SAASTA has always considered the media to be a very valuable partner in engaging people with science.
Of late there has been a drive to reach out to the heart of rural communities with the message that there is a better future for all South Africans through science education, communication and awareness, and what better partner could there be than media that can reach communities in their home languages?
A pilot project was launched with three community radio stations and three community papers in Limpopo to disseminate information to the public on new technologies such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. On 1 December last year, SAASTA signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Giyani Community Radio, Phalaborwa FM, Nthavela News, Seipone News and Ngoho News in Polokwane to formalise the relationship.
In terms of the MoU, SAASTA will provide training on science engagement to community media staff and will engage with them to get a better understanding of their information needs, environment and challenges. SAASTA will also provide science communication resources and prizes for related competitions. Members of these media will also be invited to participate in various SAASTA activities and initiatives. The media are required to provide time slots, and space, for engaging their audiences with science.
“This approach will enable SAASTA to communicate science to the public in their home languages, which include English, Northern Sotho, Sepedi, Shangaan, Venda, Isiswati and Ndebele,” says Dr Jabu Nukeri, Managing Director of SAASTA.
Monitoring and evaluation
The Media Development and Diversity Agency will be an important partner in this enterprise and will follow the progress closely. The pilot project will be evaluated by SAASTA’s newly formed Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) unit during the implementation period.
To date, interviews with biotechnologists have been hosted on Giyani FM and Phalaborwa FM in slots specially dedicated to science. Topics included genetic modification, stem cells, the role of government in growing the biotechnology sector and diagnostics for diseases of economic importance in animals. To mark the International Year of Crystallography, an interview was dedicated to this topic. The stations have also hosted talks on science careers, and on how nanotechnology is used to detect diseases, helps to detect gases in mines, and how it is applied in the production of new medicines.
“We realise that in order to be sustainable, the community will have to buy into the concept of science slots on their radio stations and in their papers,” says Joanne Riley of SAASTA’s Science Communication unit. “We welcome questions from community members and have already received requests from them for more information on Ebola and the SKA.”