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Healing rifts and building bridges

Exchange is important and even fun.
Goethe-Institut Kairo / Roger Anis

The significance of science and journalism for the appraisal and research of societal, economic and also technological developments is unquestioned. However, the knowledge that both groups of professionals have of each other is not particularly deep. A co-operation project of the Goethe-Institut Cairo and the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst e.V. (DAAD) [German Academic Exchange Service] to boost science journalism in Egypt aims to help remedy this problem and encourage more collaboration and exchange between the two groups.

 

"I studied economics, but science is my real passion", says Moslem Ali, a young Egyptian journalist from the website Mubasher.info, which reports on economics and the stock market. Previously, he worked for a popular Egyptian news platform in the science ministry, but shortly after he left this company, his former department was dissolved and the science reporting was scaled back, relates Ali.

It turns out that Egyptian media professionals and scientists are indeed interested in more intensive exchanges between themselves. This was shown in a joint project of the Goethe-Institut Cairo and the DAAD to boost science journalism in the country (the project was financed by the Foreign Office in Berlin). This brought together a total of 21 people from both professions in a workshop which was held from 30 September to 02 October 2017. The participants were given a forum to exchange views, discuss amongst themselves, and diminish resentments.

"The basic idea of the project is to boost science journalism in Egypt", relates Martina Helmy-Baumgartner, Project-Coordinator for the program with Goethe-Institut Cairo. While science is important for society, the Egyptian press gives little space to academic work, she observes. "And so we want to encourage exchange between both professions", she explains. Heba Afifi, the responsible program co-ordinator with the DAAD, endorses her view: "We know of many people involved in projects and academic scholars dealing with crucial issues for our society - e.g. in medicine, urban planning and energy supply. For them it is of great benefit to learn how to communicate their knowledge outside of academic circles."

Before both professional groups came together for a joint workshop, the journalists met for a training session first. Goethe-Institut Cairo / Roger Anis

Boosting exchange

The importance of such exchange is well known to Kerstin Hoppenhaus, one of the project's two German trainers: "I am a science journalist, filmmaker and graduate biologist, and so I know both sides and am well aware of just how wide the rifts are between science and journalism, not only here in Egypt, but everywhere", she is convinced. "In Germany we have similar problems, but I have the impression that in Egypt, the mutual mistrust is even stronger". More trust-building measures are required, believes Hoppenhaus.

This was the driving force behind the Program to Boost Science Journalism in Egypt. Before the joint training of all participants in the premises of the DAAD in Cairo on 02 October, two separate kick-off workshops were conducted (one per profession). While the eleven participating media professionals met over two days at the SEKEM Farm in the Nile Delta and, among other things, discussed how scientific topics could be more effectively presented to the general public, the ten scientists experienced a one-day workshop in Cairo where they prepared themselves to meet the journalists.
 
"The separate preparation phases for both groups were important, in order to clarify some basic matters before the joint training," says Hoppenhaus. The result was that the debates in the common workshop were focused, deliberated and open-minded.
Problems, challenges and even prejudices were openly addressed and sometimes controversially discussed. The need of both sides for more intensive exchanges and better communication was unmistakable, as was the fundamental desire for better collaboration.

Catalyst for science journalism?

That's also confirmed by Moslem Ali. "I'd love to publish more on science topics, but I need more experience and contacts, along with deeper exchanges with other journalists", he remarks. Such get-togethers are hard to find in Egypt. This project could be a kind of catalyst. "While we didn't arrive at any concrete resolution in the training, we entered into dialogue with each other, and hopefully that will continue on the long term", says Ali. Thereby he hopes in the future to dedicate more of his work to scientific topics, since there is a clear interface between economics and science, in his view.

The organisers expressed their satisfaction after the conclusion of the workshop. The group dynamic was very positive, concludes Afifi. Participants had already developed some new ideas for their everyday work. For instance, Ali suggested the founding of a sort of association or forum in order to institutionalise regular exchanges.

The Program to Boost Science Journalism in Egypt is now entering the practical phase. At the conclusion of the workshop, the participating journalists were given the task of publishing science-related articles in their respective newspapers. These will be presented in the Closing Event on the Meaning of Science for Society. Another goal of the project is also to eventually make science more accessible to a wider public, explains Helmy-Baumgartner.

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