Biosafety and Biotechnology in Ghana: Journalists and Scientists must work as partners in development
By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath
The wisdom of our ancestors is reflected in this simple proverb that says: “One tree does not make a forest!”
Do know why the Master Jesus Christ constituted a group of people known as his disciples before embarking on his earthly mission about 2000 years ago? And out of the twelve apostles four of them could be characterized in modern parlance as journalists or reporters. They were John, Luke, Mark and Matthew. Thus the gospel in the Bible can be said to be the reportage of these disciples.
Value of reporters
Since that time, and all over the world, without reporters hardly could some official activities of Kings, Governors, Presidents, or Heads of State, or Prime Ministers, or Chief Executive Officers etc. have been known to the general public, let alone the future generations. That is why journalism is referred to as the first draft of history. In fact, some historians just collate and collect what journalists had published in the past and modify them to be called history. That explains why journalists or reporters must not be taken for granted in the scheme of things. And any world leader who neglects reporters does so at his or her own doom.
On Saturday, September 5, 2015, Ghana’s Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation made history that must be put on record for posterity. On that day, that Ministry managed to uproot over 20 editors from various media houses where they were glued to their editorial thrones in newsrooms in Accra. At least for 24 hours the editors were transplanted at the Multi-functional Conference Centre at the Aqua Safari Resort at Ada in the Great Accra Region.
What was fascinating about that feat was the fact that the Ministry brought these veteran editors face to face with some Ghanaian and Burkinabe scientists who were also dragged out from their laboratories where their eyes were riveted to their microscopes. These two diametrically opposed professionals and other stakeholders drawn from the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) and Food and Drug Authority (FDA) were brought together under the banner of Editors Forum to brainstorm on issues of Biosafety of modern Biotechnology.
Biodiversity and Biosafety
For purposes of this article, biodiversity simply signifies the variety of life on earth in all its forms. Biotechnology is not only applicable in the field of medicine but also in the field of agriculture or food processing. Biosafety is the application of knowledge, technique and equipment to prevent personal, laboratory and environmental exposure to infectious agents. For now I do not want to use any complicated scientific terminologies to confuse myself and my readers. So let me pause for some breath!
The principal objective of that special editors forum among other things was to provide the editors with some practical, evidence-based information on biosafety; expose them to some authoritative sources of information about biosafety with particular reference to Genetically Modified (GM) crops with all the misconceptions and misrepresentations associated biotechnology. Trust the journalists! And at this forum, it was not novice reporters but editors who in their respective news rooms have the power to decide whether stories written by their reports about GM crops be it maize, fruits or beans should be published in the first place.
Naturally, when the scientists finished with their presentations, they should expect these veteran editors not to swallow hook, line and sinker everything they had presented. In fact, the experts were virtually ambushed and were subjected to bombardment of questions from all angles. One editor confessed that as for him whenever his reporters submit some stories about genetically modified foods and he did not understand, he did not hesitate to throw such stories in the dust bins. One scientist also confessed that he did not trust some media personnel who were wont to misrepresent scientific findings. Consequently, he always closed his doors to reporters who nose around to know what he was doing in his laboratory.
Gap between Scientists and Journalists
The forum became a genuine confessional corner as if it was in the Catholic Cathedral where everybody opened up to speak their minds and expressed their sentiments about one another. So, while it appears some scientists have the tendency to look down on journalists, some journalists also have no regard for some scientists whom they consider as arrogant. This state of affair has created a gap between scientists and journalists. But the forum became an eye opener for all.
No doubt one of the topics discussed was: “The Science – Media disconnect; Bridging the gap: “Scientists say the media are sensational; the media say scientists talk gibberish; how can we bridge the gap for impactful reportage on scientific issues?” This particular topic was moderated by a lady journalist who did not mince words at all about how some scientists treat journalists as non-entities. This session became so exciting that almost every editor present was given the opportunity to express his or her view about this gap between scientists and journalists and the way forward.
This author also gave his views and reminded the forum that the gap between scientists and journalists is not only restricted to Ghana. He recalled that in 2011, ECOWAS organized a training workshop for Science journalists in Abuja, Nigeria where he served as a resource person. At that workshop, it came to light that there existed poor relationship between scientists, research institutions and journalists.
It was noted that that poor relationship tended to affect effective communication between scientists and journalists. It was therefore, resolved that only effectively communicated knowledge could benefit individuals and equipped them with power and skills to put that knowledge into practical application for the development not only West Africa but the entire African Continent. Consequently an African Federation of Science Journalists, (AFSJ), was set up to collaborate with UNESCO, ECA, ECOWAS and AU for scientific and technological advancement of Africa using journalists as conveyor belts.
Partners in development
It is against this background that Ghana’s Ministry of Environment ought to be commended for initiating the editors forum to expose these media gurus to the work of National Biosafety Authority. Media practitioners do not necessarily need to be scientists to communicate science related issues of national importance for the advancement of the nation. While Scientists can do better scientific research works, Journalists too, can communicate better for the understanding of the masses because they are trained in mass communication. So, therefore, both Scientists and Journalists must work as partners in development for the prosperity of Ghana.
· The author works with Information Services Department (ISD), Accra firstname.lastname@example.org.