Ghanaian journalists call for more science coverage

Many journalists say they would like to see greater science coverage in Ghana Copyright: Flickr/Internews Network

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[ACCRA] Many journalists in Ghana want to see a significant increase in science reporting over the next decade, but say that significant obstacles are preventing this from happening, according to a new survey.

The survey results were published in the Journal of Science Communication last month (16 March), and are based on responses to a questionnaire from more than 150 Ghanaian journalists.

Eighty percent of the respondents said there was a need for greater public literacy about science, and that increasing the amount of science coverage would lead to better science outcomes for the country, according to the lead author, Bernard Appiah.

Despite the growth of interest in science journalism in recent decades, Appiah said many journalists in Ghana struggled to get access to researchers, and in particular to obtain contact information for scientists they wished to interview.

Appiah — director of the Centre for Science and Health Communication (CSHC), a non-profit Ghanaian organisation that promotes public engagement with science — said this reflected a broader problem in Ghana, where both scientists and journalists have little access to formal science communication training.

"There is no such course as ‘science journalism’ in Ghana – or in most African countries – and this should change if science journalism in Africa is to occupy its appropriate niche," he said.

There was also little formal training available to enable researchers or journalists to communicate about science with each other, or with the public, he said.

Appiah said many journalists surveyed also reported high levels of "mistrust between scientists and journalists". This was reflected in a reluctance of scientists — especially those working in the public sector — to be interviewed.

Appiah said the CSHC is working to improve the situation by setting up online expert databases – including contact details — to help journalists reach researchers they want to speak to. 

A pilot database of health professionals has been established for journalists who have been trained in health reporting, and in the long term, Appiah said there were plans to expand the database to other disciplines. Although Wellcome Trust funding for the project is due to expire later this year, he said the Centre is investigating other potential income streams to continue operating and expanding.

Bright Blewu, secretary-general of the Ghana Journalists’ Association (GJA), said science reporting in Ghana was inadequate because many newsrooms did not have specialised science reporters, and many scientific achievements received little or no publicity.

George Essegbey, director of the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute at Ghana’s Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, said a collaboration between the Research Scientists Association, the GJA and the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences (GAAS) could provide additional impetus to increase science coverage.

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