Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Science Journalism in Malaysia

It is undeniable that science and technology play a vital role in nation building, elevating the status of a country from developing to developed nation, improving the quality of life and environment, alleviating poverty, and increasing self-sufficiency of a nation among others. These are just some simple examples of the impact of science and technology. None of us can deny that science and technology infringes on all aspects of our lives. Malaysia has big dreams: achieving developed status, producing a Nobel Laureate, and emerging as a biotech hub. Much effort has been focussed towards realising these dreams and aspirations. However, besides focusing on the main areas such as funds, R&D, infrastructure, and investment, other instrumental peripheral areas need intense attention as well.

One of it is – science journalism. This is a branch of journalism that specialises in communicating science news to the public. This is an important area that needs to be nurtured to increase science literacy among our populace. It is pertinent that science news reaches the masses so that the society is well informed of current innovation and the need for it. It helps them to understand the technology and get them involved in decision making based on facts. Science literacy among school children too is crucial as this will inculcate interest in them to pursue careers in science. We are all well aware of the fact that Malaysia is still lacking of skilled workers and researchers.

Very few journalists have mastered this art and there are many reasons for it. Editors have a big role in increasing the frequency of science news in mass media. Most newspapers and electronic media do not have a science desk. Science news is covered by journalists who are not trained in science and is assigned based on need. This translates into distortion of science news. Scientists are reluctant to talk to the media fearing what they say may be misquoted which will tarnish their image among their peers. However, there are a few very good science writers, though this number is really very small and is largely outnumbered by their colleagues and editors who do not do justice to science news and coverage.

It would be good for all science courses to offer a module on science journalism to equip science graduates with science communicating skills. All science graduates will be involved in communicating science in one way or another in their working life and a module on science journalism will enable them to so efficiently.

There are very few quality science programmes on television produced locally. This should be looked into. I strongly believe that the Ministry of Information should take a lead role in communicating science to the public to complement the efforts of Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

I remember attending the launch of Pakistan Biotechnology Information Centre (PABIC) that was officiated by the Minister of Information in Islamabad. It was indeed really heartening to hear the minister announce that he will instruct the national television station to air snippets of biotech information during prime time. I wish Malaysia could follow suit. Imagine the number of people we could reach out if scientific information is aired during prime viewing time. This will enrich and transform our society into a science literate society.

According to UNICEF, the literacy rate of Malaysia among youth (15-24 years old) is 97%. This is a remarkable achievement since independence. Let us now concentrate on science literacy as well.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

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