The public understanding of biotechnology in the media
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Biotechnology has the potential to contribute towards addressing several national priorities, including aspects of health, food security, and environmental sustainability. It is thus important for public agencies to have a clear understanding of factors that advance or impede the development of biotechnology in South Africa. One of the key arenas in which these factors are found is within the public sphere - within which the media is a key player. The media play a key role in promoting public awareness of biotechnology, which in turn is an important driver in terms of advancing biotechnology in South Africa. A high level of public awareness, coupled with access to fair, objective, and scientifically accurate reporting and information, is more likely to lead learners and students into biotechnology career pathways, more likely to stimulate entrepreneurial activity, and more likely to lead to fair and positive outcomes where there are controversies.
This study therefore seeks to determine how biotechnology is understood by members of the media, and whether this understanding is advancing or impeding the development of biotechnology in South Africa. These objectives imply three key research questions:
1. How do the media represent biotechnology and related issues, and what factors currently shape these representations, both positively and negatively?
2. What are the key areas of concern in respect of entry into, and support of, the South African biotechnology sector?
3. What recommendations can be made regarding the motivation and objectives for public dialogue in the media in respect of knowledge gaps and misunderstandings, as well as new innovative processes and methods of information dissemination, within the constraints of the cost and context of implementation?
Section 2 of this report presents a literature review that defines the conceptual and theoretical framework of the study, including reviews of the public's relationship with science and previous research into biotechnology in the media. Section 3 presents the methodology derived from these reviews. Section 4 presents an analysis of South Africa media outputs related to biotechnology. Section 5 presents the findings of interviews with science journalists and academics. Section 6 highlights the key findings and conclusions. Section 7 identifies recommendations for further research. Section 8 concludes with policy objectives and recommendations.