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[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have successfully raised the profile of giant panda conservation across the country, but if the results of a survey of a leading Chinese newspaper are indicative, media reports tend to focus on the animals, not the research.

These are among the findings of a study presented yesterday (23 June) at the Public Communication of Science and Technology symposium in Beijing, China.

Liuqing Yang and Susanna Priest from Texas A&M University, United States, analysed articles published between 1995 and 2004 in one of the main Chinese newspapers, The People's Daily.

Over that period, the newspaper carried 341 stories about giant pandas, 147 of them focusing on conservation.

However, in two-thirds of the stories, no mention was made of sources. In fact, the two main research stations where panda conservation activities take place — the Chengdu Breeding Base and the Wolong Giant Panda Research Station — were directly referred to in just 7.5 per cent of the articles.

Not only are the scientists rarely cited in news articles about giant panda conservation, says the study, but details of their work appeared in only 15 per cent of stories.

"Little space is given in news stories to the protection of habitats, the relationship between habitats and human life, or the value, biology and welfare of wildlife itself", said Yang.

Instead, say the researchers, The People's Daily concentrates it's coverage on captive pandas that succeed in giving birth.

"Rather than as a wild animal living in the forest, the panda bear is portrayed as a lovable, fragile, precious and politically symbolic animal raised under human care," said Yang.

The giant panda is found only in China. There are about 1,600 living in the wild and 160 in captivity.

"Conservation communication should be considered an obligation, rather than a secondary or peripheral activity for the scientific community," conclude Yang and Priest.

"If more scientists in the field of conservation make their study and consultation accessible to the mass media, journalists are more likely to be able to portray accurate, informative and balanced conservation stories."


Click here to view SciDev.Net's coverage of the PCST meeting in Beijing.

Read more about similar issues in SciDev.Net's 'E-guide to science communication'