Media coverage of the quake and tsunami in Japan

Dolores Martinez dm6 at
Sat Mar 19 10:37:27 EDT 2011

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.'

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
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...

More information about the KineJapan mailing list