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Ecowas poised to improve quality of science reporting in W/Africa

Oct 24, 2016, 9:21 AM | Article By: Lamin Jahateh

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recently organised a three-day training course for West African journalists, geared towards improving quality reporting on science, technology and innovation (STI) in the sub-region.

The workshop, held at the Ecowas Commission in Abuja, Nigeria, on 10-12 October 2016, was designed to give the journalists an iinsight into the fundamental roles and responsibilities of science journalism, for the development of West Africa and Africa as a whole.

Organised by the Ecowas Commission Department of Education, Science and Culture, the capacity building workshop was attended by at least 25 scientific journalists, researchers and scientists from English-speaking West Africa: Gambia, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria.  The Sierra Leone participants could not make it.

The seminar centred on the theme: ‘Making Science and Innovation Information More Accessible for ECOWAS Development’.

Speaking on the occasion, Ecowas Commissioner of Education, Science and Culture, Hamidou Boly, said the Commission has a science and technology policy, and the document lays strong emphasis on efforts to improve the quality of journalistic reporting on STI for the benefit of the citizens.

Prof. Boly said the policy is informed by the fact that sustainable development in the ECOWAS sub-region has to be science-led.

“This must be driven by a massive transfer and acquisition of technology and knowledge aided by communication through the mainstreamed media.”

Dr Roland Kouakou, head of Science and Technology Division of the Ecowas Commission, said there is an appreciable level of professional development of African journalists in communicating STI issues, as manifested by the formation of African Association of Science and Technology Journalists.

On the contrary, in the West African region, he continued, not enough is being done to improve the professional capacity of journalists on STI.

Dr Kouakou said it is in view of this that the sub-regional body put up the three-day training course for West African journalists, with a view to improving the quality of scientific news reaching the public. 

The workshop was also expected to identify challenges to science communication, and more effective science reporting for further planning.

Dr Kyari Mohammed, senior scientific officer at the African Union, Nigeria office, said Africa’s development could be promoted through the application of STI with appropriate communication policy.

There are a lot of scientific innovations lying in laboratories, because the scientists find it difficult to communicate to the media, and the media in turn find it difficult to fully explain these innovations to the citizens.

Dr Mohammed added that there is a high level of communication in the media on STI issues in the developed countries; that is why they continue to develop. 

On the other hand, there is limited communication on STI in Africa and that explains why the continent’s development is chameleonic.

There is a need to continually train journalists on the continent to develop the capacity to interrogate scientists to get information from them for the benefit of the citizens, he added.

Prof. Willie O. Siyanbola of the Center for Energy Research and Development (CERD), Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), said both the journalists and scientists should know that unless the efforts in the science laboratories are communicated to the citizens, in a manner they can understand, such efforts would go down the drain.

At the end of the three-day training course for scientific journalists in Anglophone West Africa, it is expected that the quality of media coverage of STI issues would improve.

It is also expected that there will now be improved interaction between science journalists, researchers and policymakers in order to ensure science journalism is driven by input from all stakeholders.