New guide to boost science media relations in African institutions

A new guide for media relations practitioners working in African institutions aims to encourage better and more responsible practice when communicating science- and health-related subjects and to help the media officers position African research in the global arena.

Funded through an international public engagement grant from the Wellcome Trust, A Guide for African Science Media Officers offers practical guidance on writing the perfect press release and preparing scientists for speaking to the media, together with ethical guidance on issues to consider before promoting research - for example, whether the claims in the press release are supported by the peer-reviewed research and how risk factors can be best conveyed.

The guide aims to help media officers negotiate the balance between generating news coverage and overselling a research story. It is intended to complement other initiatives aiming to improve science coverage in the media, which have traditionally focused on the role of scientists and journalists.

Some African institutions may lack the communications capacity and training opportunities available to media offices in higher income countries, presenting challenges when communicating research findings locally, nationally and internationally. This new guide is intended to offer help and advice from successful media relations professionals and science journalists on the continent and internationally.

"Science media officers in Africa face particular challenges in achieving media coverage and recognition for African research in their own countries, on the African continent and around the globe," says Tamara Chipasula, Science Communication Officer for the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Clinical Research Programme. "We hope this guide will help science media officers develop their skills to ensure their institution's research achieves the national and international recognition it deserves."

The guide will be freely available to download from websites including SciDev.Net (the Science and Development Network) and the development science communication agency Green Ink. It has been developed in consultation with some of the Africa's leading science journalists and media officers and the World Conference of Science Journalists.

"Good reporting of science in the media is vital in drawing the attention of both policymakers and the public to the important role that science and technology can play in achieving sustainable development, and press officers can contribute significantly to helping science journalists ensure that this happens," says David Dickson, Editor, SciDevNet. "This guide provides a comprehensive introduction to the techniques that press officers can use to create a close and supportive working relationship with the journalist community. It deserves to be widely read - and followed - in African institutions."

The guide was developed with the assistance of Stempra, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine Public Relations Association.