For a long time, politics, business and sport focusing on national, regional and international scenes, have taken up the bulk of newspaper space and certainly airwaves for news, analysis and debate for most of Uganda’s media outlets.
But 2012 has seen a remarkable shift in media content as evidenced by the creation of specialized sections or products by media houses with a focus on science and technology issues.
Some of the outstanding signs of progress that have been recorded include the introduction of new newspaper sections and radio/TV programmes that focus on health, agriculture.
In the year 2012, The Daily Monitor Newspaper, Uganda’s second most circulated daily, introduced a new magazine titled Seeds of Gold. According to Lominda Afedraru, one of the paper’s leading reporters on farming matters, Seeds of Gold is a recognition that agriculture plays a vital role in sustaining livelihoods and the Ugandan economy.
But perhaps more important is the fact 2012 saw the paper establish a science desk for the first time in its history.
Mr. Daniel Kalinaki, The Daily Monitor’s Managing Editor told S&T that the decision to create a special desk for a Science Editor was motivated by the need to accord greater importance to a field that is increasingly important but one which is under-reported.
Kalinaki said: “Science is an increasingly important area but one which is under reported or reported episodically. We want to be at the forefront of telling developments in the scientific arena and how they influence our lives. We want to be at the forefront of telling developments in the scientific arena and how they influence our lives.”
Ms. Evelyn Liri, who had previously worked with The Daily Monitor before securing a one year fellowship in Stanford University and eventually shifting to the East African, was rehired by the Daily Monitor as their new Health and Science Editor. Of course her title reflected her bias towards health.
Ms. Liri says the creation of the Health and Science desk came out of the realization by the management of the newspaper that that increasing their coverage of science issues would not only help them attain their goals of being a national newspaper, but also reach more readers.
She said: “The Daily Monitor has been growing on the strength of politics. But not everyone wants to read politics. One of the major issues on people’s minds is health and the environment.
Although The Daily Monitor has been covering science and health issues, Liri adds that the newspaper needed to do more.
“By stressing politics and business, we had left out a certain constituency and being a national newspaper, they had to address those other national issues,” adds Liri.
Besides the Daily Monitor, science journalism in Uganda has recorded major strides through 2013. The New Vision, considered to be Uganda’s most selling daily, strengthened its science sections including, Harvest Money – a weekly farming pullout every Tuesday that promotes adoption of better farming practices and technology for improved incomes.
Outside the papers, science journalism associations have been active throughout the year. The Uganda Science Journalist Association held its second consecutive annual science communicators awards and forum in September and November respectively.
Besides awards to media houses and individual journalists, USJA partnered with the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) in recognizing President Yoweri Museveni with a Special Award for his outstanding contribution for the promotion of science in Uganda.
And with funding from the UK-based Lush charity pot, USJA successfully conducted a study on "Engaging Oil Communities and Stakeholders on Oil Mining in the Albertine Rift."
USJA produced an Issues Handbook: "Uganda: The Secrecy of An Oil Government" which spells out concerns of Oil communities regarding the ongoing oil exploration and mining activities in the Albertine region of Bunyoro.
On the other hand, 2012 was a momentous year for the Health Journalists Network of Uganda, (HEJNU), following their successes in organizing a series of activities aimed at improving the understanding of health problems in Uganda especially among journalists but also in the wider general public.
The group, led by Esther Nakkazi, a seasoned journalist with The East African, organized its First Annual Conference at Hotel Africana. The group also held a number of meetings for journalists on topics such a reproductive health and HIV and Migrant populations.
In addition to organizing fruitful media discourses, HEJNU
managed to publish three editions in 2012 of its electronically circulated Health Digest Magazine with each edition focusing on a particular health problem including Kidney Disease, Reproductive Health.
And when you think of the ongoing activities in the oil sector, the recent increased outbreak of deadly hemorrhagic fevers in Uganda, coupled with the challenge posed by Uganda’s rapidly growing population versus the need to feed it in an increasingly warming climate, you cannot but expect 2013 to be an even more exciting moment for science journalists in Uganda.
And as Ms. Liri revealed, the limited number of reporters with skills and passion to cover science is her greatest challenge. Indeed, it remains a major challenge in many other media houses.
The need to improve skills of science journalists received a major boost in 2012 with the start of the Biotechnology for Farming in Africa fellowships. Sponsored by the US-based John Templeton Foundation and the Malaysian Commonwealth Study Centre, the B4FA
programme trained 21 journalists from both print, electronic and online outlets on modern science and techniques of plant breeding. Organizers of the programme hope to equip as many science journalists in Uganda and other three African countries in coming few years with a better understanding of biotechnology as a tool to that can help improve lives of smallholder farmers.
We can only hope that you and me will still be around at the end of 2013 to follow up on examine the road traveled in our pursuit to develop science journalism in Uganda.
Happy New Year!