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[LUSAKA] Journalists in east and southern Africa have pledged to make their coverage of biotechnology-related issues more balanced, accurate and analytical.

The group issued a declaration outlining their resolve on 7 October in the Zambian capital Lusaka.

This states that with growing pressure on African nations to accept genetically modified (GM) crops, journalists have a critical role to play in educating the public about biotechnology.

Acknowledging that biotechnology is a divisive area dominated by strong pro- and anti-GM viewpoints, the journalists committed themselves to "accurate and truthful" reporting and to "learning and interpreting the science of genetic engineering for the benefit of the public".

The journalists — who hail from Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe — issued their declaration at a workshop organised by the southern African branch of the UK-based Panos Institute.

So far, none of these countries has commercialised GM crops or developed a comprehensive biotechnology policy. The governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are in favour of GM technology, while those of Malawi, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have adopted a more precautionary approach to it.

In May, the Panos Institute released a report that said the Kenyan and Zambian media tended to be one-sided on GM issues and uncritical of the government line (see Developing world media 'lacks critical analysis of GM').

The declaration appears to tackle this issue, stating: "We acknowledge that an informed media is key to pluralism, thus we must be active in making people aware of the issues, and stimulate debate between different stakeholders."

Among the authors are journalists from government-owned media outlets including Uganda's New Vision newspaper, the Zambia Daily Mail, the Times of Zambia and the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.