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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Profile Awards, raising science & tech reporting


Features of the week:

Momentum for the annual African Siemens Profile Awards has been on the rise reports REMMY NWEKE, who was at the presentation of 2005 edition in South Africa.

“Like most areas of the world, science and technology reporting has remained under-rated in Africa, so the Profile Awards remain an important initiative that gives an encouraging motivation to the continent’s media ….”

That was a declaration by the chief executive, Siemens Southern Africa, Mr. Pete da Silva, at the presentation of prizes to distinguished journalists and media organizations on the continent penultimate Tuesday, at the Siemens Park, Midrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Initiated in year 2000, Profile Awards had its inaugural edition in 2001, as part of Siemens Southern Africa Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) with the media.

Going continental
Originally held for media organizations and professionals in Southern Africa until 2004, Profile Awards honour informed, well researched, balanced and accurate reporting, which reflect both technological research and market context.
As said by Mr. Da Silva, since the launch of the Profile Awards five years ago, this annual initiative designed to reward reporting excellence in the fields of science and technology has grown from strength to strength.

With 2006 marking the third year the awards went continental, Mr. Da Silva noted, it has continued to gain popularity, which is parallel with the high level of interest shown by participants from across the continent; “a volume that has grown substantially year after year”.

As the only pan-African journalism awards devoted exclusively to science and technology, he said, the Profile Awards act as incentives for writers, broadcasters and producers to create work that simplifies these subjects, which he described as “often complex”.
He pointed out that as the developments in science and technology continue, it is essential to stay up-to-date with the leading edge of innovation.

Innovations simplified
Mr. Da Silva in his address also said that at Siemens, this spirit of innovation is responsible for large amount of new technology and each year, Siemens’ researchers register thousands of new patents across all areas of development including power, transportation, medical solutions and telecommunications to name a few.

He noted that innovation is more than mere exploiting of Science and Technology, even as it involves new ways of working, new products and service concepts. Hence, Siemens is using Profile Awards to encourage media professionals to identify these industry innovations and communicate them to audiences, so they too could understand and appreciate how science and technology are making lives easier, healthier and comfortable.

“Siemens sees the reporting of science and technology in an easily understandable format as a priority for Africa, because we believe that science and innovation could help us create a safer and healthier society, a cleaner environment and a prosperous knowledge-driven economy for this entire continent’s people,” he declared.

From the judges
For the judges drawn from the ranks of senior journalists and technology writers, academics and technologists, there is a positive and progressive aspect of all technology, but thinking of the relevance of journalists’ constant interrogation of these standards by way of examining the two sides of the coin called science and technology, which is paramount to understanding of the subject matter.

The judges led by the convenor of the panel and Head of Development at Rhodes University Grahamstown, Mr. Kerry Swift, said that they were looking out for articles in the media based on display of adequate research, grasp of subject matter, clear and concise writing and presentation as well as individual writing style, analytical ability and the skill to unbundled technology.

Numbering 11, the judges include the Group Research Manager, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr. David Walyn, Corporate Communications Manager, Sasol Group, Ms Marina Bidoli, Messrs Hassan Amer M.A., Peter Bruce, and Alaa E-Dabaa of Egyptian Al-Fajr Newspapers, Business Day South Africa and Shell Egypt, respectively.

Others were Prof. Nixon Kariithi of Wits University, Executive Director, Highway Africa, Mr. Chris Kabwato, former director of Corporate Communications at Standard Bank, Mr. Richard Steyn and Professor emeritus, Graeme Addision.

Sound understanding of technologies
According to Mr. Swift, also a public relations expert, while science and technology reporting is a specialist field and is often difficult, it needs never be dull, therefore, journalists in the field need a sound understanding of fast-evolving technologies and their impacts on society; “This is vital if they are to make informed comments and serve their media audiences.”

Emphasizing that most times, journalists have to make judgment about the efficacy of new technologies, this, he said, could have a profound impact on how these technologies are viewed by the general public and on their marketability.

As a result, science and technology reporters, “have a professional responsibility to ensure that they report accurately and that their comments are founded on a thorough knowledge of their subject matter,” stressing the need to understand the market contexts in which they are reporting, as some new technologies may not be appropriate for all applications.

“Thus the judges were looking primarily for reporting that was accurate, informed and balanced and strong emphasis was placed on context” he asserted.

Judging process
The convenor also stated that usually the judging process led to 10 category winners from over 300 entries for 2005 from where the two potential winners would emerge. Then the top two entrants where discussed in open forum and consensus reached as to the overall winner.

Corporate Communications Manager at Siemens Southern Africa, Mr. Mandla Mpangese, informed Champion Infotel that out of the total entries for 2005, about 20 came from Nigeria.

However, the overall impression of the judges on 2005 entries, as said by the convenor is extremely positive and upbeat as they felt encouraged that the general standards of science and technology journalism are, with some notable exceptions, rising dramatically with noticeable improvement in the quality of entries.

“Several entries were considered to be of a world-class standard, reflecting the professionalism and commitment of the journalists and their engaging individualistic styles,” he said, just as they lamented a decline of television entries while lauding the number of print entries.

He advised that there was more evidence of multi-sourcing and interrogation of information by placing of technology stories in local, regional and international contexts, exploring business models for the rollout of new technologies and explaining the human benefit of technology improves the scope of articles.

16 winners emerged
Given the upbeat in the number of quality of entries for 2005 African Siemens Profile Awards, the judges announced the recognition of 10 category winners and six merit award winners with South Africa topping the categories with six, while the rest came from Nigeria, Egypt and two from Kenya.

At the merit level, South Africa got three with two others from Egypt and one from Nigeria.

And the winners are …
Leading category winners for 2005 Profile Awards is the associate editor, Popular Mechanics, Mr. Anthony Doman who took the overall prize along with the Energy prize. Mr. Alan Duggan also of Popular Mechanics came top on the Mobile Telecommunications Networks, Mr. Remmy Nweke of Nigerian Daily Champion Newspapers equally retained his position on Information Technology (IT) Business Solutions, while Mr. Haytham Dardeeri of Egyptian Al-Mal came top on Technology Policy and Investment and Ms Irma Venter of Mining Review Africa won the prize on Basic Industry (mining).

Ms Liz Nganga of The Standard Kenya took crown on Basic Industry (Manufacturing), Ms Jennifer Stastny of Popular Mechanics took that of Medical solutions, Ms Lesley Stones of Business Day, grabbed the Fixed Telecommunication Networks prize, whereas Mr. Zachary Ochieng of News from Africa Kenya went home with the Corporate Social Investment prize and Mr. Udo Rypstra of Truck and Bus, South Africa was presented with the Transportation prize.

In the merit awards, there were two in the Business Solutions, namely Ms Irma Venter and Ms Abir Saady Hassan Mohammed of Arabian Computer News, Egypt, Mr. Isaac Umunna of Africa Today, Nigeria on Technology Policy and Investment, Mr. Hatem Shalaby of Online Magazine, Egypt, got that of Mobile Telecommunications Networks, while the Medical Solutions went to Sharon van Wyk of Mail and Guardian, South Africa as well as Ms Sasha Planting of Financial Mail, South Africa who took the merit prize in the Technology Policy and Investment/basic industry (mining).

More private sector involvement
Most of all, the good news is that Africa is improving in its own way of doing things especially in science and technology reporting, even as more support is required to continuously spur this position, more private sector involvement in this regard is also required, either in partnership with African Siemens Profile Awards or individually, so as to consistently raise the standard of journalism on the continent.

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