Africa needs a science news service, says report

African science journalists welcome the idea of setting up a dedicated science news service Copyright: Flickr/Internews Network

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The launch of a science news service for Africa could improve the quality and relevance of the continent’s media coverage of scientific research, according to a report.

"There is a lack of good and independent science media coverage in Africa," said Marina Joubert, South Africa-based co-author of ‘The Need for an African Science News Service’, a report published by the UK National Commission for UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) last week (1 June).

The views of 35 journalists and scientists — from Africa, or from European organisations closely involved with Africa — were included in the report.

"The responses were overwhelmingly positive," Joubert told SciDev.Net. Participating journalists welcomed the idea of a science news service, and scientists expressed interest in promoting their research in this way, she added.

Currently, journalists find it difficult to gather research information from institutions in Africa.

Consequently, the continent’s science media coverage often focuses on research — obtained from foreign wire services — related to scientific research in the United States or Europe, with little or no relevance to African readers, the report says.  

Communication barriers, geographical distance and poor levels of scientific understanding amongst journalists are obstacles to effective science reporting, the survey found.

These issues could be addressed by a science news centre, promoting interaction between scientists and journalists, and improving local audiences’ access to relevant information.

A focused science news service, dedicated to disseminating press releases from African research institutions to the media in Africa and internationally, could also improve the quality and scope of science journalism, the report says.

The report also proposes providing additional information on topical science issues and tracking major developments involving African scientists.

But for a news service to be rolled out successfully across the continent, many challenges — including institutional barriers, limited resources, and lack of training — must be addressed, the report found.

"I believe a science news service could be very useful," William Odinga Balikuddembe, chairman of the Uganda Science Journalists Association, told SciDev.Net.

It would help build effective working relationships between scientists and journalists and develop confidence, he said.  

But ensuring that those without internet access were able to use the service was essential, and would make the most difference to the quality of science reporting in Africa, Balikuddembe added.

The report — and its recommendations for a pilot study — will now be considered by UNESCO.

"It is very encouraging and exciting because the question is being … put on the table," said Joubert.

Julie Clayton, co-author of the report said: "It would be great if this report helped to encourage the development of an African science news service".

Link to full report [369kB]

This report was prepared on behalf of SciDev.Net for the UK National Commission of UNESCO.