Media coverage of the quake and tsunami in Japan

Lindsay Nelson lrnelson at
Sat Mar 19 11:00:48 EDT 2011

I agree that the media coverage has been orientalist in nature--in
particular, the media seems to shift between a sort of condescending praise
of "the wisdom of the Japanese" and a general mistrust / criticism of the
Japanese and their government (insinuating that the Japanese are naive for
not being more alarmed by the nuclear plant issue, that the foreign media
has a much better grasp of the situation than the Japanese media, and that
the Japanese government and TEPCO cannot be trusted).


On Sat, Mar 19, 2011 at 7:37 AM, Dolores Martinez <dm6 at> wrote:

> Interesting comments, Roger.
> Some things I would add: that few of the star reporters speak Japanese (few
> may be too kind, perhaps none would be best).  This was most noticeable with
> the Guardian, who recalled (my old student) Jonathan Watts from Beijing to
> do the human interest stories because he has incredibly good Japanese (and
> is literate as well).
> A colleague was interviewed by BBC radio last weekend and asked if the
> Japanese were genetically adapted to surviving earthquakes.  And I did a
> pre-interview with Newsnight in which I refused to say that the Japanese
> were somehow very different from the rest of us in how they were dealing
> with the crisis.  We mutually agreed that I would not appear...
> Except for Watts' stuff, it has all been very Orientalist I think and very
> upsetting that a  human tragedy and crisis has been reduced to 'how odd
> these Japanese are.'
> Lola
> On 19 March 2011 12:45, Roger Macy <macyroger at> wrote:
>>  *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 guilt.
>> 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.
>> Roger
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