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— media, science & society - engagement & governance in Europe

MESSENGER, a project funded by the European Union under the 'Science and Society' section of the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, has been being undertaken by the Social Issues Research Centre(SIRC) in partnership with the Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR).

The project addresses the core of the Science and Society Work Programme which states in its introduction:

"In a knowledge-based society, both policy makers and citizens should be equipped to make informed choices from the ever-growing range of options thrown up by scientific and technological progress. The aim of this part of the programme is to help develop the environment in which this can be achieved …"

The role of the media is critical in enabling informed participation of this nature and is the primary focus of the proposed programme. MESSENGER further seeks to contribute to specific objectives of the Science and Society Work Programme, viz.

"… to help broad sections of society contribute in a more informed manner to policy-making, steps should be taken to encourage the rapid and open communication of scientific opinions and advice in understandable terms, particularly on new or emerging issues. This should entail integrated actions for more proactive approaches by the scientific community with media and society …"

The general objectives of MESSENGER:

  1. To contribute to the informed debate among scientists, journalists and representatives of civil society concerning the production of science, technology and health news, and the communication of risk in this context.
  2. To identify opportunities for appropriate engagement of relevant stakeholders and actors in the governance of scientific research and its applications in Europe.
  3. To determine perceptions of media coverage of science, technology and health issues in a representative sample of EU countries.
  4. To facilitate and improve the quality of dissemination of scientific information and advice through the mass media in Europe.
  5. To generate specific outputs of practical value in improving the transmission of scientific information and advice.

The specific objectives of MESSENGER:

  1. To develop Guidelines produced by SIRC in partnership with the Royal Institution and Royal Society to ensure their relevance and applicability to media reporting and communication of science, technology and health issues across Europe.
  2. To determine through consultation with relevant actors and stakeholders, perceptions of science media coverage across Europe - particularly the communication and discussion of risks and benefits arising from research.
  3. To establish how communication of risk and discussion of risk-related issues impacts on perceptions of scientific enterprise in EU countries. Consultation with key stakeholder groups and civil society organisations will form the basis for both the development and the evaluation of this aspect of the work.
  4. To develop a comprehensive methodology for analysing the production and coverage of science, technology and health news.
  5. To determine the various roles and styles of the print and broadcast media in a representative sample of EU countries.
  6. To develop relevant products for the briefing and training of EC-funded scientists in the dissemination of their work, based on consultation with all groups of relevant actors and stakeholders.
  7. To develop materials/modules based on the Guidelines to assist in the training of journalists.
  8. To develop materials of relevance to 'consumers' of science news to aid their discernment of critical issues and to encourage further dialogue between scientists, journalists and representatives of civil society.

These objectives have been achieved through three integrated main areas of activity:

  1. Europe-wide consultation with representatives within the science, technology and health communities, journalism organisations and representatives of civil society. A detailed analysis of the consultations has been conducted with summary output embedded in the European Guidelines.
  2. Media analysis of science, technology and health issues across Europe to assess the cultures, roles and styles of the media in communicating science. Detailed qualitative and quantitative analyses have been conducted of media coverage in six EU member states. Outputs have been incorporated into the Guidelines and into support materials.
  3. Dissemination and exploitation of the results via the establishment of overlapping networks involving journalists, broadcasters, teachers of science journalism, representatives of the various scientific disciplines and representatives of civil society groups. In liaison with central members of these networks, MESSENGER is disseminating the Guidelines and associated materials and seeking their endorsement by leading European scientific and journalist institutions, NGOs and other relevant bodies.

Conducting the MESSENGER project at the European level has allowed the development of Guidelines with a genuinely European provenance and applicability and thereby contributes centrally to the aims of the Science in Society Action Plan and Work Programme.

Outputs from the MESSENGER project can be viewed here

SIRC, 27/28 St. Clements, Oxford UK OX4 1AB

Tel: +44 (0)1865 262255 Fax: +44 (0) 1865 793137