World science journalism meeting stays out of Africa

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[SAN FRANCISCO] Congratulations to Lausanne in Switzerland for their successful bid to host the next World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ).

Countries in the developing world would struggle to put together a bid that’s as good, and you can’t fault the directors of the World Federation of Science Journalists for choosing them over a rival bid from Montreal, a decision announced during this month’s WCSJ in San Francisco (26-30 October).

After all, the bid was a consortium between Switzerland, France and Italy, and was supported by the European Commission and CERN — the world’s biggest particle collider.

Yet it’s developing countries that would get the most from having a world conference in their backyard — and the region that would benefit the most is Africa.

“In Africa, the job of science journalism is not very well developed,” said Hilaire Diarra, editor of Maadou, a science and technology journal based Mali, West Africa.

It’s not surprising that there wasn’t a bid from an African country. After all, how much would it cost them to compete with the glitz and glamour of Lausanne or Montreal?
But maybe the process itself needs to be adapted.

Having the conference hosted on the continent would give massive momentum to locally produced science journalism, putting science in the minds of policymakers and newspaper editors in countries that struggle with malaria and HIV, and that bear the brunt of climate change.

Curtis Brainard, the outgoing president of the World Federation of Science Journalists, told me: “I can tell you that all of the board members are incredibly eager to see the conference go to Sub-Saharan Africa”.

Yet after 11 announced editions of the WCSJ, not one has been hosted there. The Lausanne announcement brings the number up to four in Europe, two in North America, one in Latin America, two in Asia and one in the Middle East.

“The next one after Lausanne should go to Africa because Africa is also part of this world,” Columbus Mavhunga, the chairperson of the Health Journalists Association of Zimbabwe, told me following the announcement.

The problem, according to Mavhunga, is that most African countries would struggle to meet the cost of running one of these events on their own.

Countries like South Africa, Kenya and Uganda have well-established science journalist associations, and perhaps one solution would be for them to put together a joint bid.

Anyone who has seen South Africa’s awe-inspiring Science Minister, Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor, speak would be left in no doubt about the impetus an African bid could have. SciDev.Net will be publishing an interview with Pandor in the next few days.

It’s my hope that for 2021, the International Federation of Science Journalists will receive a strong bid from Africa, and decide to bring the WCSJ to a region where good science journalism really can save lives.

This article was was originally published on SciDev.Net's global edition.