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Crop Biotech Update

Media Coverage of Biotech in Kenya Inadequate

September 18, 2009

Print media coverage of agricultural biotechnology issues in Kenya is inadequate to enable informed public participation and choices regarding the technology. This is despite media's acknowledged role as major sources of information about biotechnology by a majority of stakeholders in the country and in Africa as a whole. The content analysis done by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications' (ISAAA) Africenter through the Media for Environment Science Health and Agriculture Association in Kenya (MESHA) analyzed biotechnology articles and stories published by two major media groups: the Daily Nation, Saturday Nation, Sunday Nation and The East African of the Nation Media Group, and, those of The Standard, Saturday Standard and Sunday Standard newspapers of the Standard Media Group between November 2006 and November 2007.

The study aimed to establish the quality, quantity of media coverage of the subject and information sources at a time of heightened arousal and sensitivity of biotechnology issues due to parliamentary and stakeholders debates over the Biosafety Bill. A total of 140 articles were published by the target newspapers over the study period. The widest circulating newspapers in Eastern and Central Africa by the Nation Media Group: the Daily Nation, Saturday Nation and Sunday Nation, combined published only a total of 30 articles on biotechnology. Their sister weekly newspaper aimed at a regional readership, the East African did much better by publishing a total of 15 articles on the subject. This compared poorly with the The Standard (including Saturday and Sunday editions), which published 95 articles on the subject over the same period.

Most of the biotechnology articles published were locally sourced and written by Kenyan journalists. Surprisingly, the Daily Nation had the highest number of foreign-sourced articles (19.4%) followed by its sister publication the East African with 13.3%. The Standard published the least number of foreign articles (7.4%). News features were the most published type of biotechnology articles, accounting for 51.4 %, followed by hard news articles that accounted for 40.7% of all the biotechnology articles published by the three newspapers in the study period. All the newspapers faired well on the variable of balance (fair treatment of both sides of the issues) and accuracy, except the East African which published several articles gauged as imbalanced and inaccurate. On prominence (by page-placement), only the East African placed two biotechnology stories on pages 1 to 3. No paper placed a biotechnology article in the back page indicating that the editors did not place high value on the biotechnology articles.

The study recommends that media training on biotechnology be institutionalized to sustain effective reporting of the subject. This would increase the number of reporters who can competently report on modern biotechnology on a regular basis. Intensifying the training of biotechnology educators and science communicators on repackaging and simplifying technical jargon would also enhance coverage of the subject and increase the knowledge-base for informed decision making and choices.

For more information on the study contact Margaret Karembu at m.karembu@cgiar.org or africenter@isaaa.org