The April 11th edition of Nikkei Shimbun, Japan's top financial newspaper, ran an interview with Yuri Okina, Executive Vice President of the National Institute for Research Advancement. In the interview, which is titled "Japan Needs English-Language Press Conferences," she touches on linguistic issues that have affected foreign media coverage of the earthquake and tsunami. In keeping with fine Japanese tradition, it is only available in the print edition (p. 11 for those who happen to subscribe), so I am posting a translation of a relevant excerpt here. Nikkei's questions are indicated in italics.
We hear you have issues with the way information about the earthquake and disaster has been disseminated.
Okina: A vast quantity of information has been broadcast, published, and posted in the wake of the disaster. Foreign mass media put a great deal of effort into covering the impact of the earthquake and tsunami. The seriousness of the situation was widely reported abroad by international television stations such as CNN and newspaper reporters from Europe, China, and across Asia. But that said, even a non-specialist such as myself was struck by inaccuracies in much of the foreign reporting of the situation regarding the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Narita Airport was flooded with foreigners attempting to flee in the wake of the accidents at the nuclear plants.
Okina: I attribute that to the fact that neither the government nor TEPCO did enough to communicate the facts of the situation in English. As a result, foreign journalists began to get the idea that "Japan is hiding something" or "they aren't telling us the truth" which contributed to coverage that heightened anxieties. This in turn led to a sense around the world that all of Japan was in serious danger. Countries restricted the imports of Japanese foods and products, and tourists cancelled plans to visit even areas of Japan unaffected by the disaster.
There is an urgent need to improve the ability of Japan's civilian and government agencies to communicate objective facts about the situation to those abroad. The government held daily press conferences led by Chief Cabinet Secretary [Edano] for the domestic audience, but they also need to directly engage the foreign media with press conferences that disseminate proper information in other languages. And they should add scientists who can interpret the situation to the mix as well, since a firm grounding in science is necessary to understand the problems with the reactors.