Science journalism, key to good governance

From Sydney, I have travelled to Melbourne to participate in the Fifth World Conference of Science Journalists, from 16 to 20 April 2007.

It’s the second time a science communication event brings me to this beautiful, multi-cultural Australian city. My first visit was in November 1996 to speak at SCICOMM ’96, the Fourth International Conference on the Public Understanding of Science and Technology, held at the University of Melbourne.

This week’s conference is promising to be interesting and engaging. The programme is full of talks, panels, debates and other activities. Several hundred fellow science journalists, and those researching or supporting science journalism, are expected to attend.

I’ll be kept busy being on two separate panels.

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David Dickson, Director of the Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net), has just written an editorial that provides an excellent backdrop to the conference. He argues that the work of science journalists needs greater recognition as an essential precondition for transparent, responsive and accountable government.

Excerpts:

Much will be heard and discussed about how science journalists can inform — and, frequently, entertain — people with stories about scientific and technological developments. Equally important is their role in stimulating public debate in areas where science and technology can impact directly on the social and natural worlds, from stem cell research to global warming.

At the heart of many of these issues lies the key contribution that journalism can make to good governance. The concept of the journalist as a defender of the public interest is usually applied to those writing about overtly political issues, since it is here that the need for — and indeed the challenges to — a free press are often greatest.

But a growing number of political decisions, from allocating medical resources to promoting economic growth, have a scientific and technological dimension to them. It is therefore important to recognise the extent to which science journalism forms an essential component of a well-functioning democracy.
Read the full editorial on SciDev.Net website

Unfortunately, David is not able to join us in person — he’s holed up in London, finalising the organisation’s new five-year strategy.

Note:
I’m flying twin flags at this conference – as the Director of TVE Asia Pacific, and as a Trustee of SciDev.Net

I plan to be posting on to this personal blog as well as to a collective blog by several colleagues from SciDev.Net who are in Melbourne.