Controversy and science reporting in South Africa

Copyright: David Dickson

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Science journalists in developing countries face a number of hurdles when reporting on controversial issues such as HIV/AIDS and genetically modified crops. Scientists are often wary of talking to the media, editors may be reluctant to carry the news, and stories can be highly politicised.

On 6 October Tamar Kahn, science and health editor of the South African newspaper Business Day, explored these issues in a talk given at the 4th World Conference of Science Journalists. Kahn, who also contributes articles to SciDev.Net, says that journalistic integrity can be compromised because of pressures arising from the controversial nature of some news stories.

Journalists face additional problems when debates about biotechnology or health are dominated by opposing camps — activists and industry, for example — and when there is a lack of access to information about the issues, or independent voices who can comment on news. The result, says Kahn, is that journalists — many of whom are young and inexperienced — can be vulnerable to manipulation.

Link to edited version of Tamar Kahn’s speech