7 July 2012

The Lake District is being sacrificed to the spin doctors

By Marguerite Finn

Some people get very exercised over “freedom of the press” and hold it up as one of the most important elements of our democracy. Much evidence exists to prove that our press and our media generally are far from being independent and free from bias.

Some of the one-sided coverage of the situation in Syria is one example. How often do we hear of atrocities carried out by government forces with no mention of the death and destruction wrought by the armed opposition? We are never really told if the so-called “friends of Syria” (the foreign governments providing arms and training) want to sustain a people’s revolution or merely to effect a regime change to suit their own agendas.

However, I have an example that is much nearer to home. It comes from our beautiful Lake District. There is strong evidence of on-going collusion between government and the press to present to the public a biased view of the proposed storage of radioactive nuclear waste in the Lake District.

The NGO entitled Radiation Free Lakeland says: “There appears to be a desired and timetabled government narrative being presented to the public, aided and abetted by press collusion” and the NGO has written to Tim Farron MP expressing their concerns about this collusion between the government, the PR companies contracted to the Managing Radioactive Wastes Safely Partnership (MRWS) and the press. Radiation Free Lakeland’s letter to Tim Farron MP also states: “the results of a misleading Ipsos Mori Poll were leaked to Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times on 13th May. This is a full 9 days before the official announcement in Whitehaven on 22 May. The article was repeated in the Daily Mirror. Other national and local press have taken their cue from this to report: “Cumbrian Residents Support Nuclear Dump”

In contrast, Radiation Free Lakeland sent press releases to the national press about the Cumbria Parish and Town Councils’ opposition to a nuclear dump but nothing of that has ever made it into print.

The Sunday Times on 13thMay announced quite cheerily that “Britain may have found a final dumping ground for its vast stockpile of nuclear waste: deep under the Lake District. The dump, underneath farmland in west Cumbria, would become a graveyard for thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive waste built up by the nuclear industry since the 1940s.” This was jumping the gun in an irresponsible way when no such decision had been reached. The Sunday Times further insinuated that the Cumbrian councils had been swayed by “tens of millions of pounds in planning sweetners” and were prepared to support the idea of a dump – provided the incentives were right. This is the sort of malicious reporting that the Murdoch press often to indulges in.

But the future of the Lake District is at stake here and the issues deserve to be reported honestly. There are many fingers in this murky pie. The partnership between the PR companies and Managing Radioactive Wastes Safely (MRWS) is at the heart of discussions. Their aim is to persuade Cumbrians and the rest of us that it will be safe to store highly radioactive waste underground in the Lake District and that there will be no environmental repercussions.

Here’s how they plan to do that: in September 2011, two consultancies, Sedley Place and The Communications Group, were appointed by MRWS to carry out a study on whether the Cumbria and Lake District “brand name” would suffer from negative perceptions if the county were to take part in the Government’s search for a suitable underground repository for higher-activity radioactive waste. Cumbria and the Lake District have strong “brands” which benefit the tourism and food industries, as well as other sectors that trade off the area’s reputation. The study looked at the area as a tourism destination, as a place to live and work, a place to study and learn as well as a place to invest. The study found that Cumbria had a distinctive and valuable “brand” and that there was a potential risk to this brand if any of these categories believed the brand had become tainted or contaminated.

It set out ways in which the damage to the brand could be limited, managed and avoided and recommended putting in place a “phased communications campaign” using a variety of different communication methods. Richard Greenwood, head of policy and researchat Cumbria Tourism was pleased that the study outlined ways to deal with any risk to how the county could be perceived and noted that it would “help direct the thinking of the Partnership” – which suggested to me the willing acceptance of a positive spin being placed on each and every pronouncement to do with the geological disposal of nuclear waste in Cumbria.

How would we feel if the government was planning to bury nuclear waste under the Broads.
Those of us who know and love the Broads would not be very impressed if Broadland District Council appointed a consultancy to spin the advantages and minimise the dangers, in their search for the best spot.

That is what is happening in Cumbria. So much for a free and independent press.

I will end on an ironic note. There is already nuclear waste stored in Cumbria. It is stored above ground at Sellafield. Sellafield used to be called Windscale until there was a disastrous fire there in October 1957. It was the worst nuclear accident in Great Britain’s history. A nuclear reactor designed to produce plutonium for the UK’s nuclear weapons wasn’t making it as quickly as the government wished, so modifications were made beyond the reactor’s original design plan, which led to catastrophic overheating and substantial releases of radioactive contamination. However, in order that the nuclear disaster of Windscale should not give a negative perception to the “brand” of Cumbria and drive away the tourists and businesses, the name of the site was changed to Sellafield. No body mentions Windscale today. Windscale was rated at 5 on the INES scale,compared with Fukushima’s 7, but how many people know that, thanks to the PR consultancies.

Plus ca change . . . . .

Images: Keswick from Charity Shop Tourism; Sellafield in the 1950s

1 comment:

  1. I love the Lake District and have campaigned for most of my life against its irradiation. A shame then that this useful article on a subject heartfelt by me is marred by the irrelevant and rather-offensive remarks about the Syrian uprising, at its start.
    Luckily, however, help is at hand. I also received this morning the following email, signed by...M.Finn:

    "It is time again for a very interesting talk. This one will be held in the Friends Meeting House in Upper Goat Lane, Norwich at 1pm on Friday 20th July 2012.

    The title of the talk is “An Internal Perspective on Syria”.

    The talk will be given by Odai Alzoubi. Odai is currently completing a philosophy doctorate at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Odai was born in Damascus in 1981 and he has studied electrical engineering in Damascus University (1998-2004) and philosophy in Lebanese University (2003-2007). Odai has written several articles for Open Democracy. He totally supports the revolution and would like to give us some facts about the Syrian Revolution.

    His articles in Open Democracy can be found on the following links:



    This should be a very interesting and informative talk from someone who has grown up in the area and participated in the demonstrations.

    Do come if you can.

    Best wishes,

    Vice-Chair UNA (Norwich & District) Branch"