Subject: GM Watch Response
Please find attached our response on GM.
Globalization & Environment Officer,
Panos Southern Africa.
[for the item this is responding to:
Panos African GM workshop stimulates media commitment
The Lusaka journalists' declaration on reporting GE by South and East African media, presents a step ahead in regional media cooperation between countries, the governments of which maintain opposing views on whether to proceed with adoption of GM crops. The regional workshop took place amidst a backdrop of rapid GM commercialisation in South Africa, with as yet no implementation of biosafety regulations by neighbouring countries. Inevitably the enormous capacity challenges posed by national implementation of the Biosafety Protocol were a hot discussion topic amongst participants, and in-particular that of effectively policing the vast isolated and porous borders in the region.
Journalists from Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Tanzania joined Zambian participants to report on the Programme Against Malnutrition (PAM) conference: Genetic Engineering and Sustainable Agriculture; which way forward? Also to analyse the media's role in the GM debate at a one day media workshop hosted by Panos Southern Africa.
A core discussion issue throughout the week was the high degree of responsibility placed on the media in coming to an informed and impartial position, a point highlighted by the Zambian Minister of Science and Technology Mrs Judith Kapijimpanga Minister in her opening address to the conference: 'I ...challenge the media to be pro-active in obtaining accurate information of GM'. This issue was considered by journalists to be particularly tricky given the vitriolic outbursts between scientists from opposing camps during the conference. With much of the evidence both contradictory and apparently entangled with self-interest, some journalists challenged the scientists at the PAM press conference to substantiate their positions.
Whilst discussion at the Panos workshop considered the challenge of evaluating inconclusive scientific evidence, participants also recognised that the media plays a special role in representing the views of the public. It was emphasised that it is important to include minority opinions. Furthermore it was stated that the media has a responsibility in assessing ethical considerations and coming to a position that maintains impartiality, whilst at the same time taking a stance in the public interest.
Publics have played an influential role in deciding policy in developed countries, but this is not yet the case in most of Africa where informed debate largely remains elusive. Participants explored the challenges faced by African media in cultivating public debate. The aim of the workshop and Panos in general is to support open and informed debate while paying special attention to the voices of the poor and marginalised.
During the workshop ownership of GM technology was discussed in detail with a particular focus on the implications of intellectual property rights, such as patents, for ownership and access to seeds, and the food security issues this raises. This was discussed with particular reference to the recent return of 'Terminator technology' to the international stage, which renders seeds infertile as a commercial means of restricting farmer access to propriety seed.
The current US-EU dispute over GM in the WTO was discussed in relation to its relevance to African agricultural markets and the implications that the international decision of the dispute settlement mechanism would have for African countries. By setting a landmark precedent the ruling was considered likely to influence the way that African countries develop their biosafety laws. Indeed current stalling by countries such as Zambia in implementing such rules may be due to a wait and see approach.
Topics were analysed in relation to the democratic roles of respective stakeholders and the issues of accountability, particularly arising from the potential health and safety concerns posed by introducing GM technology.
Monitoring of media coverage of the week showed that reporting on GM had dropped down the agenda since the food crisis in 2002, with most articles buried inside newspapers. Furthermore a strong reliance on secondary sources was noted which produced some inaccuracies in the reporting. Likewise there was tendency to report political speeches in isolation creating a political bias that could have been rectified if further investigation behind the rhetoric had been pursued.
The need for media capacity building to produce a greater degree of journalistic rigour in reporting GM issues was a key motivation for participants to develop and agree the 'Lusaka journalists' declaration on reporting GE'. In addition Panos announced three fellowships which will give African journalists the necessary resources to undertake investigative research in their own countries on GM and food security issues.
Panos Intra-regional Genetic Engineering Media Workshop
Lusaka Journalists' Declaration on Reporting Genetic Engineering
We, media professionals from Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, meeting in Zambia’s capital-Lusaka from 4 7 October, 2005 in the presence of representatives of the scientific community, the farmers, and policy makers from various countries, in the framework of the Regional Conference on
"Genetic Engineering (GE) and Sustainable Agriculture; Which Way Forward?", held under the auspices of the Programme Against Malnutrition (PAM) with support from Bread for the World (BftW)-Germany, with involvement of Panos Southern Africa, Panos East Africa and Panos London;
Hereby make the following declaration as basis for coverage of GE issues in the region;
Realising that the pressure on Africa to accept the introduction of genetically engineered crops is growing by the day ;
Recognizing our critical role in educating the public on various issues including biotechnology ;
Taking into account the global community and the need to make sense out of globalization ;
Bearing in mind our professional ethics and duty to responsibly inform the public;
Considering that there are both pro-GM and anti-GM associations, research consortiums, the corporate community and a number foreign development aid agencies foisting the GE technology upon Africa, promising that this will help solve the food insecurity and poverty for all, and other opposing views;
Noting that many farmers, consumers and environmental organizations in the region are concerned that genetic engineering may bring about negative consequences, namely; environmental destruction, contamination, monopoly from firms and further undermining of Africa's traditional agricultural and knowledge systems; AND
Appreciating that the issue of genetic engineering is implicit in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 to ensure environmental sustainability, and also mentioned under the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) protocols;
We assert ourselves to the fact that we live in a sophisticated scientific world and, therefore, recognize the need to apply the precautionary principle;
ÃŸ We commit ourselves to objectively cover biotechnology issues in Eastern and Southern Africa.
ÃŸ We agree that the media plays a pivotal role in creating consumer awareness to ensure the public, corporate world and government make informed decisions on biotechnology.
ÃŸ We acknowledge that an informed media is key to pluralism, thus we must be active in making people aware of the issues, and stimulate debate between different stakeholders.
ÃŸ We re-commit ourselves to factual, accurate and truthful reporting on biotechnology.
ÃŸ We dedicate ourselves to be a medium for sustained coverage on biotechnology.
ÃŸ We unanimously commit ourselves to learning and interpreting the science of genetic engineering for the benefit of the public.
In this spirit, we walk hand-in-hand with the people of Eastern and Southern Africa to whom we are linked through this beautiful continent.
Adopted in Lusaka, 7th October, 2005