Many governments commission scientists to research and write reports with important social and policy ramifications. Yet, despite the fact that such reports are generally paid for by the taxpayer, many governments keep a tight control on the findings. Scientists are often not encouraged to participate in press conferences about their findings and very often have little say over when and where (and even if) the findings are released. Sensitive reports are sometimes sat on for months or released at night through the internet with no press release to draw the attention of journalists.
Such control can extend beyond reports to scientists working on research projects that receive government funding. Journalists can find that a scientist who was once happy to be interviewed has been “warned off” commenting on a sensitive issue by people eager to keep control of “the message”. This control is not necessarily sinister and in some cases is simply a product of busy media minders are judged on their ability to get only positive media coverage for their minister or department rather than to facilitate good information flow to the public. But in some countries, scientists are being actively discouraged from talking to the media about their research if it lies within a controversial area, a situation that has caused a good deal of concern amongst the academic and media communities.
At the same time, the digital revolution is transforming communications and making it more difficult for governments and others to retain centralised control and is also facilitating the emergence of new communities of interest around open data and, open sharing of information etc.
• How wide spread is this type of control? Come along and tell us about your experiences
• How can governments be encouraged to embrace transparency and make maximum use of the internet through initiatives such as Government 2.0?
• Could a communique from WCSJ2013 help progress this as a global issue?
Susannah Eliott (Science Media Centre Network)
Craig Thomler is an advocate of government transparency and participated in the development of Government 2.0, a global movement to promote the use of technology to encourage a more open and transparent form of government.
Kathryn O’Hara is professor of science broadcast journalism at Carleton University and president of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association.
Dr Helen Jamison is Deputy Director of the UK Science Media Centre, an independent press office working to ensure the public have access to the best evidence and expertise through the news media when science hits the headlines.
Dr Susannah Eliott is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Science Media Centre, an independent not for profit organisation that works with the news media to inject more evidence-based science into public discourse.
She has a PhD in cell and developmental biology from Macquarie University, a Graduate Diploma in Journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and more than 20 years of practical experience in science communication with the science-media nexus as her primary focus.
Prior to establishing the AusSMC, she spent close to six years in Stockholm, Sweden, as director of communications for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), an international network of scientists studying global environmental change.
In the 1990s Susannah managed the Centre for Science Communication at UTS, where she helped establish the successful Horizons of Science series of media roundtables and was involved in numerous other initiatives such as Science in the Pub and Science in the Bush.
She chaired the Expert Working Group on Science and the Media for the Federal Government as part of the “Inspiring Australia” initiative (2010-2011) and sits on several advisory boards and panels.
Craig Thomler, Managing Director, Delib Australia
Craig is one of Australia’s leading social media and Government 2.0 advocates and practitioners. Craig spent five years in the Australian Commonwealth Public Service, focused on improving public governance through strategic use of digital technologies.
In 2009 Craig was awarded the inaugural Government 2.0 Individual Innovator Award by the Australian Government’s Government 2.0 Taskforce and in 2010 was named one of ‘The Top 10 Who are Changing the World of Internet and Politics’ by PoliticsOnline and the World eDemocracy Forum in France.
He has over 15 years experience in the online sector as an entrepreneur, founding and holding senior roles at early-stage technology and resources companies.
Craig recently returned to the private sector to lead Delib Australia, the Asia-Pacific subsidiary of Delib, a global digital democracy company that develops online applications and services to support public and private sector organisations to effectively employ new media to engage stakeholders, customers and citizens.
Recognised internationally as a social media and Government 2.0 leader, Craig presents regularly around the world on new media strategy and practice and blogs on these topics at eGovAU (http://egovau.blogspot.com)
Kathryn O’Hara, Government control of Canadian scientists.
Kathryn O’Hara is an Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University where she holds the School’s CTV Chair in Science Broadcast Journalism. Kathryn’s journalism experience includes over twenty-five years work in radio and television as a host, reporter, producer and researcher mainly in public broadcasting.
Kathryn has a MSc. in Science Communication from The Queen’s University of Belfast and Dublin City University.
She has served on the science and technology advisory boards of Health Canada and Environment Canada as well as the steering committsee for the National Cancer Institute of Canada’s Prevention Research Initiative. he was a member of the Council of Canadian Academies’ Expert Panel on Research Integrity .
She is the former president of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association and was elected to the executive board of the World Federation of Science Journalists in 2012.
Dr Helen Jamison is Deputy Director of the UK Science Media Centre, an independent press office working to ensure the public have access to the best evidence and expertise through the news media when science hits the headlines. Helen served for several years on the committee of Stempra, a UK network of science communication professionals, and has previously worked in the press office of the journal Nature. She has a degree in biomedical science from the University of Sheffield and a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Oxford.