ROLE OF MASS MEDIA AND COMMUNICATION
IN IMPROVING THE GENERAL ENVIRONMENT
FOR INVENTIVE AND CREATIVE ACTIVITY
by Dr. Farag Moussa
President of IFIA
Lecture given at the International Symposium on Young Inventors and Innovators
in Economic and Technological Development
(Plovdiv, Bulgaria, July 3
to 5, 1991)
Thirty years ago, as a young
diplomat responsible for Egypt's information service in a European country, I quickly
realized that if I wanted to see further references in the press to the great dam at
Aswan, it would have to wait until there was an accident! A few weeks ago, I told myself
that it would be better to be General Schwarzkopf than to have invented penicillin if one
wanted to see one's name in the headlines.
But that's enough of pessimism.
The names of the great builders, scientists and inventors do in the end appear in the
My dream naturally would be to
see them in the encyclopedia before they died. My dream would also be to see greater
encouragement of creation and invention. My goal is to see that everything possible is
done to create an environment that is favorable to inventors and their fulfillment, and to
foster a situation that promotes talent and creativity in all sectors of the population,
but particularly among young people.
It cannot be said too often that
inventors should be protected, helped, encouraged, recognized and respected.
However, we are still far from implementing these good intentions. Take today, an inventor
is considered to be someone out of the ordinary, an eccentric. This does not really
encourage anybody to put the word "inventor" on their business cards. It is
enough to discourage any young man or woman who wishes to create. It is better to be a
professional soldier, footballer, rock star or politician than an inventor in a society
where image has such importance - as proof of this, the heads of State who are elected on
their image rather than on their program!
Let us now talk about what makes
an inventor special: his creativity. Creativity is either encouraged or
discouraged in school. Young people should receive greater encouragement to think
for themselves, to see things independently. Unfortunately, school too often seems to be
brainwashing: all the lessons learned by heart, all the structures so rigid that they
stifle the imagination of a child who might one day have become a creator, an
The list is long of all those
who to a greater or lesser degree have a role to play in improving the general environment
for inventive and creative activity. However, as requested, I shall confine my comments
today to the relationship between an inventor and invention and the press and media.
The importance of the media
today is immense. Never before in mankind's history have the media had such a significant
impact on our lives and behavior - and this is due to modern technology, in other words,
From early childhood, children
sit in front of the television. For hours, the succession of pictures is watched by eyes
that are only just opening onto the world and it becomes imprinted on minds that are still
impressionable. A few years later, when going to school, newspaper headlines and magazine
covers arrest the eye. Out of this plethora of images, what will remain in the mind of the
child? Pictures of war, violence, women's bodies, clothed or not, sporting exploits; the
faces of film stars
or political stars. Never do they see pictures of an
One could talk about the press
and the media for hours. The press or audiovisual media, party political broadsheets,
general or specialized newspapers, popular or elitist; the press and the government, the
press and money, the press and advertising. The subject is vast, complex and endless. It
also has very noticeable variations from one country to another and from one political
regime to another.
I shall therefore restrict
myself to some aspects that I would like us to use subsequently as a basis for reflection,
and, I hope, they will encourage questions on your part. In a way, we are entering into
"terra incognita" since nothing, or as far as I know very little, has been
written on the relationship between the media and the world of invention.
I. WHAT CAN AN
INVENTOR DO, AND WHAT SHOULD HE DO, IN ORDER TO
MAKE HIMSELF AND HIS INVENTION KNOWN THROUGH THE MEDIA?
Let us be realistic. An inventor
needs the press more than the press needs the inventor. To use a common expression, he
must sell himself.
First of all, he has to sell his
image, convince people that he is not an eccentric, as inventors are often presented,
but a responsible person. Simply Mr. Everyman - or Mrs Everywoman - whose particular trait
Next, an inventor must present
his product in an attractive way: he must make it seductive just as a star has a
seductive personality. To do this, he must find the angle that interests the
public. And what interests a member of the public? First of all, himself! His health,
his comfort, his security, his future. And then people like
what is out of the ordinary, impossible, in short, dreams
An inventor has to take
into account the tastes and psychology of the public when presenting his product. If he
has the opportunity, he should also take advantage of any events that can be linked to his
invention's concept. If they are presented at the right moment, his article, interview or
video will then have the maximum effect; they will be "news". And the media
thrive on "news".
All this good advice to
inventors is of course easier to give than to follow. I am well aware of this. An
inventor, like a scientist, is usually an individualist by nature, and is more
often a solitary person than a man - or woman - of dialogue. He is like
an author who spends years alone at his desk and then, when his book is finished, finds
himself facing the cameras and the press. The inventor must leave the solitude of his
laboratory or workshop and face the world. This is not an easy step to take and he will
find it more difficult if he is suspicious. Not without reason, it must be recognized. He
must talk about his discovery without disclosing its secret for fear that it will be
copied. He has to make his invention known, while at the same time taking the
risk of being misunderstood.
