciDev.Net's science communication e-guide.