The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan has generated a good deal of debate in the media about the

merits and risks involved with the use of nuclear power. Media reporting of any issue contains a tacit and preferred message, however controversies surrounding nuclear power lend a strong political dimension to reporting this subject. The media often downplay the risks involved with nuclear power and elaborate the knowledge and expertise held by the scientific community. The media article chosen has two separate but related stories and aims to highlight the risks involved with nuclear power. They discuss the apparent duplicity of international organisations, governments and media when reporting risk and nuclear power in order to gain public consent. One story compares the recent event at Fukushima to that of Chernobyl in order to demonstrate how omission in reporting can imply a false indication of risk to the public. The authors fear the long term effect of radiation, however acknowledge the need for an alternative to carbon. The articles persuade the reader to question the motives and loyalties of governments and media when assessing nuclear power and risk. “Radioactive water released into sea” by Jonathan Watts (Watts 2011, p7), accompanied by an analysis piece “We must not forget Chernobyl” by John Vidal (Vidal 2011, p7) both appear in The Guardian one month after the nuclear disaster in Japan. The Guardian is published in Manchester, United Kingdom and printed in Australia by Fairfax Media (Fairfax). Fairfax also own such newspapers as the The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, BRW and The Sun-Herald (Fairfax Media 2011) and are in direct competition with News Ltd which owns just under 70% of Australian metropolitan daily newspapers in terms of circulation (Australian Law Postgraduate Network 2009). Fairfax differentiate their business through a philosophy of 'engaged' reporting, targeting an educated audience and attempting to report issues in greater detail and complexity than that of mainstream media (Fairfax Media 2011). The articles perceive that mainstream media reporting of science and technology assumes a public understanding of science which aligns with the deficit model. This model suggests that the public lack an understanding of scientific knowledge and need to be educated. The only legitimate knowledge of science is that of the scientific 1

community. Further, this gap between the scientific community and the public is broad and an effective solution stymies reason. This model advocates an objective reality of scientific truth and fact which is devoid of power, politics and subjectivity, a model which advocates a one way and top down communication style (Irwin and Wynne 1996, pp1-3). Watts and Vidal, on the other hand, introduce the notion of sociological and political enquiry to investigate more thoroughly the motives of the stakeholders involved in nuclear power, for example, Corporate Industry, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Japanese Government. The articles show that each stakeholder has a preferred reading of the disaster and a preferred way in which it wants to be represented by the media. Each has its own set of priorities and imperatives (Watts 2011, p7). The Vidal story discusses the human side of radiation poisoning and how exposure to radiation makes us sick, gives us cancer and causes genetic and physical deformities in our children (Vidal 2011, p7). These subjective perspectives on nuclear power have equal legitimacy to the empirical evidence suggested by the scientific community and offer an alternate view on nuclear power without being science-centric, simply oppositional or anti-science (Irwin and Wynne 1996, p6). Watts and Vidal are endeavouring to tempt the public to engage in science as a point for discussion and invite input in order to create a dialogue between the public and the science community (Watts and Vidal 2011, p7). Issues involving climate change, conservation and energy feature regularly in the media and have been the centre of varying and contested accounts of risk (Irwin & Wynne 1996, p8)). The risks involved with the use of nuclear power have been debated by the public since the end of World War II and were an ongoing issue throughout the Cold War years. Public sentiment has swayed between periods of concern and public engagement over the risks involved to the current public apathy and distraction (Baylis et al. 2008, pp393-398). The media articles endeavour to convey the message that the risks involved with nuclear power and the solution to our future energy needs are neither marginal nor simple and dichotomous in nature as mainstream media accounts would have us believe (Allan 2010, p92). This point is evident where the article quotes those who disagree with reports of the high number of deaths from radiation at 2

Chernobyl “...are smeared and put in the same camp as climate change deniers.” (Vidal 2011, p7). Vidal is endeavouring to point out that contrary to mainstream media reports, not only was Chernobyl an under reported humanitarian disaster, but that there is also no clear or simple answer to this issue within mainstream conceptual frames. He is also suggesting that just because carbon-based energy is causing high levels of pollution we need not automatically accept nuclear energy as the only alternative. He is asking the reader to step outside the mainstream dichotomy of assessing risk and further examine in more detail and scope alternative possibilities (Vidal 2011, p7). Vidal also suggests that there needs to be a clearer negotiation between science and the public and that the public need to become more socially inclusive and politically engaged (Vidal 2011, p7). The media plays an important role in this process because by reporting science more critically and by thoroughly investigating a wider scope of sources, science reporters provide the public with a greater pool of knowledge and a greater ability for informed decision making (Rosenblum 1993, pp1-3). The Watts article discusses Fukushima and states that contaminated seawater 4000 times the legal standard has independently been sampled from the area surrounding the reactors. This is juxtaposed with a Tokyo Electric report which states that the tested millisievert level expelled by the disaster are within “...annual permissible levels...” (Watts 2011, p7). Similarly, Vidal endeavours to provide empirical data on the number of deaths from Chernobyl which have not been widely reported to the public. The reader becomes aware that important information surrounding both nuclear incidents has been omitted. This information would be pertinent in an assessment of nuclear power and risk, and would certainly effect public support of nuclear power. Vidal describes personal eye witness accounts of radiation effects from Chernobyl on the surrounding vegetation and communities. He mentions the widespread deformity and general sickness in villages and hospitals around Chernobyl five years ago (Vidal 2011, p7). Many of these accounts about Chernobyl are little known to the general public. The authors are endeavouring to present an alternative account of Chernobyl in order that the public arrive at their own conclusions and similarly assess the risk involved in the more current Fukushima disaster. The reader becomes aware that mainstream news is simple, less 3

