CSIR-NISCAIR and NUJ(I) School of Journalism & Communication initiative for sharpening the skills of working journalists in science and technology reporting and also to bring the media and scientific institutions closer gets applause.
Significance of science and technology in human life is beyond any debate. Rather it is difficult to think of a life without gadgets. Even then the coverage of science and technology finds scant space in the mainstream media, both print and electronic. In the fastest growing new media—Facebook, Twitter, blogs or even the mobile apps also—most people are seen sharing gossips and trolls instead of any scientifically useful information.
Bharat enjoys a rich tradition of science and technology since time immemorial. Vedic sage Atharvan is credited with discovering the fire churning technology and its dissemination during the ancient time. A whole host of scientific literature was created for it during the ancient, Vedic, post Vedic and classical periods. Medieval period saw the emergence of newer trends in science communication when commentaries on earlier scientific texts were written and structures like Jantar-Mantar (observatory) were built. The real shift in science communication became evident in modem times with the invention of printing technology. Asiatick Researches, a quarterly science journal from Calcutta in 1788 and Digdarshan in 1818 from Hoogly in Hindi, Bengali and English proved milestones in this journey. Later, the mainstream media started carrying articles and reports in good number, but the trend continued to change.
According to a recent study, only one per cent of the news space in Bharatiya newspapers is devoted to science-related topics. Earlier, most newspapers used to have science supplements—or at least weekly pages devoted to science topics— but now almost all have closed, and most media houses have dropped having specialist science reporters. Similarly, the news channels too (except a few) do not have specialised science reporters.
Bharat possesses about third largest pool of research and development personnel in the world. Government spending on R&D has also been increasing. However, it is still one per cent of the GDP. Major part of our R&D spending goes into three strategic departments—Defence, Atomic Energy and Space. But our scientists feel happy on publication of their discoveries in foreign journals and they hardly make any effort to take that knowledge to the masses. “Most scientists treat the media as a necessary evil that occasionally creeps into their workspace, intruding into their great work,” says NDTV’s Science Editor Pallava Bagla.
Why do the mainstream media ignore science and technology? Why do newspapers and news channels not have exclusive science reporters? What are the barriers in science journalism? Why do the scientists and scientific institutions avoid interacting with the journalists? How can these barriers be removed? In order to address all such questions sincerely the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR) in association with the NUJ(I) School of Journalism and Communica-tion conducted a three day workshop on Science and Technology Reporting in New Delhi from September 1 to 3. The writer of this article also got an opportunity to join the workshop.
The well designed workshop proved to be highly useful even for the journalists who have not been from science stream. After introducing various activities of the CSIR, the participants on first day were taken to the India Metrological Department (IMD) to help them practically understand the whole mechanism of weather forecast, both conventional and satellite, tsunami/cyclone forecast, calculation of rains, temperature, etc. Senior authorities of various sections provided vital information and answered the queries of the journalists, who came from different parts of the country representing various language newspapers. In the evening, Shri K Vijay Raghvan, Secretary, Department of Biotechno-logy (DBT), interacted with them for more than an hour and discussed the ways and means to reduce the gap between the media and the scientific institutions. He suggested the creation of Science Media Centres in various scientific institutions where the scientists and journalists can meet on regular basis.
On second day, the participants were apprised of the time calculation and also the research going on in this field at National Physical Laboratory (NPL) by leading scientist and former Acting Director of the NPL, Dr Amitabha Sengupta. Then the participants were taken to National Institute of Immunology (NII) where they were apprised of the research being conducted on AIDS, Cancer and many other diseases. Their most modern laboratories were also shown. On third day, first the participants were apprised of the work going on in nano technology and then Union Minister of Science and Technology Dr Harsh Vardhan interacted for more than two hours with the participants. Dr Girish Sahni, Director General of CSIR and Secretary, Department of Scientific & Industrial Research (DSIR) was also present during the discussion.
Organiser spoke to Shri Hasan Jawaid Khan, editor of Science Reporter, one of the oldest popular science monthlies published by CSIR-NISCAIR since 1964, on what basically ails science reporting in Bharat. He said: “Science Reporting is still very much restricted to science journals. Unless the scientific community understands journalistic requirements and vice versa the gap between journalists and the scientists cannot be reduced. Another hurdle is that our scientific institutions are not easily accessible to media. Most of the scientific institutions do not have dedicated units to interact with the media, as it is in foreign institutes.”
As a close observer of science reporting in the country Shri Khan however feels that the coverage of science and technology is better in vernacular press than the national media. “Newspapers in Bengal, Odisha, Kerala and Karnataka are making good efforts for science reporting. They are doing better than the English media,” he adds.
Shri Khan feels some changes at policy level also. “Our scientific projects are meant for public. The institutions should understand that if a certain project is not known to public, it will face opposition. This is what happens with GM corps, nuclear energy, etc. They should allow journalists to visit the projects. Compared to foreign scientists the Indian scientists are seen more apprehensive in going out and talking to public or journalists. If there is apprehension that journalists twist their information, this can be reduced through interaction only,” he said.
Internet has today opened new avenues of exchanging information. Over 100 crore mobile phones, over 300 million internet, more than 100 million Facebook users and also huge number of LinkedIn, Twitter handlers and bloggers can play a significant role in this regard. “Our scientists feel satisfied only if their work is published in foreign journals. But the foreign scientists happily share their papers on their blogs,” he adds.
Teaching of science and technology reporting did not get much attention in universities also. Except the IGNOU and Lucknow University, there is hardly any institution, which offers exclusive courses on science journalism. In this situation the CSIR-NISCAR initiative to organise regular workshops on science reporting is a good step, and needs to be strengthened.