The media’s credibility has already been nuked

The situation in Fukushima is either a dire, Chernobyl-like disaster that will render vast sections of the Japanese coast uninhabitable for centuries or a minor incident that demonstrates the safety of well designed nuclear power plants. Sometimes both at once, if you believe the media.

Journalists, of course, have no idea about how a nuclear power plant works and lack the skills to judge the accuracy of anything anyone says. They’re on fairly safe ground if they stick to reporting the latest facts – there was an explosion at this reactor; that reactor was on fire but now isn’t; this agency said that; that company said this. But when it comes to trying to make sense of what’s going on, it’s all just he said, she said.

Most people commenting on the nuclear power plant situation in Japan are not nuclear-energy experts. They tend to sensationalise the situation because they’re more likely to get on TV, sell newspapers, attract clicks that way.

Most nuclear-energy experts work for the nuclear-energy industry either directly or as consultants. They tend to downplay the situation because they earn a living from telling people nuclear energy is safe.

Who has the knowledge to decide if any of these people are being honest and accurate? How many journalists who know almost nothing about the subject matter would back themselves to question the credibility of a talking head who sounds like s/he knows what s/he is talking about?

The media is clearly failing in its mission to explain to the public What This Means, but it’s hard to imagine how they might do a better job of it.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Luke O'Neill says:

    The use of the term ‘meltdown’ — without any explanation or examination of some scientists opposition to its usage — has been widespread.

    In the last two days, ‘Micro sievert’ measurements have become, for the media, a sort of ‘barometer of doom’. Few have explained that they refer to radiation dosages.

    Comparisons to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are also consistently unhelpful.

    This report in an Irish newspaper today shows how little understanding some have of Fukushima and its possible ramifications: http://www.independent.ie/national-news/taskforce-allays-fears-of-radiation-spreading-to-ireland-2579724.html

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