detailed, provides only a binary account of events and omits large volumes of relevant information from public scrutiny. (Gregory & Miller 1998, p107). The authors of the two stories are positioning themselves as committed to a more engaged and independent style of journalism. The stories are appealing to the autonomy and awareness of the democratic individual to make informed political decisions (Chomsky 2002, pp1-2). The writers acknowledge the reader's capacity for action if informed and motivated and are endeavouring to place preference on the journalist as watchdog and the media as Fourth Estate in precedence to economic imperatives (Louw 2010, pp31-34). Vidal discusses the World Health Organisation's silence over research findings that suggest nearly 1 million deaths from Chernobyl in contrast to official reports counting only the immediate deaths of workers from the explosion in 1989. He further discusses the negligence of experts stating to the public that “...nuclear radiation is not that serious...” (Vidal 2011, p7). Neither Watts nor Vidal are in favour of nuclear power and use both the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima to highlight the cumulative and long reaching effects of radiation. Watts refers to the release of contaminated seawater into the ocean to make way for the containment of “...more highly radioactive liquid.” as being justified by the Japanese government as the “...lesser of two evils.” (Watts 2011, p7). This sets the tone for the rest of the story, Watts sees little upside to the Fukushima disaster. This said, however, Fairfax still operates within the capitalist system and as such its authors have an imperative to pull readers away from the postmodern arena where News Ltd audiences are tantalised by the notion of empowerment through individualism and agency. Watts and Vidal instead endeavour to draw the reader back to the centre where power resides in political and unified endeavour (Nelkin 1994, pp26-27). The authors hope to sway public opinion away from supporting nuclear power and instead to consider other forms of power which involve less risk and are less invasive to the planet. The article is an effective example of science communication because it encourages the 4 The reader realises that these framing devices employed by mainstream media have political origins and political implications

reader to critique the conventions of mainstream media. The article demonstrates how media construct meaning through omission, limited choice, binary oppositions, the imagined status of experts and by exploiting the public's trust in government (Allan 2010, pp70 & 72-76). This parallels how we need to reconsider the deficit model of communication which presents the scientific community and the public as a dipole, and instead find creative and inclusive solutions (Allan 2010, pp72-75). Watts and Vidal's appeal to democracy with an active and politically engaged citizenry replicates the notion of the intention of science being for the common good, as discussed by Gregory and Miller (Gregory & Miller 1998, p113). Watts and Vidal discuss the use of nuclear power in terms of the common good for the planet and suggest that States such as Ukraine and Japan cannot engage in risk of this nature independent of other nations. Similarly, we should not be seduced by economy, utility or ease when making decisions about our future energy needs and the welfare of our planet (Watts & Vidal 2011, p7). Watts and Vidal successfully communicate to the reader the limitations of the deficit model of communication between the science community and the public. If the public are to have a greater appreciation of science and risk then a relationship between the two must be forged which is more inclusive and reciprocal. discussion on nuclear power represents one such opportunity. The media articles'


REFERENCES Allan, S 2010, Media, Risk and Science, Open University Press, Buckingham Australian Law Postgraduate Network, 2009, Popular Media, accessed 15/4/2011, Baylis J, Smith, S, Owens P, 2008, The Globalisation of World Politics – An introduction to international relations 4e, Oxford University Press Inc., New York Chomsky, N 2002, 'A propaganda model' in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Random House, New York, pp1-35 Fairfax Media, 2011, Fairfax Digital, accessed 15/4/2011, Gregory, J & Miller, S 1998, 'Media issues in the public understanding of science', Science in public: communication, culture and credibility, Plenum Trade, New York, pp104-131 Irwin, A & Wynne, B 1996, 'Introduction', In A Irwin & B Wynne (eds.), Misunderstanding Science?: The Public Reconstruction of Science and Technology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge pp1-17 Louw, E 2010, The Media & Political Process, SAGE Publications Ltd, London Nelkin, D 1994, 'Promotional metaphors and their popular appeal', Public Understanding of Science, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp25-31 Rosenblum, M 1993, 'Who stole the news?', Who Stole the News?: Why We Can't Keep Up With What Happens in the World and What We Can Do About It, J. Wiley, New York, pp1-23 6

Vidal, J 2011, 'We must not forget Chernobyl', The Guardian Weekly, 8 April, p7 Watts, J 2011, 'Radioactive water released into sea' The Guardian Weekly, 8 April, p7

Jo McQuilty 8803294 Tuesday tut 5.30-7.30 Critical appraisal of media portrayal of science/technology sts288 17.4.2011


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