ESOF2008: Science journalism in the Arab world

What are the difficulties facing science journalists in developing countries, and what can we do to support them? These were the main issues raised in a session I attended this morning.

Session: Building Networks: How to Support Science Journalists in Developing Countries

Organiser: Lynda Lich-Knight, German Science Journalists' Association (WPK), Germany

Abstract: Developing countries need science journalism just as much as developed countries. In order to reach the UN millennium development goals and to build open societies, they must be able to rely on independent sources of scientific information. The classic approach of European development aid in this sector is to support journalists from developing countries by training actions in health, ecology or science reporting. In the past years, however, new projects have been developed which also support science journalists in their daily work on the ground. The reporters are integrated into professional networks that help them improve their skills, propel their careers and develop science journalism worldwide in a sustainable way.

Science reporters in developing countries face many difficulties, such as lack of government support and lack of access to scienctists, as discussed by Chris Mooney in an article he wrote after attending a session about the subject at the 5th World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne, Australia last year.

One initiative that has been to set up to help science journalists in the developing world is a peer-to-peer science journalism mentoring program called SjCOOP, which initially brought 60 aspiring reporters from around 30 third world countries together with 16 experienced mentors, but currently has only 12 mentees and 4 mentors.

Another way of supporting aspiring reporters is to create associations with international organizations such as the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) and the International Science Writers Association (ISWA).

But even these initiatives face problems, as the reporters are often unsure how to register with such organizations, or are too far away to be able to do so. Furthermore, they are faced with bureaucratic problems that prevent them from registering, and often have financial difficulties which prevent them from gaining access to essential assets such as an office or a computer.

As Mooney notes in his article, one of the problems faced by science reporters in third world developing countries is the low level of literacy; this is particularly pertinent in the Arab world, where more than 50% of the populace is illiterate. At the end of today's session, I caught up with panelist Nadia el-Awady, who is the founder and first president of the Arab Science Journalists Association (ASJA). In the conference hall media centre, I asked her a few questions about the organization she set up and the challenges faced by Arab science journalists:

As Nadia mentioned in our conversation, the 1st Arab Conference for Science Journalists will be held in Fez, Morocco on 25th October.


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Interesting article, I'm writing now while watching Discovery Science channel. Each time I switch to this channel I hope that one day I will watch an Arabic speaking channel.

I remember when I was young I used to buy a magazine called science, it was Egyptian magazine, and I really liked it, but there was no interest from people to read it, and its price was a little bit high 1 EGP.

We have to solve the problem of the lack of interest in Arab world in order to solve Science journalism.

As you said the the low level of literacy is major obstacle, but where I was living -in Alexandria- there is at least 80% of people has no problem with literacy but no body read.

The government should motivate people to have interest in science not just reading but contributing. look at the computer science - my field of expertise-, this field is growing because there is many investments and there is interest specially from youth.