Kampala — In a move to bridge the gap between science, policymakers and the general public, the East Africa Network of Science Journalists (EANSJ) was launched last month (20 September), at a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The network aims to promote the development of national associations of science journalists in all East African Community (EAC) member states. It will also map existing media platforms and potential media partners and initiatives dedicated to science, technology and innovation (ST&I) and the environment across the region.
Promoting collaboration between organisations, such as the EAC secretariat and legislative assembly, to foster high quality coverage of regional ST&I and environmental initiatives, will also be a key focus.
The network was launched after a two-day training workshop organised by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the African Union Commission (AUC) - in collaboration with Ethiopia's Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ethiopian Association of Science Journalists - and chaired by Ochieng' Ogodo, a Kenyan journalist and SciDev.Net's regional coordinator.
"I [regard] the network approach as more sustainable than other approaches in organising science journalists in Africa, as it fits into an existing governance structure, which Africans are familiar with," said Diran Onifade, president of the Africa Federation of Science Journalists (AFSJ) and founder of science news service AfricaSTI.
Onifade said UNESCO should encourage synergy and healthy relationships with AFSJ, as well as other regional networks and national associations, to ensure the effective governance of science journalism across Africa.
Thierry Amoussougbo, regional adviser for UNECA, said the media has a noble and enabling role in facilitating public understanding of science and technology. It does so by imparting needed, accurate and timely scientific information, he explained.
According to Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, UNESCO's regional adviser for communication and information in Dakar, Senegal, EANSJ's launch and plan of action is of great importance. UNESCO will "continuously support initiatives which contribute to the sustainability of [...] science journalism in Africa, and which make effective science and technology information more accessible for Africa's development," he said.
"It is a welcome and useful development that will deepen our practice and set standards," said Otula Owuor, a media consultant and editor of Science Africa, an online science publication.
However, Owuor cautioned that this was only an expression of interest by the partners involved, and that it was up to journalists to finds ways to make it work.
"To popularise science within newsrooms, the network members must always have story ideas," said Owuor.
Other science journalist networks include the West African Network of Science Journalists (WANSJ). There are plans in the pipeline to launch networks for southern and northern Africa. But Diran said the West African Network of Science Journalists was "foot-dragging".