Monday, January 22, 2007

The Hidden Back-Story

In a recent item I invoked the concept of a "nuclear power Renaissance." I had appropriated this language from what I took to be an investigative report in SPIEGEL ONLINE, which had prompted me to consider at least one possible counter-argument in my previous blog. However, reading this morning has led me to wonder about the objectivity of this report, if not in the content then at least in the timing of its release. What the report failed to mention is that Germany, itself, is currently experiencing what Financial Times report Bertrand Benoit called "acrimonious debate" over a commitment that the previous administration had made in 2000 to phase out nuclear power. Merkel has decided to honor this commitment, in spite of the consequences forecast in the lead sentence of Benoit's report:

Germany’s plan to phase out nuclear energy will make it miss its CO2 emission targets, raise electricity prices, cause more blackouts and "dramatically" increase Berlin’s dependence on imported Russian gas, an independent study has warned.

In an earlier article Benoit and his colleagues had indicated that Merkel was not at all happy about this commitment:

Ms Merkel has never made any secret of her aversion to the deal, struck in June 2000 between the Social Democratic government of the time and energy producers, to take Germany’s nuclear power stations off the grid by 2020.

Yet as chancellor of a “grand coalition” between the SPD and her Christian Democratic Union, she agreed in the contract signed in November 2005 by the two parties that the law governing the nuclear phase-out “could not be amended”.

“It is very unlikely that the SPD will change its mind on this and, if it does not, it will be very hard to achieve anything in the life of this parliament,” an official close to Ms Merkel said, suggesting that the chancellor might make it an issue of the CDU’s next electoral campaign, in 2009.

In other words Merkel is in the extremely uncomfortable position of having to weigh energy policy consequences, environmental consequences (of the sort I had tried to raise in my previous blog), and political consequences against each other.

This now puts Falksohn's report in SPIEGEL ONLINE in a less favorable light. By restricting the focus of the article to energy policy and then setting that policy in a global context ("all the other kids are doing it"), Falksohn ignored both the environmental and the political sides of the story. Addressing the global environment is as painful as it is difficult, particularly since we neither have nor can expect any sort of global authority for setting and accounting for energy policy. On the other hand neglecting the political side leads one to wonder whether or not the article appeared when it did in order to fuel that "acrimonious debate," giving the opponents of the nuclear phase-out the bully pulpit of a respected publication for the general German public.

Given the general suspicion I now hold for American "mass media" as a source of information, I have enjoyed the SPIEGEL decision to set up an English site. That is why it is on my WHAT I READ list, along with Al Jazeera English. However, I have a pretty good model of what I can expect from Al Jazeera (thanks, in part, to the documentary Control Room, which was perceptive about both sides of their coin). I am not as well informed about any biases that may be implicit in the "editorial culture" at SPIEGEL. I see now that I am going to have to read their articles more carefully, even when those articles purport to be objective reports!

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