Category Archives: Japan

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…

5 years since Fukushima – and still nobody injured from radiation

Today five years have passed since one of the most horrendous catastrophes in human history shook the world. Warlike headlines and page after page of dystopian hysteria drowned most other news in media for days and weeks. I’m not referring to the tsunami in Japan 3/11/11 that killed almost 20 000 people and left 300 000 homeless. That part of events was overshadowed from the beginning, and soon forgotten entirely.

The catastrophe was of course the breakdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant by the same tsunami. To this day not a single individual has been injured from radiation, let alone killed. And despite continuing horror narratives about global pollution there will never be any deaths attributable to ionizing radiation from this accident. We are in other words dealing with an extremely unique example of an unbearable tragedy in which not a single person will be affected by the main evil: ionizing radiation.

That’s not to say that the harmful effects were nil. Thousands of people were debilitated in different ways by forced evacuation. They had to leave their homes and property and try to resume their lives in often primitive temporary shelters. After the similar accident in Chernobyl it was confirmed that the harm to many people were caused primarily by the forced relocations. And these harms included illnesses and premature deaths.

Like in Chernobyl the evacuations in Japan were based more on political and medial exaggerations than on knowledge in radiation biology and toxicology. (Swedish public radio did broadcast almost continuously on Fukushima for days after the accident. They seemed to find every nuclear power antagonist and self-proclaimed expert alive, and fill their schedule with endless repetitions of the same scaremongering. A few times a day they let through some scholar educated in science and with expertise on the subject, who considerably moderated the fear with some real knowledge. Often enough those interviews were ended in their most interesting phase with the usual “time’s up”.)

This five-year commemoration has passed surprisingly quiet in our media. Our main paper (Dagens Nyheter) had a couple of mentions the past week, one of which dealt with resettlement of villages now opened again, a process so far slow, in part because original inhabitants have become rooted elsewhere.

Perhaps this relative calm in media to some extent depends on appreciated clearing of minds. Hopefully even journalists at last have comprehended the fact that not a single person has been injured by radiation, proving that nuclear energy has some great advantages, also when it comes to safety. But that’s probably to have too high a regard for these Knights of Truth.