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April 11, 2011

Comments

Dan

"A vast quantity of information has been broadcast, published, and posted in the wake of the disaster." This might be nitpicking, but I think the problem is that a vast quantity of speculation and empirical data has come out, but not information regarding the situation.

The Japanese and foreign media were both starved for information, and the government/TEPCOs disclosure policies warrant suspicion (incompetence is always a likely suspect, but particularly with regard to the blackouts, the lack of reliable forewarning feels deliberate and manipulative)

The main difference, as I see it, is that the Japanese media has been "socially responsible" and "hoped for the best" to prevent panic (the unspoken panic obvious from the water hoarding), while the foreign media has engaged in its usual ratings-driven fear-mongering. Neither side has approached the situation with responsible, measured skepticism.

Yes, the foreign media's reliance on gaijin-at-the-airport testimony has resulted in some of the more frustratingly asinine reporting, but if the info were available in Japanese, the foreign news outlets would have it. In short (too late), Japan doesn't need foreign language press conferences, it needs competent domestic media. Sorry for the long comment, and thank you for your tweets.

MattAlt

I appreciate your thoughts, and never apologize for a long comment! I agree with a lot of what you say; the real issue is that nobody save for TEPCO has any "eyes" inside the plant. Given the volatility of the situation I don't think it is fair to add the mass media to the mix yet but there needs to be some sort of reliable backup monitoring going on (which Greenpeace has been trying to do to a certain extent from outside the evacuation zone.)

It isn't exactly clear in the excerpt above, but her comment about needing to "add scientists who can interpret the situation to the mix" applies to Japanese-language media as well.

Jojo

What Japan needs is TV journalists who on peak time news, actually give the person a decent grilling about the subject. and particularly so if that subject happens to be a nuclear plant in a critical state.

Instead of that professor from Tokyo University who I call the 「落ち着かせ屋」and his subservient 「解説員」. People of all nationalities both in Japan and outside would be better served by the likes of Jeremy Paxman from the BBC (far from perfect of course..) or Amy Goodman perhaps. Without contamination from the pro or anti nuclear debate, such voices could really put
TEPCO and the gubbimernt on the spot, so that we can all get a picture of how serious the prognosis is.

MyName

> "Japan is hiding something"

"Japan" appeared to know nothing during times of the disaster, be it due to disrupted telco lines, TEPCO incapability or bad translators. Realizing there's no official nationwide radiation warning system was proof of not having taken proper precautions like other countries (e.g. France, Germany) did at least after Chernobyl.

Up to today there's no standardized way to get nationwide radiation readings from Japan. This alone is a risk some are not willing to take. Japan was said to be a high-tech country... if the best way to get radiation readings from Tokyo was some private geiger counter, how do you think any English language communication will improve the situation?

The underlying problem is the nuclear industry is trying to deceive the public about risks at all cost, labeling it as "try not to confuse the public". As an industry, they only tell half the truth in an attempt to protect their stake. And this is why nuclear energy is not accepted anymore by many people.

Steve Harrison

The problem with Greenpeace monitoring the situation at the plant is they have an agenda, which is of course Nuke plants BAD- so press releases from them will tend to forward that agenda.

I don't see it reported much that the reality is that plant survived a quake way over the spec. If not for the tsunami (at least the indications say now) there wouldn't have been any of the problems- the cooling would have resumed, power generation could have resumed.

Having a publicity arm manned by folk who speak English as their native language teamed with Japanese who speak English really well, plus the science and technical support, would be a good idea, but I don't see it happening. Money money money and unless there's ANOTHER mega-disaster within the next 6 months (God forbid!) the whole department would wither and die and while not officially disbanded it would just...vanish.

See also Bandai's English Tamashii Web site.

Jamie

Not just Greenpeace, but many other anti-nuclear power environmentalists (oxymoron though that is) *were* holding press conferences, in English or with translation. For example CNIC (http://www.cnic.jp/english/cnic/index.html) very early in the accident were briefing foreign reporters (http://www.fccj.or.jp/node/6481).

The Nikkei Shimbun is quite correct, but also in the absence of facts from the government, others took full advantage to push their agendas.

LB

Sorry, "myname", but this:

"Up to today there's no standardized way to get nationwide radiation readings from Japan."

Is simply not true. Here are the links:
for background radiation/air
http://atmc.jp/
http://www.bousai.ne.jp/vis/index.php

Natural levels to compare to
http://www.tohoku-epco.co.jp/electr/genshi/shiryo/wastes/11.html

for water
http://atmc.jp/water/

YYSyd

There is a fundamental difficulty in having a non-Japanese language press conference where the requirement for clarity and fluency of the language (presumably English) may not necessarily be matched by the spokesperson having knowledge and authority. It is much better to have translations and interpretations provided by the fourth estate, and there really is no excuse that foreign news agencies having linguistic handicaps.

Edano's press conferences have been a model of clarity (including being very clear about what is not known) and sober commentary. The frustration with lack of confirmable information is not necessarily confined to the general public.

While there have been huge gaps of information (presumably due to real absence of observable and quantifiable abilities), the larger inaccuracies come from sensationalism, bad reporting, and not paying attention. Some foreign press (U.S.-NYT, U.K, as far as I can tell) have been abysmal. In many instances it is not for lack of information but for abundance of prejudices and fear mongering that the reports have been unreliable. Alternative reporting (eg Michio Kaku on Amy Goodman) have been no better.
I prefer right now to sit through the multiple Tepco pressers via the net to try to ascertain what is going on.

Aceface

I'm wondering.
If Americans and Brits had nearly the half of their skeptism that they have upon Japanese government now to their own governments back in 2001-2003,the world would probably have been much better and safer place.

Do we need the English language press conference?
Maybe.But I predict the outcome would still be the same.As long as the same people running the show.
We all know what kind of coveraged CNN,NYT,BBC and Guardian have been doing at the times of peace.It is no wonder they go berserk on times of crisis.

Those who are intending to stay here for more than three years should learn the language so they can understand the very basic of the domestic media coverage.I think that's the only lesson you can get from this dissaster.

north-exit

I love Japan, always have & always will.

But I can't help to feel this situation can be attributed to Japan's xenophobic nature.

Brilliant blog btw.

MattAlt

"But I can't help to feel this situation can be attributed to Japan's xenophobic nature."

I've got to ask: in what way? It's hard for me to read anything other than self-criticism into this interview. She's basically saying, "foreigners didn't get it, and I blame my own country's lack of English ability for that." Doesn't exactly strike me as xenophobic.

Aceface

Make my point about it's not the language barriers that provides communication breakdown.

north-exit

As an advanced first world country, there shouldn't be a "lack of English ability."

Aceface

Me thinks "English ability"has nothing to do with being an advanced first world country.

MattAlt

I'm not sure it's actually even a true "lack of ability" so much as the lack of a system in place for timely dissemination of reports in English. It was a domestic crisis, and an extremely hectic situation, so I'm inclined to cut the government some slack on that front.

Ironically, I've seen some Japanese complaining that TEPCO is giving more and better information in English than in Japanese, now!

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