Communication barrier: Media relegates science to low priority status, say speakers

Published: October 20, 2016
University of Karachi. PHOTO: EXPRESS

University of Karachi. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: Politics and security issues are covered more extensively in newspapers whereas very little space is given to science, health and even education news.

This was voiced by journalists and scientists at a one-day seminar on ‘Science and Society – Science Communication and Public Engagement’ at the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), Karachi University (KU) on Wednesday. Participants also lamented the fact that no Muslim scientist has been awarded a Nobel Prize for work done in the Muslim world. Leaders and politicians need to be informed about the significance of science and technology, urged speakers, adding that journalists and scientists need to learn communication skills.

Former chairperson of the Higher Education Commission and patron-in-chief of ICCBS, Prof Attaur Rahman, said that this is the age of knowledge, which has become the main driving force of world economies. Innovation has become a key to rapid socio-economic development, he added, reminding participants that the centre had been established to communicate scientific information. He said that the centre has played a pivotal role in the dissemination of knowledge to the public.

Dr Shakil Farooqi, from KU’s department of genetics, pointed out that the media is responsible for misrepresenting science. He said that scientific research is not checked properly by other scientists before reaching media and journalistic ethics are sometimes not adhered to, which is why the media sometimes sensationalises science.

The chairperson of Jinnah University for Women’s department of media studies, Dr Sardar Nazish, said that there are many ways to popularise science in society. He said exhibitions, visits to laboratories, seminars, conferences, press releases, scientific meetings and science museums can play an important role in generating public interest in the subject.

Talking about science communication, he said that it emerged as a separate entity in the 1950s. Science communication institutes were established in universities and there were separate institutes with an interdisciplinary approach, he explained.

Journalist Nizamuddin Siddiqui said that journalists generally do not know how to go about covering science stories. Scientists will have to come forward to effectively deal with any misinformation or falsehoods, he added. “Most newspapers do cover science without a designated science reporter,” he said. “Science reports are covered incidentally, generally by the health or education reporters. Only a few natural and scientific events, like eclipses and earthquakes, are covered off and on, albeit in a rather clichéd manner. In the absence of proper guidance and training, reporters are prone to making mistakes while covering science.”

According to him, scientists do not possess strong writing skills and only a few scientists write for science magazines. ICCBS director Prof Dr M Iqbal Choudhary observed that journalists and scientists in Pakistan have failed in terms of engaging the public. He said journalists and scientists need to learn communication skills and stressed the need for introducing communication skills development courses among media professionals and scientists.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2016.

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