Mandi Smallhorne, the current president of the South African Science Journalists’ Association (SASJA), has been chosen by unanimous vote as the president of the African Federation of Science Journalists (AFSJ) – and has set some important priorities for her term of office.
Speaking from Nairobi, where the AFSJ meeting was held, Ms Smallhorne said the AFSJ meeting which elected her had expressed a united determination to back an African bid to bring the next World Conference of Science Journalists to Africa. This will be her first priority as AFSJ President.
“There’s a wealth of talent, skill and experience in Africa, all of which will be brought to bear on making this bid a success. This is not just about it being Africa’s turn to host the WFSJ Conference (which it is); it’s about enhancing the respect in which science journalists are held on the continent,” Smallhorne said.
Linda Asante-Agyei of Ghana is the deputy president, Lominda Afedraru of Uganda is treasurer, Christophe Assogba of Benin is handling publicity and Aghan Daniel of Kenya is secretary, bringing to bear the sterling work he has done in organising two conferences for MESHA Kenya.
Boosting respect for science journalists is important because their role is about much more than telling fascinating stories. They play an increasingly critical role in interpreting the most important issues of our time, Smallhorne said. Think climate change, think Ebola, think energy, think water issues.
“In the light of the urgent challenges facing the continent, support for good science journalism has become a critical need in newsrooms everywhere,” she said in a statement. “Science media practitioners are the interface between both policymakers and scientists and the public – we are the people doing the interpreting and explaining of issues that are hard to understand, yet absolutely vital. That’s why we have to be very good at our jobs!” While Africa has some exceptionally good science journalists and a number of countries have strong editorial standards around science communication, we need more support and resources for those who work in isolation, she adds.
These aims echo those of SASJA, a member of AFSJ. SASJA is an association of science media professionals and aims to improve communication between the South African science community and general society, and to support science media practitioners in South Africa. SASJA is also a member of the World Federation of Science Journalists.
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