Nobody is perfect and it has to
be admitted that some inventors unfortunately behave like kingpins of the scientific
world, taking pleasure in using high-sounding terminology, refusing to use straightforward
language as though the fact of using it would take away their power. Whether arrogance or
ignorance of the world of communication, the fact is that such behavior runs an obvious
risk of closing the doors of the media to them.
II. HOW TO CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH THE MEDIA
WOULD BE PREPARED TO PAY GREATER ATTENTION
TO INVENTIVE AND CREATIVE ACTIVITY
Any newspaper editor will tell
you that, unfortunately, scientific news is rarely profitable, except of course
when the scientist is awarded the Nobel Prize or a citizen of the country in question -
nationalism counts- is awarded a major scientific prize abroad. In fact, presentation to
the public of the scientific and technical sector as a whole needs to be reviewed in its
Very few newspapers have the
financial resources to allow them to employ experts. Moreover, scientific
popularization is not a gift given to everyone because it requires a mind that is
capable of both analysis and synthesis. There is therefore a gap in the media. There is a
lack of scientific journalists who can fulfil the role of a relay between the
inventor and the public. We therefore have to make do with what we have and their work has
to be facilitated if it is hoped to achieve good results; the facts have to be explained
to them clearly and simply. This is not so simple however!
I have an idea. Wouldn't it be a
good idea if inventor's associations had at least one man or woman from the media
among their members who, when necessary, could act as the inventors'
"interpreter" with the media?
There are the press, radio and,
of course the sacrosanct television. The sacrosanct picture. Pictures have never
played such an ambivalent role as today: they do of course make it possible to collect
millions of francs in a few hours to help victims of natural disaster, but unfortunately
they can also be used to portray a sinister masquerade, to hide from the public the truth
about a war. The positive and negative, Good and Evil cohabit on television just as they
do in life. To all those desirous of promoting invention, rather than remaining aloof or
rejecting television I would advise them to use to the maximum the positive elements of
what television can offer.
Why, for example, shouldn't
inventors' associations propose to television channels that, between two programs aimed at
young people - which are unfortunately often asinine - they should show a program about a
child or young person who has made a particularly noteworthy invention? We all know that
children and young people, even more than adults, are by nature copiers. Let us therefore
incite our children to copy! Instead of letting them dull their wits with the
"fast-food" of the television, let us stimulate their imaginations. The
same idea could be used in young people's magazines by publishing a regular feature on a
It is up to us to suggest to the
press what it could do to create an environment that would encourage young people to
invent: for example, organize invention competitions, offer prizes, or,
as in already done in several countries, sponsor young scientists' clubs. It is
often in such clubs and workshops that young people discover their capabilities and
develop them, they have their first experience of putting theory into practice.
It is not only young people who
need to be encouraged. Others, whose age is of little importance, have thousands of
unexploited ideas; I am thinking of that half of the world - or that half of heaven as Mao
Tse-tung called them - I mean women.
In fact, while women might be left
out of encyclopedias of inventors, they have an advantage as far as the
press is concerned. Women inventors are well received by the media: a woman inventor is a
rara avis and rarity is news! In addition a woman who has done something exceptional is
usually featured in a large number of magazines for woman. The so-called "women's
pages" of daily newspapers also feature them. Feminine solidarity plays a role as
well; and since women journalists are increasingly numerous among editorial staff, they
give preference to women inventors whom they view as symbolizing the equality of women
compared to men in creative activity.
When the spotlight shines on
women inventors, who are not yet many in number, this provides models for other
women and particularly for young girls deciding upon their future activity.
Mathematically speaking, this feminine resource means a large number of potential
inventions! Not only is this asset not sufficiently promoted by all those concerned by
inventive activity, but it is very very rarely referred to in the media.
In this instance, let it be said
the media are not to blame! Quite simply, they are not given any material on this subject.
First of all, we must put our
own house in order. We must stop complaining and criticizing. We must stop harping on
about the forgotten and misunderstood inventor! Enough weighty speeches, it is time to
act, but act intelligently. We need to know how the media work otherwise we run the risk
of becoming lost in the media jungle. We must not become annoyed if what the media report
is not perfect. The essential thing is to make inventors and invention better known and to
We need to look things in the
face: today, nothing can be done without the media. It used to be said that the press was
the fourth power, after the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. It seems to me
that in today's society the fourth power occupies second place - right after the
Executive, just behind the Government. Press and the government, the government and the
press, they are a sort of diabolic couple. The government has not lost its decision-making
power, but the press, its éminence grise, continually breathes down its neck, day and
For many years in symposiums and
seminars we have only addressed ourselves to governments. In other words, we have totally
neglected one of the partners in the indissoluble couple formed by the government and the
press. It is therefore satisfying to note that we have finally decided to study the unique
role that could be played by the media in making inventors better known and encouraging
Grey matter is still the best
way of making mankind progress - for better or for worse: because wisdom is something else
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