‘You are the first journalist and you are the last journalist who will ever come here’: Nuclear secrets and media practices of access-trespass

In India, information about nuclear technologies is often kept shrouded in secrecy. Science reporters covering such strategic sectors depend for information on cultivating sources and pursuing contacts in the nuclear establishment. Based on in-depth interviews with two science/environmental journalists and analysis of their television reports and magazine articles, I show how journalists are acutely aware of their role as mediators between scientists and their complex technological projects on the one hand and the general public on the other. Reporting on ‘secret’ nuclear sciences makes concerns of objectivity and bias in journalistic practice strategic: if journalists are considered pro-nuclear, they have a better chance of accessing nuclear reactor and space research sites. Journalists and scientists co-design and co-stage experiments to be witnessed by the television audiences, and I argue for a close analysis of these mutual entanglements of scientific processes and media practices to understand the performative mediations of environmental debates. Furthermore, I examine how television studio and split-screen management affords news anchors a strategic advantage in confronting politicians and science experts with questions about the risk and safety of scientific projects – an advantage that is not equally available to journalists while accessing strategic technoscience sites.

Rahul Mukherjee

Dick Wolf Assistant Professor of Television and New Media Studies
Assistant Professor of English
University of Pennsylvania

Research Interests