‘Media lacks critical analysis on GM’

IN Media Practice | 27/05/2005
News stories in the media of developing nations often lack critical analysis of the issues at stake and rarely represent the farmerøs view.

Indo-Asian News Service

London, May 27 (IANS) A survey of media coverage on genetically modified (GM) crops in five developing nations, including India, has shown that news stories often lack critical analysis of the issues at stake and rarely represent the farmer`s view.

In four of the countries studied by Britain-based Panos Institute -
Brazil, India, Kenya and Zambia - the media tended to toe the government line on GM crops, science portal SciDev reported. In Thailand, however, the media mostly opposed the government`s plans to introduce the crops.

The media survey that was part of a larger study on GM decision-making - entitled "GM debate - Who decides?" - describes
Zambia`s print media as the least engaged in reporting on GM research and policy.

India, which has the largest GM research project in the developing world, the media is supportive of GM crop technology but "journalists do not report on the claims of the industry uncritically and mostly seek to balance their articles with different views". The study also found that in India, Kenya and Zambia, the non-English media carries very little coverage of GM issues.

"This was perhaps one of our more worrying findings," says Ehsan Masood, the report`s lead author.

"The vast majority of people in each of these three countries obtain their news from media sources in their own languages and not in English. They are in effect being tuned out of the GM debate."In general, "much of the coverage analysed revealed a lack of analytical (or investigative) reporting", the report said.

"Most of the news articles, for example, were based on announcements from government sources - a reflection of the relative weakness of investigative journalism in science-related issues in most developing countries."

The Zambian media was analysed between January and June 2004. Most articles published in the Zambian press opposed GM technology in agriculture without giving a voice to farmers in favour of the technology.

This was true in all five countries. "Farmers are among those most immediately affected by GM," write the authors. "However, their views, particularly those of small-scale farmers, are rarely reflected in the media."As in
Zambia, the media in Thailand has taken a biased approach to GM technology, with a distinct predominance of anti-GM editorials, opinion articles and quotations, says the report.

Even sceptics of GM technology in the country feel the public and the media debate on GM technology is one-sided and unsatisfactory, it adds. In
Kenya, one of the African countries whose government supports GM technology, journalists quote pro-GM sources more than those opposing the technology.

Brazil, the world`s fourth largest grower of GM crops, the views on GM in the media changed radically around 2002.

That was when the biotechnology industry set up the Council on Information on Biotechnology to promote its views, and when GM technology companies began engaging with the media more directly.

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