When Media is Nuked!: PK Sundaram

Guest post by PK SUNDARAM

After armed forces, nuclear establishment is another holy cow in the post-independence India. Our media does not only outsources all final judgements on nuclear issues to the nucleocrats, but has also happily joined them in slanders against the grassroots anti-nuclear movements.

We have seen the media discourse on nuclear weapons being shadowed almost entirely by national security and nuclear deterrence arguments. On the recent upsurge of mass protests against nuclear energy projects across the country, media is playing the official tune where people challenging these projects are reduced to illiterate crowd, foreign-funded groups, religious identities and even anti-nationals. On 24th this month, the Tamil newspaper Dinamalar published a story titled Truth and hype behind the Koodankulam row. This report is nothing but an utterly malicious piece of journalistic writing with ugly slanders against the leading activists of the ongoing anti-nuclear movement in Koodankulam – S P Udayakumar, M Pushparayan and M P Jesuraj.

Not only did the report called them US-funded spoilers who did not want Tamil Nadu to develop, it also questioned the motives of M. Jesuraj who coincidentally happen to be Christian priest. The thousands of agitating fisherfolk in Koodankulam, whose livelihood and safety is at stake, are Chiristians. When pushed to the wall, their social and religious organisations would become part of this agitation by default. But that becomes a stick for the government and media to whip. Going even a step further, Dinamalar published the personal details, phone numbers and email addresses of the three activists. After the publication of the story, these activists and their families have started receiving obscene and threatening calls. They have complained to the Press Council of India and Dinamalar’s Editor pointing the “criminal intent of inciting public anger and outrage” and “provoking the public to attack.”

Questioning ‘development’ is anti-national, and even more so if minorities questions

The government has recently slapped sedition charges against people in Koodankulam. Criminal charges have been slapped against 3,015 people, including 121 (waging war against country) and 124-A (sedition). These charges came in the immediate context of the protests on 21st November (World Fisheries Day), when around thousand fisher-folk, with women and children, took out a demonstration on around 400 boats in the mid sea in front of the reactor site, with black flags, banners and slogans. (Pics can be seen here)

Even as the central government has posed to conduct consultation with local people to “allay their fears”, the government used every slander and trick to weaken the protesters’ position and credibility. In the very press meet where the PMO state minister V Narayanswamy promised that the 50 questions raised by the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) are genuine and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) will answer them very soon, he questioned the source of funding of the movement, wondering how can it sustain for such a long time. He later called the protests ‘motivated.’ Around the same time, “senior intelligence officials” were quoted by media to be doing religious profiling of the movement. The tamil Nadu police registered cases against Christian priests as “using of a place of worship to air anti-governmental campaign is a crime.” The Hindu fundamentalist organisations soon joined the chorus , asking for arrest of Christian anti-nationals.  In this backdrop, the story in Dinamalar is hardly an aberration.

While the protestors in Koodankulam become Christians, anti-Russia and US-funded, those in Jaitapur are anti-France and all just Shiv Sena mercenaries of Madban or Muslim fishermen of the Nate village, in Mithi Virdi (Gujarat) they are anti-US and perhaps funded by Russia! The government that has presided over worst cash-for-votes scam to get the nuclear deal through, hired and later awarded crony NRI lobbyists for the US Congress and promised reactor purchases without comprehensive evaluation is using every method to malign the movements.

Anil Chaudhary of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) shares a similar story of releasing some statements recently with signatures of prominent citizens and intellectuals – on Koodankulam and the Nuclear Liability Rules – to the media, only to find later that the other side of the story doesn’t find a place.

Fomenting religious divides is just not working

Fishing communities are in particularly threatened by the nuclear power project as the residual hot water, left after cooling of the reactors, would be sent back to the sea raising its temperature by at least 5 degrees. This would lead to drastic fall in the fish-catch, as it has happened world over in the vicinity of nuclear power plants. Besides the hot water and brine coming out from desalination plant that stand to threaten the marine life, the fishing will also be ruined by the presence of permanent security apparatus that has become a necessity to guard nuclear facilities and whose expenses are not counted in the production cost of nuclear power. The government, the nuclear establishment and the media have tried to divide Koodankulam protests along religious lines as fishermen are Christians and the farmers in the area are mostly Hindus. But it could not succeed beyond the media hype, because even the farmers have come to oppose the project strongly, particularly after Fukushima accident which is still ongoing and will have dangerous consequences for next few decades. Chettikulam, the only village in the immediate periphery of the reactor site that was supporting the project over last so many years, has come out recently against the project. The villagers of Chettikulam organised their first anti-nuclear meeting – attended by at least 6-7 thousand people, mostly women – on 12th November, ironically in the same week when the national media had declared that the nuclear patriarch Dr. Kalam has quelled all the unfounded fears!

Mystique of nuclear technology and arrogance of growth

Our media has been overly generous to Dr. Kalam, with The Hindu offering him almost its 2 full pages to write paeans to nuclear energy when it is under a worldwide criticism and decline and declaring Koodankulam plant to be 100% safe. While several prominent independent scientists have questioned the arguments and facts with which Dr. Kalam was briefed by the DAE in its PR campaign, his article and his articulations in the Chennai press conference were based on an ‘India 2020’ dream based on unhindered growth, high degree consumption and urbanisation – which is both unsustainable and simple impossible. No matter howsoever our middle classes love the American dream, for it to materialize in a country of India’s size, we would need to colonize another planet. Yes, our elite is trying the inward-looking alternative of working on a rather smaller India by condemning rest of the population to starvation deaths, displacement and brutal “hunts”, but even this doesn’t seem to be working as seamlessly, despite full support by large sections of the media.

