Renevlyn Development Initiative

RDI Trains Journalists on Reporting Gene Drives

The Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI) has trained journalists on reporting Gene Drive, to equip the media with relevant capacity to expose and interrogate innovations that can cause harm to the public.

The virtual training which had in attendance journalists from different media platforms took journalists through the concept of gene drives, terminologies for science reporting, and political dynamics around gene drives.

Gene drive is a genetic element that introduces a bias in the relative chance of inheritance between distinct versions of a set of genes, enabling one to spread rapidly in a population at the expense of others even if it is disadvantageous to the organism.

Gene drives could be exploited for the genetic modification of whole populations, such as disease-carrying insects.

In his opening remark at the training, Philip Jakpor, the Executive Director of RDI, explained that the training was organized to address the under-reportage of gene drives in the African continent.

Jakpor said “in conceiving this training, we realize that the media is key not only in keeping the public informed but also in exposing and interrogating initiatives and innovations that are extraneous to our people and culture as part of its watchdog role.

“We are not averse to technology or innovation as long as they are rooted in facts, the promotion of our culture, are indigenous and protect our people from manipulation in all forms. But we are aware of a new form of colonialism that targets altering our food, our food systems and nature as a whole.”

He added that “Gene drives are being experimented already in Uganda, Ghana, and in Burkina Faso where in 2019 sterilized mosquitoes were released. Nigeria, with its huge population of more than 230 million people is a potential testing ground for gene drives. What are the risks? What are the ethical considerations? What are the discussions that should be going on?”

Speaking about how gene drives is dominating international politics, Barbara Pliz, Campaign Manager, Save Our Seeds, said main fora are UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (in addition to some national governments).

Pliz explained that “item of discussion on synthetic biology, gene drives as a priority issue for one of the ongoing expert groups, gene drives guidance being developed by other ongoing expert groups, synthetic biology is an agenda item for the upcoming meeting in May during the CBD.”

She charged journalists to interrogate “political spaces that are difficult to access and amplify the voices of civil society and affected communities.”

She also stressed that journalists need to disseminate the right information to balance the spread of pure technology marketing and uncover what is behind the limited narrative of a ‘techno-fix’.

Michael Simire, Editor-in-Chief at EnviroNews, while delivering his presentation charged the journalists to avoid the use of scientific terminologies but use simple and everyday language while reporting gene drive, to ensure the messaging is not lost.

Simire also noted that journalists should avoid the use of acronyms that the public might not know, and expose themselves to more training and fellowship opportunities.

“Journalists should themselves be grounded on Science by reading widely and participate in training and fellowship programmes to develop the knowledge and skill to simplify terms for their readers,” he added.

Other facilitators at the training were Diego Bárcena Menéndez, Ecological farmer and former molecular scientist; and Barbara Ntambirweki, Researcher, ETC Group.


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