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Anne-Claude Ambroise Rendu

Chernobyl, an ecological catastrophe: the regiment of false information

Le Temps des médias n° 30, Printemps 2018, p. 152-173.

DrapeauFrancais

The media coverage of the catastrophe that took place on the 28th April 1986 in the nuclear power station of Chernobyl in the Ukraine combined all the modalities of false information. Subjected to an imperative leaving close to no space to indecision or the undecidable the media covered the accident and its consequences to the best of their abilities. Indeed, the myth of the toxic cloud, said to have spared all of France- a specimen of the so called “canard” (fake news), the newspapers of the XIX criticised- was quickly challenged. It consequently dominated the debates and became a subject in itself : In what way is false information spread ? However, factuality is not equal to truth and when the former is unachievable than the latter is generally of a more controversial nature. This was the case for the reflection on sanitary damages caused by the passing of the famous toxic cloud, whose passing remains to this day a controversial subject. This article takes another look at the regiments of falseness that constituted the framework for this long during saga : The falseness due to lack of information, the falseness because of the withholding of information, the falseness resulting from various types of state-lead manipulation, and finally the falseness defined by an epistemic failure- considering the difficulty journalists encountered when covering a subject that was both technical and “explosive”. If the media did diffuse false information, that is less due to professional insufficiency than to the combination of various factors amongst which the expert’s reluctance to share information, considered embarrassing and/or troublesome, with the journalists and the public must be highlighted. This was furthered by politicians who were withholding information, worried of shaking the public confidence in the nuclear industry. Fully condemned since the 8th May 1986, this particular practice is synonymous of this “government of secrets that is characteristic of the most nuclearized country in the world”. However, it was up to journalists to finally provide the public with the access to information. By doing so it was them who reconstructed a public and democratic sphere previously jeopardized by the authorities’ habit of withholding information.

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