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South African Public Radio Committing to Science News
At a press conference in Johannesburg in early July, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) announced that it would send five radio journalists to study science journalism at AAAS in an unprecedented effort to boost science journalism in South Africa.
"This will be the first time we will attempt to establish a foundation for science reporting in the languages spoken by most of our listeners," said Philippa Green, SABC Head of Radio News. "The journalists coming to AAAS can broadcast in six or seven major languages between them."
The group of five South African radio journalists arrived at AAAS on 7 July to begin the 4-week program that will eventually help to communicate science to the SABC radio audience of more than 18 million people. The radio reporters comprise the third cohort of South Africa's Department of Science and Technology (DST)/AAAS Science Radio Journalism Fellows to come to AAAS, but they are the first group comprising only SABC reporters.
"In this era, when science is so central to every major issue of modern life, it is critically important that the public is informed of scientific progress," said AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner. "This collaboration with South Africa is a key example of AAAS's mission to advance science and serve society."
Radio holds great promise as a means of communicating the work of scientists and engineers in addressing problems of hunger, ill health, and sustainable development. The BBC World Service estimates that for every 1000 Africans, there are 198 radios, compared to 52 televisions and 12 newspapers. And recent studies note the importance of the radio in transmitting information on HIV prevention and in alleviating rural poverty.
"For a long time South Africans have been focusing on politics, and science has sort of taken a back seat," said 2003 radio fellow Mahlatse Gallens. "But if we have a science desk at the public broadcaster, we can change all of that. We can make people realize that science is part of their daily lives."
The radio journalism program was launched in the summer of 2001, after the South African government asked AAAS to co-sponsor an effort to improve science communications in South Africa. The program was launched in 2001 as a collaboration between AAAS and DST. In its first two sessionsthe summers of 2001 and 2002the program included scientists among the fellows, but is now focusing on training radio journalists to write about science.
"We found that the first groups of fellows succeeded in continuing in science journalism only when they had professional positions to return to," says Rob Adam, the Director-General of the Department of Science and Technology. "If there was no infrastructure for them to return to, they were not able to follow through on the goals of the fellowship."
Gallens notes that the SABC broadcasts in 11 languages through 13 radio stations, and that some of those languages have no one-word translations for the concepts of modern science and technology.
"The language challenge is big," said Gallens, who reports in English and Northern Sotho. "We do not have some of the scientific terms in our African languages, so the trick here is to give the definition in our languages. I also have to be extra clear in my Northern Sotho story, because radio is still the only source of information for many people in the country. Often, you find that my Northern Soto story is longer than my English story."
13 August 2003