African journalists least equip for science reporting

The challenge of effectively communicating science for sustainable development places an enormous burden on African journalists because they are not adequately equipped.

This is the situation Africa finds itself even though environmental reporting is fast becoming an important genre of journalists, Mr Benson Ochieng, and Director of the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG) said at a conference on Sustainable Development in Nairobi, Kenya.

The two- day conference is to provide a platform for dialogue, exchange of experiences and learning on ways of strengthening the media’s role in promoting sustainable development in Africa.

It was organised by ILEG and Maseno University of Kenya, in collaboration with the Kenya Correspondents Association and the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association with sponsorship from the Danish International Development Agency and the Ford Foundation.

He said with little or no specialisation many newsrooms were increasingly making it difficult for environmental journalists to stay on the beat.

“It against this backdrop that journalists from Africa are been engaged to build their capacity and link them to the Participatory Action Research (PAR) as a key source of empirical information on climate change adaptation.

There is widespread belief in newsrooms that in Africa there is little or no science being reported and that the subject only makes stories when there are new inventions like medicines, machines/equipment or when “strange” phenomena like Tsunamis, earthquakes occur.

PAR has revealed that there are few opportunities to effectively train journalists as science/environmental reporters, and many journalism schools are hardly prepared to offer effective training in these areas.

Mr Ochieng said there was little in-house mentoring and training on science reporting within media houses which made good science reporters leave for better paying jobs.

“It is still difficult to conduct effective investigative journalism on various science issues including health, industrial pollution, deforestation… due to reluctant sources of information, bureaucracy, government secrecy,” he said.

Mr Ochieng said truth and fallacies about environmental, science and development journalism in Africa was steeped in the “traditional environmental concerns” of yester-year at a time when the global environmental agenda has moved new issues, like climate change and link with livelihoods”.

“Serious analyses of environmental/science issues are rare; the stories are mostly topical, and more rarely, analytical, or investigatory. Science reporting is not a daily routine in most media houses in Africa, but the trend is changing,” he said.

PAR according to Ochieng was based on a rapid assessment conducted two years ago, during the 3rd East Africa Health Scientific Conference in March 2009, which was attended by 50 journalists.

However development communication and the role of the media are fast moving to the front page of sustainable development discourse, he said.

Mr Busani Bafana, a Zimbabwean Journalist who spoke on the topic: “Tools and resources for effective sustainable development,” said the African journalists should do away with ‘arm chair’ journalism because they could do better.

Source: GNA

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