Friday, July 2, 2010

DN's lousy journalism on the oil spill

 Photo credit: NASA, Taken from wikimedia commons

Oil is still leaking from BP's collapsed Deep Water Horizon rig, and has been doing so since 20th April.
Infographic world have posted a nice overview of what has happened so far (click on the image for readable
size). What will happen in the future is impossible to say, but the effects may be immense and profound.

BP have dealt with the catastrophe in a way that makes you wonder what the difference is between a democracy like the US and a dictatorship like China really is. Tidbits of information have been served to the public, but free and critical investigations have been consciously obstructed. Isn't that a crime? Shouldn't it bea crime? Shouldn't it at least piss journalists off?

It pisses some people off, notably the journalists in Lousiana who try to do their work, but on this side of the Atlantic, the otrage is absent.

The Huffington posts reports that journalists are not even allowed to visit a compound where an unknown number of workers and locals are treated for unknown diseases. Isn't that a bigger problem than BP's Swedish chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg's faux pas, that has preoccupied much of the Swedish press?

The interest in Svanberg could be explained as a mere provncialism. Here I want to focus on an article I find much more disturbing - this one, published on Dagens Nyheter's homepage 28th of June, and obviously judged important since it is still there today, 2nd of July.

Few animals die from oil, Dagens Nyheter claims in the headline, more exactly 1.573 birds, and refer to Olof Lindén, Prof. Maritime Management at World Maritime University in Malmö, Sweden.

This is the infomration that is served in the lead paragraph - a limited number of birds die, and that is a fact verified by science.

If we continue reading, we find that Prof. Lindén has not done any research whatsoever himself - DN presents him with the number of dead birds, coming form BP themselves. He thinks that it is not much, and ponder why this is so.

We have no reason to doubt Lindéns knowledge, but foreign readers should know that he has been in controversies before, when he told politicians that the Nord Stream baltic pipeline wouldn't have big environmental effets. Guess who funded that research - the Nord Stream company.

All in all, Dagens Nyheter's article looks very much like something that came out of the BP PR department. The article is presented as an answer to an earlier article, based on an article in the Guardian, claiming that BP kills sea turtles while trying to burn oil away form the water.

If we presume that this is all correct - a limited number of birds and other animals have been found dead in the Mexican gulf, Dagens Nyheter's text is still deeply problematic. It either shows a fantastic incompetence, or an attempt at deceiving readers.

The number of dead birds and the total environmental impact are two very different things. The Guardian reports that scientists are suspecting that a dead zone without oxygene has formed around the oil spill. This kills animals, but more important it moves them to different habitats. Ecology is a system of interdependencies, and a dead zone anywhere is bound to have effects everywhere.

Unlike Dagens Nyheter, the Guardian are quoting researchers who have actually been at the site (I adore Malmö as a city, but it is very far from Louisiana, US). They are much more pessimistic than BP PR staff, and Prof. Lindén. Given the outcry against BP's attempts at censorship, one could ask why Dagens Nyheter let the company spokesmen stand unchallenged in an article. One could also ask why the article discusses wether 406 or 425 turtles have died when the real impact lies elsewhere. Does the journalist at Dagens Nyheter not understand that? Or does she not want to write it?

I think both.

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