Nuclear technology is yet another magic wand supposed to catapult us into that Promised Land. The mythology goes something like this: India needs development, development means growth, growth needs energy, energy means electricity, and then nuclear is the cheapest, safest, most reliable/sustainable form of energy to produce electricity. There are misconceptions, lies and vested interests facing us at each of these layers is something that we are made to forget in the arrogant pursuit of this dangerously simplified formula. And not only the mainstream reporters who have a penchant for reproducing official press releases verbatim as breaking news, our leading Editors also strongly hold the inherent risks associated with nuclear technology as worth taking for. On 31st October, the Indian Express editorial asked: “How long will it take the government to muster its political will (to credibly engage with legitimate fears and wilful misrepresentation) while India’s nuclear future is forced to recede?”

In all this debate on Koodankulam and nuclear power, the urgency to see India developed has overshadowed several genuine questions regarding safety as well as the project’s affects on people’s livelihoods and a fragile ecology. The protesters have asked for the documents related to safety preparations, site selection, environmental impacts etc which the govt is reluctant to share. When the government has shamelessly reduced the nuclear suppliers’ ‘product liability period’ to mere 5 years when a nuclear power plants operates for 40-60 years and dangerous radioactivity has a life of hundreds of years, why are the government ‘experts’ and their complying media outlets bent on telling common people to risk their lives.

Reducing the question of nuclear safety into design safety may prove to be a dangerous folly. Nuclear radiation has its impacts for generations and leads to genetic mutations that can endanger us as a species. Nuclear reactors can run into problems not only because of inherent design problems that are obviously there, but also because of a range of factors that are beyond us: our knowledge of seismology and climatology is still evolving; we cannot guarantee that political and social circumstances around these reactors will remain same for coming thousands of years. The recent fierce protests against a nuclear waste dump in Germany’s Gorleben is  instructive: the site was selected on the border of East Germany by the then West Germany as rulers thought it will be secured by army always and will be safe as it is surrounded by rivers on three sides. Now, after the German wall is no more, Gorleben is a bustling town right on the middle of several important transport routes. So, Dr. Kalam’s, Dalai Lama’s, our mainstream media’s and the great middle classes’ analogy of risks everywhere: in driving a car, attending a seminar, even having food, does not apply to nuclear when we take into account its long-term and far more dangerous consequences.

Veteran peace activist and India’s former Chief of Naval Staff recently argued: war is too serious a matter to be left to generals. By the same token, it is time to ask if nuclear decisions are far too serious to be left to nuclear scientists, the nuclear industry and the nuclear techno- politicians!

Shouldn’t we also add the media in this list where independent inquiry gives way to the official experts’ empty assurances and journalists are experts in selling the great Indian growth dream?

(The author is Editor of DiaNuke.org, a website on Dialogues and Resources on Nuclear, Nature and Society.)

7 thoughts on “When Media is Nuked!: PK Sundaram”

  1. this is indeed extremely painful to learn that how aggressive, violent and coercive our national growth model has become. although growth model was always aggressive but now its unfathomable violence has achieved undue proportion . and this model of growth is supported by hedonism prevalent in the class which enjoys resources. the narrow domains of self – centered professionals dis -allows them to respond to such critical situations where nuclear energy has become synonymous with zingoism.but koodanculam is the condensed symptom of the suppression that needs to be kept/ hidden under the geo- political carpet of the national building project to preserve high brow national pride . this nationalism propelled by nuclear energy will only delude people as in the economy of attracting international gaze , we will always be at loss in spite of having hypocritical claims to the prophecy of non violence . it is really very sad that democratic structures are being exploited ,manipulated and mis interpreted by the state apparatus to resort to the brutal and naked force. But this is only an emerging trend in koodanculam , which will engulf lot many other parts of the country in years to come.
    Journalism is doomed to confirm the common sense of majority and therefore it can only be morally examined in such critical situations, where critique of common sense become in-dispensable. And we should not forget the treatise on media of Noam Chomsky that it is structured to manufacture consent in the favor of power. We repose again and again hopes in the journalism that it can give space to dissidents and non conformists. But we will have to live with this despair as journalism can never take risks to go against the interest of majority and passionate jingoism that celebrates exclusive model of economic growth as market segmentation agenda resorted by journalism to cater the majority is divisive .
    The fraud of deterrent theory has established itself in the common sense because pacifism could not base its root in our soil for the passionate ideology of taking vendetta. Still agitates jingoists . The plight of Christian is manifold and their stigmatization by chauvinists is extremely un-fortunate. But those with conscience will always feel l that our democratic institutions have been stigmatized. But sadly , the public domain will be governed by repression of such issues and hegemony to seek pleasures and avoid painful issues will prevail.
    Deependra baghel


  2. one thing for sure is that nuclear industry harbours the deadliest, most secretive & ruthless investments in power & control… media, governments & environments are small fry.

    Exposure of these massive crimes against a non-radio-active future is desperately needed now!! i hope you get the vast support needed to counter this most aggressive media cover-up, so saving generations from exposure to radiation sickness… & learning from the health of Chernobyl & Fukishima…. the most recent TEPCO report is claiming the Japanese earthquake caused “little damage” to the nuclear reactor!!!!?????!!!!


  3. It is difficult for me to see how any of the various religions that believe in a creative deity (my religion, for example) would choose to bring the mutation of radiation to prominence. Also, if one were for progress, isn’t solar power also progress? It is more than just progress, for it does not come with radiation, nor steam explosion, nor complicated operation, nor the need for gigantic expense. I believe this is the main reason nuclear is actually chosen: gigantic expense, large bribes.




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