5 December 2012

West Africa: Regional Science Media Forum to 'Stir Development'

Cotonou — Science journalists and communication specialists in West Africa have established a forum to promote science journalism in the region and to disseminate scientific and technological developments to the public.

The new forum emerged out of the First West Africa Science Journalists Conference (WASJC), held in Benin's economic hub, Cotonou, last week (26-28 November). The conference was organised by the Benin Association of Science Journalists and Communicators (AJCSB), with the support of SciDev.Net.

The conference recommended that science journalists from West Africa that includes countries such as Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo should form a network to share experiences and help bolster the capacity of journalists and communicators. Journalists should also engage with colleagues from other regions to help improve science journalism in the region, the conference recommended.

Onche Odeh, president of the Nigeria Association of Science Journalists (NASJ), says the creation of the West Africa Forum of Science Journalists and Communicators marks the beginning of a new era for science journalism in the region.

"It will serve as an additional platform to give more [science] journalists [...] in the region the chance to improve networking with colleagues in neighbouring countries and sources within the region and beyond," Odeh tells SciDev.Net. "It is also a major opportunity for science journalists [in the region] to measure themselves against international standards in science and science journalism."

Experts hope the forum will be a major platform that could help improve transnational co-operation among francophone and anglophone nations in the area, by bringing together different voices to 'stir development' nationally and regionally.

"It is an urgent need to stimulate the large-scale practice of science journalism in the West African media," says Christophe D. Assogba, president of the AJCSB, and newly elected chairman of the West African forum. This will help "increase awareness and improve the quality of life for people facing huge problems [to which] science has found solutions, but [which] they ignore because of the absence of adequate information," he adds.

Esther Tola, a freelance science journalist from Benin, believes science journalism is a sector requiring precision and cooperation between journalists, enabling them to exchange ideas and develop stories together.

"Forming a forum will create leverage for African science journalists in their demands for information and assistance from the scientific community," Tola tells SciDev.Net.

This will enable them interact with the scientific community as journalist with a common front and also get better recognition from scientific institutions.

Félix Houinsou, a media specialist at the Africa Rice Centre, a pan-African rice research organisation based in Benin, describes the new forum as "an ideal setting for journalists to exchange views on issues related to science and technology in Africa".

"This will help strengthen [journalists'] capacity for processing scientific information and better informing the public through the media," Houinsou adds. By facilitating relationships between journalists and scientists, Houinsou also hopes the forum will "give visibility to the achievements of scientific research".

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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