Fake news as an old media speciality

“Fake news” is on every editor’s mind these days, and one could say that it’s about time, because there’s very much more to it than hits the eye today. It runs back in human history, probably till the very beginning, that people have lived in a world where myth, saga and intuitive senses of evidence have ruled, parallel to rationality and empirical facts. We are told that the Enlightenment marks the turning point at which reason and logic became the real hallmarks of human development. Would that it were.

We will probably never get rid of irrational spirituality, sometimes perhaps for benign reasons, but sometimes for unnecessarily stupid ones. Earnest media have double identities on this question, by both taking their enlightening task seriously but also nurturing specific myths and prejudice that has become “official truths”. Media have in any way a crucial role in forming the prevailing narrative.

There are innumerable examples, so let’s start with the toughest one: nuclear energy. We have just passed the 6th anniversary of one of the most tragic peacetime catastrophes that has ever hit Japan, the tsunami of 2011, which in most media now is renamed “The Fukushima disaster”. It’s indeed a remarkable disaster in which not a single individual has been injured, let alone killed. The real disaster – the tsunami itself – is repressed, and the almost 20,000 human beings that it killed seems forgotten.

The consequences of the Fukushima reactor breakdown, such as evacuations and decontaminations activities, were largely exaggerated due to public pressure, intensified by media and ordered by sensitive politicians. An important fact for perspective: there are areas on earth where people have lived for thousands of years with ten times higher radiation levels than those in the evacuated areas in Japan (look up “Ramsar”, for instance) and with no adverse health effects.

Already 25 years earlier the world had endured a similar event, Chernobyl, without media and others learning anything. More than a hundred of the world’s foremost experts on the subject made a deep and thorough study under UN auspices. Its findings contradict almost everything that had grown into the official narrative. They concluded that the damage on society, including the premature deaths among the public, was mainly a consequence of misguided actions by authorities, including unnecessary evacuations (reference: UNSCEAR 2000).

(One of the few Russians we like – Svetlana Alexievich – received the Nobel Prize in Literature, mainly for her reportage books. One of these covered the Chernobyl events and consisted of interviews with numerous people involved in the accident. A short review: it’s hard to find one single claimed fact in the book that is even close to true.)

Opposition to nuclear energy has become a journalistic faith, not surprisingly. It’s the perfect issue for keeping audiences alarmed at a convenient level, at the same time presenting a low probability that someone gets to call the cards. It’s likewise with other environmental issues suitable for alarmism. Organic products of all kinds are highest fashion here, as elsewhere in “enlightened” countries. And indeed, it sounds a natural thing.

About once a year my newspaper admits space for some scholars from our University of Agriculture to explain that organic farming has very little or nothing to do with environmental protection or health improvement (but the more to price increases). On some parameters, it may be slightly better than traditional farming, but on others it is clearly inferior. Among the former one finds the low level of pesticide residues, which on the other hand is an illusory victory. The pesticide risk we face is namely wildly exaggerated. The total amount of such chemicals we get through food in an entire year pose the same cancer risk as one single cup of coffee.

There’s more to this issue, but already too long, it’s time for an intermission…

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