Science in the media

Published : Feb 13, 2004 00:00 IST

THE Department of Science & Technology (DST) organised a two-day national seminar on "Scientific Awareness and People's Empowerment: Role of Investigative Science Journalism" in New Delhi on December 19-20, 2003, as a precursor to observing 2004 as the Year of Scientific Awareness (YSA).

Addressing the delegates, Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Bachi Singh Rawat, expressed the hope that the programmes built around the YSA would reach all the nooks and corners of the country and involve the common people, especially those who are normally not exposed to the advantages of science and technology. He emphasised the need for a media centre to facilitate access to information for science reporting.

Inaugurating the seminar, Professor V.S. Ramamurthy, Secretary, DST, said that it was an important step to trigger an investigative approach to science reporting. He hoped that in-depth science reports would lead to public appreciation of S&T and enable people to take informed decisions on the scientific and technological aspects in their day-to-day lives. Anuj Sinha, Adviser and Head, Science Communication and Science and Society Divisions, DST, said it was the responsibility of a science journalist to report on the subjects that a society needed rather than what it wanted.

Prof. S.K. Mishra, president, Centre for Global Studies, NASA, United States, presented a comparative account of science in society in India and America. He emphasised the need for in-depth coverage of current scientific issues in the mass media.

Over 150 delegates comprising scientists, science writers, academicians, social and developmental activists, artists, economists, and journalists participated in the seminar. Some 30 presentations were made at three technical sessions - "Scientific Awareness and Informed Decision Making, Transparency in R&D and Mass Media, and Investigation and Reporting of Contemporary and Traditional S&T. Research-oriented issues and topics concerning investigative science journalism, contemporary/traditional knowledge and its dissemination, transparency in research and development (R&D) and the role of the mass media were discussed.

Dr. Y. Balamurali Krishna, a Goa-based science journalist, said that transparency in the R&D wings, provision of incentives, and adequate time and space in the media, could promote investigative science journalism, which is yet to take shape in India. On the right to information, experts suggested the minimisation of statutory hurdles in getting information.

In his keynote address, Dr. R.D. Sharma, president of the ISWA, said that investigative science reporting was necessary not only to empower people with the knowledge of science, but help reach scientific wisdom of traditional Indian practices to the masses. He cited the reports on fallacies related to genetically modified foods and unauthorised experiments of certain drugs by some foreign companies as Indian examples of investigative science reporting.

Dr. D.C. Goswami from Jorhat (Assam) said that traditional knowledge using certain herbal preparations by the primitive Asur tribe in Jharkhand and the Kondareddy tribe in Rampachodavaram area of Andhra Pradesh to prevent pregnancies could be investigated and findings be reported for the benefit of society. Vinod Musan from Dainik Jagran, Dehra Dun, underlined the need for local scientific reporting, as small and medium scale newspapers tended to use science reports originating from foreign countries because such information was easily accessible.

Expressing their views on inadequate coverage of success and development in S&T, participants asked journalists not to be biased. They urged R&D institutions to be transparent and provide the media adequate information on various developments in order to have better coverage.

According to Dr. Kutikuppala Suryarao from Visakhapatnam, the response of the mass media to the issue of pesticide residues in bottled water and soft-drinks provide a case study for finding out methodologies and modalities for undertaking investigative science reporting. It was reiterated that maintaining the highest standards and ethics of investigative science journalism were necessary prerequisites for a balanced and healthy follow-up of important science stories.

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