Diplomacy and journalism: different ways to achieve a satisfactory communication system

She is a journalist, but also a diplomat. She is originally from Hungary, but has lived in London for 13 years. Raised in a dictatorship, she nowadays defends democracy and fights for a better understanding of the role played by the media in informing society with responsibility. After working as a critic, a reporter and a broadcaster, Katalin Bogyay got into politics and, as the president of Unesco’s General Conference since 2011, she has experienced World Science Forum (WSF) since its birth.

Entrepreneur, Katalin founded the Hungarian Institute Centre in London and worked as its director for seven years. In recognition to the importance of her contributions, the economist by training received many awards, a documentary about her was produced and, after the experience ahead Unesco’s meeting, she published a book that resumes her ideas concerning many subjects. Nowadays, working as a Hungarian ambassador in Unesco, Bogyay defends an open intercultural dialogue between nations.

Acting as a mediator of the session that discussed scientific diplomacy issues in this year’s edition of WSF, she talked to BAS News about journalism practices, the implications of the communism fall to the media professionals, the strengthening of European relationships with developing countries and her experience as a successful woman in a scenario where, besides being approximately half of the world’s population, they still do not receive the same opportunities as male professionals.

- After obtaining a postgraduate diploma in journalism, you have got even more involved in communication matters. With this background, how do you evaluate the responsibility of journalists, especially the ones who focus in scientific matters, in informing society?

Fourteen years of my life were about journalism, first in the printed press and then in television and radio, where I was a broadcaster. So, obviously, the identity of journalism in my life is very important. In whatever I have been doing since I became a diplomat, I never forgot that I am also a journalist, so maybe that is why I am always looking at things from different angles. To be a diplomat or a journalist are, of course, two different things. Here, in the role of a Hungarian ambassador in Unesco, I am talking as a diplomat; in Unesco, on the other hand, we have the responsibility to discuss the freedom of the speech and the state of journalism and journalists. So, besides culture, education and the sciences, communication is a very important pillar in the tasks of Unesco. Actually, working there is a beautiful opportunity for me to combine everything which is related to diplomacy and broadcasting or journalism.

Today, communication is such an important instrument and strong tool that we cannot deal with its effects. We are talking about two different things here. One is the knowledge, talent and persistence of the journalists themselves; how committed and well-prepared they are and how seriously they are taking their jobs. Very often, if they are not doing research and just keep waiting for material, the effects of good journalism stay far from its possibilities. The second thing refers to building bridges. I think that, without the means of communication, we cannot really get to the people and establish an open dialogue of the society with science and the decision makers with scientists. In science diplomacy, what really matters today is for us to build these bridges. And then we tell the stories to the people, so they understand in what kind world they are living. In that, journalism and media have got a crucial role. If we can’t really educate and inform human beings, then how can we hope that they would act respectfully and be consciousness citizens?

- And, in your vision, have the means of communication been doing a good job?

Sadly, and I am saying that both as a journalist and a diplomat, it is very difficult to sell educational stories to papers, radios and television channels, although public service should deal with that; it really should be responsible for teaching and giving information and knowledge to the people. I actually think that conscious journalism in public service is a major issue nowadays. If we talk about science and tackling the people to understand what is going on in the world, of course the role of scientific journalists is very important. On the other way, owners of papers and television stations and their editors-in-chief themselves should have consciousness and responsibility as well. You can tell that there are television programs which totally make people stupid and ignorant. Is like a chewing gum to the brain that makes them forget even about to think. That makes me very angry! In order to sell easily the papers, everyone is looking for a sexy topic and science, unfortunately, is not one of them.

Here, I am talking about ethically driven conscious media. I have been fighting for this my whole professional life because I do not believe that we have to have media just to consumerism. I mean, this is not life. And the real purpose of science is serving humanity. Of course, coming from Unesco, we are working towards international collaboration - in science as well - so we can build peace and security together. This is really the major thing.

- After the fall of communism, you were awarded by the British government with a scholarship to study media in democracy. Did you observe any relevant differences between the press coverage of scientific matters in this transition?

In a world, country or society dictated by a party or whatever force, communication is used as propaganda. You can say that in our time, when we had a dictatorship, we did speak about sciences. But it was all part of a propaganda. In a democracy, to speak about science and be a scientific journalist means, first of all, that you have to build your own integrity. You should not serve the political powers because, in a way, the whole concept of journalism is to always be on the side of the people. In societies where science has a part in a complex political arena - like a dictatorship - the journalists have to deal with these topics because of it is important for the power maintaining. In this case, they just serve the interests of someone else. In a democracy, journalists are looking for the truth. And I would say the difference is really on the approach. How do you approach each topic, what is your purpose? In my opinion, the journalists should use this freedom for the better courses.

I was raised in a time when we lived in a dictatorship, so I remember what journalism and censorship were like when we were not free. I also record how we had to find a way to communicate and really send the messages, so we knew that we were censored. I know this feeling and this way of journalism as well. But, after the political changes in 1999, I immediately had a chance to go to BBC - which, for me, is really the great model of public service broadcasting - and understand how journalism should act in a democracy. In that sense, I think that integrity and knowledge, the professionalism of the journalists, are very important.

