Too little science media coverage, say Senegalese

Journalists lack the necessary knowledge and training to report on science, respondents felt Copyright: Morguefile

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[ABIDJAN] More than 90 per cent of people in Senegal believe there is too little coverage of science on television and that journalists covering science lack the necessary training, a survey suggests.

Researchers from the Institute of Research in Teaching of Mathematics, Physics and Technology at Cheikh Anta Diop University carried out a random survey of 500 people from different social backgrounds in Dakar, to gauge their views on science and technology (S&T) in the media.

The findings were presented at the Institute of Social Hygiene earlier this year (27 January).

According to lead researcher Ansoumane Sané, nearly two-thirds of Senegalese said that they relied on television for S&T news. Around 40 per cent obtained their information from newspapers and about a third read science magazines.

An overwhelming 93 per cent of survey participants said too little time was devoted to S&T programming on public and private television channels and that the coverage was of poor quality. Nearly three-quarters said television did not provide enough scientific information.

Science journalism standards were criticised, with more than 80 per cent of respondents saying that journalists writing about science and technology did not have the necessary knowledge or training.

Compared with science, nearly all the survey participants said they were better informed about sport (99 per cent) and politics (96.5 per cent). Only 4.7 per cent felt they were well informed about S&T.

Respondents’ opinions were also sought on the impact of S&T on development and the creation of a better life in Senegal. Most said that S&T had a positive effect, particularly in the area of hygiene, but a small number said they felt S&T news often included "negative" coverage of incidents such as nuclear disasters and transport accidents.

The study’s authors said that developing a scientific culture in Senegal has been hindered by socio-cultural issues, including widespread conservatism on topics such as evolution.

Sané said it was becoming increasingly necessary to establish a stronger science information culture in Senegal. "We are living in a world that is significantly modelled by sciences and technologies," he told SciDev.Net.

But he cautioned that the survey sample was small and that many respondents appeared more interested in football and politics than science.

Amadou Sow, vice president of the Senegal Academy of Science and Technology, said it was essential to encourage more young people to take up careers in S&T.

"If we want to avoid [having] a Senegal with citizens unable to make informed opinions based on society’s orientations, it’s high time we developed our own knowledge based on the knowledge of others."