9 May 2014

Nigerian newspapers hardly cover nanotechnology

Salvador, Brazil — Despite nanotechnology's huge potential to alleviate poverty, it is one of the least covered science topics in Nigerian newspapers, a study finds.

The study, which is yet to be published, was presented by Herbert Batta, a communication lecturer at Nigeria's University of Uyo, at the 13th International Public Communication of Science and Technology conference (PCST2014) in Brazil, this week (5-8 May).

"This may indicate the lack of knowledge among journalists in that area, and an underdeveloped state of that science in the country, or the difficulties experienced in the science-journalism interface," it says.

The study analysed the science coverage of three national newspapers, The Guardian, Daily Trust and Leadership, in 2012.

The study found little difference between the papers' coverage of nanoscience and nanotechnology issues, with these subjects being covered by only 3.6 per cent of The Guardian's science articles, just over one per cent of those in the Leadership and none in the Daily Trust.

In all, the three papers produced 329 individual science stories in 2012. The most frequent topics covered by The Guardian were related to health, in the Leadership it was stories on robotics, biotechnology and information and communications technology, while in the Daily Trust nearly all science articles were about health and medicine.

Batta said: "Nanoscience and nanotechnology can be used to solve problems ranging from the provision of healthcare, especially for chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, water purification and the supply of clean energy, but the media hardly covers them." This means those in the newspapers' audience who could make use of them are unaware of their possible benefits, he added.

Batta said there are few nanotechnology experts in Nigeria and in Africa more generally. The few there are in Nigeria often work at institutions that are not active in raising awareness among the public about nanoscience and nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is still an emerging area of science in Africa, in which there has been modest progress, he said. "Scientists involved also seem fearful of engaging with the media without [having] any breakthroughs [to report]," he added.

According to Batta, science journalists' associations and nanotechnology scientists could work to bridge the gap by organising events to help the media understand the subject.

Elizabeth Rasekoala, a consultant on human capital development in science, said nanotechnology could help to tackle problems such as poverty and disease.

"It is an underrated and poorly understood area in the African media, yet it could be used to make huge developmental gains in areas such as water treatment, drug delivery and adherence, as well as family planning," she told SciDev.Net.

According to Azeza Fredericks, a parliamentary liaison manager at South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, scientists involved in nanoscience and nanotechnology in Africa and journalists on the continent need to work together to raise awareness of this field.

She said that journalists need training on nanotech, its potential benefits and how to communicate it to the public.

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