Media coverage of the quake and tsunami in Japan

Maria Jose Gonzalez tkarsavina at
Sat Mar 19 11:14:09 EDT 2011

Thanks for your insights,Roger.I have been dismayed at the coverage myself and the endless lists of lies,misinterpretations and ignorance/arrogance in all the European media.I turned on to the BBC World channel yesterday and only lasted three minutes.A special correspondent sent from China appeared on the screen.This has been key to the whole issue,most journalists are now based there,not in Japan,and have thus little or no language skills and surprisingly very little general and basic knowledge about Japan which has suffered greatly from this absence since newspapers and TV channels decided that they had to move to the new economic power in the area.This correspondent was about to interview Chinese nationals waiting outside their embassy and happily introduced his report by saying that "more than half of the workers in Japanese factories are Chinese"... Stunned,I switched off.A few days earlier,Spain's most important paper announced that the Japanese
 emperor in an extremely unusual move had addressed their people for the first time in history...When I complained,they said they had not taken into account official acts but addresses like this in a time of crisis.I then asked if addressing the nation for the first time to announce inconditional surrender after the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WW2 was crisis enough for them.They ended up elastoplasting the article here and there with little interest.Of course,the news theatre has now moved elsewhere and Japan,or should I say the foreigners in Japan whose fate so seemed to worry their governtments and the media,forgetting the real victims,does not feature as prominently today.After all,the big nuclear explosion did not happen and their audiences might be getting tired of yet another funny report about those odd Japanese.A while ago,I was watching a press conference organised by the Tokyo Fire Brigade chiefs that had travelled to Fukushima to
 help.One of them was really moved and teary trying to convey the disaster zones he had travelled through (by the way,foreign media has discovered-and made a big point of-the capacity of the Japanese to cry) while another,ten times more verbally able and confidence-exuding than any of the Tepco engineers and Nuclear Agency spokesmen,explained how they had carried their operations and stretched their hosepipes to better dose the reactors.While he was doing so,he was showing a photocopied diagram to which he had added some fire brigade cars in red,I found this most endearing and called my attention again to the whiteboards with written words and numbers we had seen all week.What in other countries would have been simulations,powerpoints and slides,here had been basically pen and paper or board.
Long again,apologies,so much to reflect upon...
Maria-Jose Gonzalez
--- On Sat, 19/3/11, Roger Macy <macyroger at> wrote:

From: Roger Macy <macyroger at>
Subject: Media coverage of the quake and tsunami in Japan
To: "KineJapan" <KineJapan at>
Date: Saturday, 19 March, 2011, 9:45 PM



Media coverage of the quake and 
tsunami in Japan
Dear KineJapaners,
I was also glad to have the silence on this 
list broken and to hear from friends.  
I sincerely hope that those I have not yet heard from are safe and do not 
have friends or relatives afflicted by these tragedies.
There have been direct and 
indirect references to media coverage of the disaster on the threads 
‘Fundraising Screening of CALF …’ and ‘the eerie silence on KineJapan …’ [which 
we have well-and-truly broken!].  
But I would like to hear of members’ takes on the coverage when they are 
ready.  My own contribution is a 
little long, so feel free to file or delete.
When I turned on this Saturday 
morning, here in the UK,  just 
before 8am (in fact, to set my radio timer), there was a studio interview 
started, on BBC News 24, in a ‘Newswatch’ slot, of Kevin Blackhurst., who I see 
is Controller of the channel.
I should straightway give some 
credit that the interview took place, even though, to me, Blackhurst this week 
has seemed like pornographer-in-chief.  
The interviewer (didn’t get a name) was relaying viewers’ complaints that 
the BBC and other channels had unnecessarily despatched and fronted star 
reporters, when some pooling with other channels, namely ITN news, would have 
been more appropriate, and that the reporting had been too excitable.  Blackhurst posited that his people were 
reporting, not presenting, a proposition with which I absolutely disagree.  He also answered in a way that the 
‘that’ he purported to be answering was the presentation of the nuclear 
situation, not the actual disaster that has actually already happened.  To my mind, that was a full admission of 
The other topic of viewers’ – no, 
the audience’s – complaints that I heard was not being able to hear the 
headlines over the jingles. In this brief discussion  ‘hear’ and ‘understand’ were used 
interchangeably – an equivalence that is fundamentally misconceived for 
reporting from a non-english-speaking country.  This, to me, was the subject that should 
have been discussed and wasn’t.
The jingles for 8am then came on 
– somewhat muted, I thought - and the Libyan situation was covered.  When we got to

