Jun 1 1987

Nuclear Broadcasting Company?

Nuclear Peacock (Howard Saunders)On March 11, NBC News broadcast a documentary, Nuclear Power: In France It Works, that could have passed for a lengthy nuclear power commercial. Missing from anchorman Tom Brokaw’s introduction was the fact that NBC’s owner, General Electric, is America’s second-largest nuclear power salesman and third-largest producer of nuclear weapons systems.

The NBC News crew toured France as if on a pilgrimage to the atomic land of Oz, off to see the wizardry of safe nuclear reactors. “Looking at a foreign country where nuclear power is a fact of life may restore some reason to the discussion at home,” said correspondent Steve Delaney. “In most countries, especially in the US, emotions drive the nuclear debate, and that makes rational dialogue very difficult.”

Having sung the praises of the French nuclear industry, the documentary stumbled over the critical issue of disposing of lethal nuclear waste, some of which remains radioactive for dozens of centuries or longer. All it could offer was:

The French will probably succeed in their disposal plan for the same reasons the rest of their nuclear program works…. The French have more faith than we do in the government’s competence to manage the nuclear program, and the French government has less tolerance for endless dissent.

Unfortunately, faith and intolerance for dissent will not solve nuclear power problems, even in France. One month after the NBC documentary, there were accidents at two French nuclear installations, injuring seven workers. The Christian Science Monitor wrote of a “potentially explosive debate” in France, with new polls showing a third of the French public opposing nuclear power. While the accidents received significant play in our leading dailies (and dominated the French media), the story was not reported on NBC News.

FAIR does not allege that GE ordered, inspired or shaped the documentary, but a GE-owned company broadcast it. Our society demands full financial disclosure from politicians and government officials. Shouldn’t we also demand that the media disclose their financial ties when they produce news stories or documentaries that could impact on the profits of their corporate parent?

“We don’t think an advisory is necessary,” spokeswoman Helen Manasian told Extra!. “The division operates independently of our parent.”