- You came to Brazil to participate in the World Science Forum. To your thinking, what is the importance of this event?

First of all, I have been involved in the World Science Forum since its birth. In 1999, we had the World Conference on Science, which was a big Unesco international event in collaboration with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. By that time, I was a broadcaster living in London and worked for a year as a journalist to run the promotion of the communication campaign of this conference. During that time I organized press conferences, met the key-players and sort of tried to build the bridges between the audience, Unesco and the Hungarian Academy. In this year we also filmed a series called "The responsibilities of scientists in the 21st century" all over the world. Later on I became a diplomat and stayed in London, where I set up the Hungarian Cultural Institute. But, you see how life evolves, when I became Unesco’s ambassador in 2009, I was immediately brought back to the organization of WSF because Hungary has a collaboration partnership with Unesco.

So I have been there for a long time and I remember very well the moment when we started to think about opening up the horizons of the Budapest World Science Forum. It was always a Forum about science diplomacy where decision makers, politicians and scientists met. That is very important because not all science conferences are about that. I also remember very well the time I met the president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, who has regularly been going to Budapest, and we started to talk about intensifying our streets of communication. Afterwards, Prof. Pálinkás, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Ms. Irina Bokova, the director-general of Unesco, and myself had a very elaborated and positive discussion about it. There, Pálinkás proposed a format that in every fourth year we would have the WSF somewhere else in the world and then, in every fourth year, it would go back to Hungary. Following this thought, after Brazil we go back to Budapest and then, in four years, as it was decided by the Steering Committee, the Forum will be held in Jordan.

- Having important work in the area of intercultural dialogue, do you see the decision of bringing WSF first to Brazil as an opportunity to strengthen the participation of developing economies in world scientific policies and negotiations?

I think this is a major decision because it is not only collaboration in science between Brazil and Hungary; it is collaboration between the north and the south, between the developing and the developed countries, between Europe and another continent. I am very happy that Hungary is playing such a proactive and influential role in this process because today you can’t solve anything within your country. If we talk about science, we all know what Pasteur said: it doesn’t have borders. Of course he also said that scientists have got their own homes and countries, so this is certainly a complex issue, but I really feel that the collaboration between the Brazilian and Hungarian academies of sciences in preparing the WSF 2013 was very creative and positive. It already is a great message that you have to work together if you want to create something substantial for humanity.

Since Prof. Palis made BAS’s interest in organizing the Forum very clear, this time our option was very openly Brazil. And I think it is great that Brazil has started this new format. Of course this conference costs a lot of money and, until now, it has always been funded by the Hungarian government. Therefore, the politicians and governments who would like to hold the WSF in their countries have to know: it is not only about the Academy of Sciences of the host nation. The academies certainly give the expertise, but there is also a big diplomatic and financial undertaking, so that is why the host country’s government should be totally committed. Now, the idea is to still have, in the Steering Committee, the representative of Brazil, but we will also have the representative of Jordan. This is how the circle will be even bigger and bigger. I think that working together with both nations in the preparation of the next WSF, which will take place in Budapest, is going to work as a competence building, a sharing of experiences. Besides being a beautiful example of actual science diplomacy, it was, in my opinion, a very wise suggestion of the president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

- And what is the role of women when it comes to scientific diplomacy?

This is a huge topic; my book has got a whole chapter about it. I have been very strongly supporting the role of women in science and cultural diplomacy because they are capable of tackling at a problem from different angles. They look for solutions. Besides that, women have got so many roles… We would like to be successful in our careers, but we also wish to have children and a family. We are looking after different circles in our lives and, in a way, we have to compromise every moment. When you raise a child and have an important job, you just take all the available time. It is also important to learn how to take clever and bright compromises and always consider what would be the best way. And, in diplomacy, that is a very important input. Sometimes it is impossible to go straight to your final goal, so you deliberately change the directions, but, in your head, you know what you are working towards. That is why I very much support women’s role in conflict solving and prevention.

And what if we just think about the girls and women whose knowledge is not being used? And I am not talking about anything else, because I could talk about the lack of human rights and the lack of rights to study and learn, but I am just saying: what a pity that the world is not using the ability of our women. They sometimes represent the half of the population. If they had the same opportunities to contribute, the world would have more possibilities. The role of women in science diplomacy is very important and, in WSF 2013, I saw wonderful, strong, clever and bright women who are scientists with very strong presences.

And I have to tell you: during my official travels as president of Unesco’s General Conference, I went to places where I was the only woman and couldn’t have the right political conversation with my counterparts because they didn’t feel very comfortable that I was there. In that sense, I once went to Senegal, Africa, to accompany a very important Unesco’s program that gives classes for grownup women - sometimes grandmothers - who didn’t have the chance to study during their first years. They learn how to read and write, developing the capacity to deal with their own lives. I think, in Unesco, this is a very central topic. Don’t forget how many women occupy leading functions, which already is a very strong message to the world.


(Ana Siqueira to BAS News)


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