 Japan , a named reporter was interviewed with a 
 Tokyo backdrop and presented only the 
situation concerning the nuclear plants at
 Fukushima .  We were told that the
 Fukushima fifty were 
getting massive amounts of radiation. “Massive” was a naked epithet, given fully 
pornographic emphasis. [ I have read, read in the Guardian, I think, that 
that the team had been both considerably reinforced and rotated – any 
clarification gratefully received.] He did say that radiation in
 Tokyo was negligible but that was it – nothing else in 

 Japan was newsworthy – onto the next 
story, this one’s dying.
To my mind, it’s the editing 
that’s at fault.  The stars perform 
as directed.  Nothing gets 
corrected.  The nearest to a 
correction is that ‘large/massive earthquake in
 Tokyo ’ on Radio4 gets superseded by maps.  But we were told, for example, that 
several trains were missing, including a shinkansen with 400 people and we get 
shown pictures of mangled local trains.  
I’m told that the Japanese media have reported that all trains were 
evacuated, but desensationalizing isn’t newsworthy.
I had sworn, after the 
Twin-towers attack, and its toll of time and depression, never again to inflict 
upon myself those weeks of woefully edited news.  It should not, in 2001, have taken weeks 
for the purported death toll to come down below 100,000 and for us to understand 
that just about everyone below the impacts had got out.  Numbers, thankfully, seem to one thing 
our transported stars seem to be able to pick up, so the casualties, although of 
an appalling magnitude, are already being reported more responsibly than in 
2001. [But they have to be served up in western numerals for them; ‘daiichi’ is 
conveyed as a place name.]  Alas, 
that responsibility seems to be confined to that one ‘island’ where they are 
following the Japanese media.
The complaint I hear here is of 
the sheer imposition and insensitivity of imposing our stars upon the 
hospitality of desperate people in need - and there are, after all, hundreds of 
national audiences to be entertained by different teams.  I accept that conveying the tragedy and 
getting a sense that some survived is important news reporting and is 
best done by interview.  But if the 
interviewees need to be translated, what is gained by having an english-speaking 
interviewer? – given that so much understanding and initiative has to be lost in 
the process?  More importantly, in 
terms of ethnic prejudice, why is a victim report only true if mediated through 
an english-speaking star?
Lack of language skills in the 
newsroom is deplorable but actually surmountable in this media age, with a 
little humility.  Since many clips 
are endlessly repeated in ‘breaking news’, a posting on-line would rapidly 
elicit a translation (which should, for safety’s sake, be attributed).  If newsrooms want to  prefer voice-overs to subtitles they 
will doubtless pursue that.  Even 
without necessity, there is some acceptance of small-screen subtitles 
but, in any case, there is no excuse for ducking both formats and bluffing it 
out without star-led descriptions of pictures already seen.  By that stage, we have descended to 
something that should fairly be called pornography
Postscript: clearly, I did not 
keep my media-self-denying vow, to my bitter regret.  It’s harder, of course, with everyone 
phoning to ask after my daughter, sensationalised by coverage by more unbridled 
pornography elsewhere.  [Mrs 
Kamahara is fine in Tokyo, a bit demoralised like others, about the ex-pats 
leaving, but happy that her sister-in-law with a baby to feed has gone down to 
the family in Nara. And she’s found toilet-paper.]
If you got this far, thanks for 
reading it.

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