Developing-world sessions purged from WCSJ2013 programme

Developing-world journalists have comprised up to half of attendees at recent WCSJs Copyright: Flickr/Internews Network

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  • Sessions on neglected diseases and African journalism are among six cut
  • Several developing-world journalists may now be unable to attend
  • Organisers blame a lack of cash to pay for speakers to attend, but say they are working on providing more funds

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The organising committee of the upcoming global gathering of science journalists has made sudden changes to the programme last month, cutting several sessions that focused on developing country issues and leaving journalists disappointed.

Those producing now-dropped sessions have been invited to instead take part in a single, general 'around the world' session, according to the organisers of the 2013 World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ2013), which is being held in Helsinki, Finland, from 24–28 June. 

Six sessions in total were cut despite being accepted and listed in the preliminary programme, which has now been taken off the event's website.

The sessions were axed because of a lack of funding needed to help pay for their producers and speakers to attend.

The cuts follow a change in the staffing of the conference organising committee, including the resignation of conference director Eeva Pitkälä, who presided over the initial programme's selection.

Pitkälä could not be reached for comments on the changes to the programme or the reasons for her resignation. 

Bernard Appiah, a journalist from Ghana and a producer of a cut session on science journalism in Africa, was hoping to attend his first WCSJ, but his chances of doing so are now slim.

"Cutting the session entirely seems inappropriate, because it is now unlikely that any of the speakers will be able to attend the conference," Appiah says.

As well as two sessions exploring African and non-English speaking journalism, two sessions on neglected disease and tuberculosis reporting and two sessions on issues facing South America's science and media have also been cut.

"This would have been the very first time that Latin America's science journalism was going to be explored and exposed at the WCSJ," says Angela Posada-Swafford, a Colombian science journalist who was the producer of the cut session on science and science journalism in Latin America. "This is the only region that is historically a bit neglected in these conferences."

Posada-Swafford may still be able to attend, but most of the six panelists for her session will not. "We all depended on financial help to travel," she says.

Reetta Kettunen, vice-chair of the conference's organising committee, says: "If no funding from WCSJ2013 is needed, then you may be certain that the sessions will be allocated time in the WCSJ2013 programme."

According to Kettunen, the programme will "evolve" until the end of April, with space for ad hoc sessions to be added later.

She adds that the two-hour 'around the world' session will have more impact than focused shorter sessions that would be competing for the same audience.

In recent years, up to half of WCSJ attendees have come from developing countries. Yesterday, the WCSJ2013 invited applications for travel scholarships for journalists from developing countries.

And Kettunen says that the conference team is working to acquire more sponsorships so that they can offer scholarships to those who cannot afford to come.

Disclaimer: SciDev.Net's news editor is a co-producer of one cut session.