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Audio Visual Science Audiences (AVSA). A comparative study

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Science on air

Are European media and television making enough of an effort to educate society about science? One EU project examines the issue and makes recommendations on how best to achieve this.

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As scientific research and innovation flourish in Europe, authorities are concerned that the gap between science and the general public is not being addressed. It is important for citizens to appreciate science and its contribution to society so that Europe's competitiveness and scientific literacy remain high. The EU-funded 'Audio visual science audiences (AVSA). A comparative study' (AVSA) project recently looked into the types of science and how much it is being communicated through radio and television in Europe. The project was conducted under the wing of the Communication of Knowledge/Science Journalism division at Freie Universität Berlin. It sought the determinants that influence the dissemination of science programmes, examining segmentation of media markets, market forces and tradition of science reporting. Special emphasis was placed on television, particularly public service television and broadcasting. The project found that broadcasting in Germany, Finland and Sweden are characterised by relatively highly segmented markets, low market pressure on public service broadcasting and a strong tradition in science reporting. These countries' media encouraged a multicoloured picture of science. Great Britain and Ireland have succeeded in this less so, and have aired less science content in the media, though they are still doing comparatively well. More significantly, media in Bulgaria, Greece, Spain and Romania showed characteristics that decrease the probability of vibrant science programming considerably. Overall, the project noted a lack of mechanisms for broadcasting innovative programmes on new scientific findings and attracting large audiences. In several countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Spain and France), there is also an absence of programmes that render science more interesting and popular. There is a general lack of edutainment programmes, particularly in Bulgaria, Estonia and Greece, as well as of environmental advocacy programmes almost everywhere, except Spain. Interestingly, there was not much difference in how people perceived science in different European countries, a fact which helps formulate a common platform to enhance science exposure. In light of these findings, AVSA has developed an action plan to facilitate public engagement in science. It recommends that authorities concerned with science broadcasting encourage public engagement by shifting their perspective from a largely science-centric view to more media-centric and audience-centric views. This involves investigating constraints of media production more closely. It also requires a re-examination of the established expertise of broadcasting organisations and individual programme makers: the aim is to attract and sustain audience interest and consider audience needs. If these recommendations are adopted, a more scientifically educated general public will result, promoting an improved knowledge society in Europe.

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