Biotech Communication: The role of Collaboration Between Journalists and Scientists

Biotech Communication: The role of Collaboration Between Journalists and Scientists
By Abdallah el-Kurebe

Biotechnology is one subject, which understanding by the generality of the people (except scientists), is shrouded by mix reactions. The misunderstanding of biotech creates the need for its proper communication so that people would understand the role it plays in development, generally.

However, since. scientists do not have the skills to communicate biotechnology, journalists readily situate themselves for the job.

Biotechnology is an evolving field of technology especially in Nigeria, the reason that the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) found it necessary to train journalists and agricultural extension workers on biotech communications and science reporting.

One of the papers titled: “AATF Biotechnology Research in Nigeria,” was delivered by the Regional Representative (West Africa) of AATF, Dr. Prince Addae at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) Zaria, venue of the event.

He stated that the Foundation access, develop and disseminate agricultural technologies to mitigate constraints affecting crop production of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

AATF, he added is involved in biotech research in the areas of Podborer Resistant Cowpea project; Maruca resistance in cowpea (beans); NEWEST Rice, Nitrogen-use efficiency,
Water-use efficiency and Salinity.

Others papers were: “The Safety Issues: Do We Have Concerns To Be Afraid?,” delivered by Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku; “How To Write Impactful Stories” and “Who Do We Trust,” by Diran Onifade and “Why Writing Science Differs” and “Where Do We Find The Stories” by Alex Abutu.

Abutu identified the responsibilities of reporters to include developing a data base of experts; knowledge of science academy (ies); keeping tap on the universities and record of international organisations working in journalist’s area of interest as well as remembering to localise/find a local expert.

My observation is that Nigerian Journalists have prime access to some biggest stories of this century, especially that relate to the importance of biotechnology in tackling challenges of environment, health, agriculture.

It is pertinent therefore that scientists collaborate with Journalists. This is because the ultimate successes that could be recorded on the stories described above would depend on such collaboration.

In turn, the collaboration widely depends on available information about biotech from the scientists, especially such that could foster dialogue and understanding of biotech researches and the results they bring to tackle the challenges of science. 

No one is better positioned to deliver African biotech information than the African science Journalist. But the scientists must have to cooperate if this feat must be achieved.

Although science (and by implication, biotechnology) is not always simple to report, and since it must be reported, such report should be in a manner that creates true understanding by policymakers, legislators, other stakeholders and the general public. 

Editor of SciDevnet David Dickson says: “Good reporting of science in the media is vital in drawing the attention of both policymakers and the public to the important role that science and technology can play in achieving sustainable development, and scientists can contribute significantly to helping science Journalists ensure that this happens…” How? 

Journalists would play major role in setting governments’ agenda on the path of rolling out biotechnology toward national development.

Journalists act as intermediaries between various social interests and the wider general public. Therefore, their ties of loyalty and solidarity theoretically and practically lie with the wider general public. Collaboration between scientists and Journalists therefore will result in near-perfect or perfect understanding of biotechnology through better communication.

To properly communicate biotechnology, there must exist professional relationship between Journalists and scientists that is built on TRUST and ACCESS. This relationship if established, would create policy direction towards acceptability and adoptability of biotechnology.

But what constitute collaborative roles of journalists/scientists?

Scientists should build good working relationship with and create the needed confidence in journalists; they should grant interviews to journalists without fear of being misrepresented; they should invite journalists when scientific reports are being released and supply information to the yearning journalists with the immediacy it deserves and they should make available to Journalists (without asking) ALL research reports and return missed calls placed to them by Journalists

On the other hand, Journalists should create trust and confidence in scientists by avoiding misinformation, misrepresentations, etc; they should communicate with scientists efficiently, responsibly and with sensitivity on scientific issues that evoke strong public response; they should communicate by understanding both the journalistic and scientific methods as well as by verifying and collaboration and they should seek clarifications for contradictory opinions about research reports before publication and demand information with tact and the patience that is desired to ease having it.

It is when scientists and journalists agree to bridge the wide gap that exists between them, their role in communicating biotech would not be seen to be carried out.

Posted by Abdallah el-Kurebe