It’s of critical importance—indeed, existential importance—to the world: the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. And a coalition of peace organizations in the United States is charging that media are acting like the treaty “does not exist.”
The Nuclear Ban Treaty Collaborative is waging a campaign to encourage press coverage of the treaty, which, it argues, “provides the only pathway to a safe, secure future free of the nuclear threat” (Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance Newsletter, 6/22).
But its provisions only apply to nations which are party to it. Countries with nuclear weapons—including the United States, Russia and China—have not. Instead, “so far, they have refused, boycotted meetings, and even pressured countries not to sign on,” the Federation of American Scientists has noted (FAS, 1/22/09).
Media attention vital
Media attention is vital if the TPNW is to become a reality. But as the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), a member of the Collaborative, explained in its June newsletter:
The last time the New York Times mentioned the TPNW was October of 2020, when Honduras became the 50th nation to ratify the Treaty, triggering its Entry in Force. In all the coverage of nuclear weapons since then, including a surge since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the TPNW has not been mentioned once.
National Public Radio has had four significant reports about nuclear weapons in the last three months, including a seven minute report on Sunday, March 27. None of the reports mentioned the TPNW—the last time NPR mentioned it was in January 2021 when it reported on the Treaty’s entry into force, noting it was a significant treaty becoming international law. Since then, crickets.
CNN is marginally better. A search of the website for “nuclear weapons” turns up almost daily reports; but the Treaty on the Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons gets only one mention—an op-ed on May 3 from Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
The Collaborative is calling for media to cover the treaty whenever reporting on the threat of nuclear weapons.
Plenty of nuclear talk
Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of OREPA, said in an interview:
What became alarming was that there was a revival of coverage of nuclear weapons after Vladimir Putin made his threat. In all those articles we seemed to be locked into Cold War thinking which ignores the reality that an alternative to “mutually assured destruction” exists: the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. And yet there was nothing.Indeed, according to a search of the Nexis news database, US newspapers have mentioned “nuclear weapons” 5,243 times between February 24, when Putin began talking about their potential use in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and August 4. Only 43 of those times included a mention of the treaty; the great majority of these were letters to the editor or opinion columns.