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JAMCO Online International Symposium

20th JAMCO Online International Symposium

March to August, 2012

The Great East Japan Earthquake: Japanese TV Coverage and Foreign Reception

Keynote Address

Yoshihiro Oto
Professor, Department of Journalism, Faculty of Humanities, Sophia University, Tokyo.

On March 11th, 2011 the news of a major earthquake spread through the world in a flash. People around the world witnessed the catastrophe through the images of enormous tsunami devouring houses and cars. It is possible to say that the Great East Japan Earthquake was recognized by the world through these video footages.

As soon as the Earthquake hit Japan, the Japanese media began to cover the affected areas and the foreign media began using materials coming from Japan to convey the news. Large amount of images were readily available because the massive earthquake occurred in Japan, a country with relatively advanced information and telecommunications infrastructures and media coverage ability. Today, it has become possible for media organizations from different countries to cover issues in coordination with each other.

However, the way each countries and regions accepted the earthquake coverage was quite different. It seems that in some countries, the media had spread some inaccurate images of Japan.

One of the causes of such misunderstanding seems to be the very characteristic of modern society with advanced information and telecommunications network: while the development of the information and telecommunications network has greatly increased the flow of information, the level of understanding in the reception process has not been able to keep up.

It is true that a new international “bond” was created through the news, that as the images of the affected areas spread around the world, many countries began sending support to Japan. However, there were many instances where wrong images of “Japan” were being transmitted.

The reaction to the nuclear disaster, another major aspect of the Earthquake, was different too. When the huge earthquake and tsunami hit the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the nuclear reactor went out of control and began leaking radioactive materials. Despite the fact that most countries have never experienced that level of severe nuclear disaster, each country and regions has their own political agendas concerning the nuclear power, which were linked to how the news was received and interpreted in different locations.

Soon after the Earthquake hit Japan, major foreign media organizations began to enter the affected areas. They began to cover the nuclear disaster too, each with their own concerns for nuclear agendas.

Interestingly, the reports by the foreign media were not only received by the people in the respective countries, but also by the Japanese people through the Internet. As the Japanese began to recognize the gap in the coverage of the situation between national and foreign media, their anxieties grew.

In the field of international communications, it is well known that in international reports the sender of news tends to be biased toward “ethnocentrism.” The media organizations must be aware of this tendency and make efforts in trying to avoid causing misunderstandings that results from interpreting news in their own cultural context.

It has almost been a year since the Earthquake. In retrospect, I can say that the Earthquake and the nuclear accident have surfaced many essential problems intrinsic within the modern media, one of which is the creation of factual errors concerning nuclear disaster by television. In that sense, the media organizations, especially the broadcasters must reconsider their roles in the age of globalization and advanced telecommunications technology.

In this symposium, we will discuss the responsibilities of disaster reports in the age of globalization and the challenges of media systems by reviewing the Great East Japan Earthquake and the role media played in conveying the news with the Japanese and foreign media specialists.

Yoshihiro Oto

Professor, Department of Journalism, Faculty of Humanities, Sophia University, Tokyo.

Born in Sapporo in 1961, he completed his doctoral program at Sophia University's Graduate School of Humanities. After working for the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan, Research Institute, he became lecturer at the Department of Journalism, Faculty of Humanities, Sophia University. After serving as assistant professor at Sophia University and later guest researcher at Columbia University, he was appointed to the current position in 2007. His field of expertise is media and information society. His work includes "Modern Developments in the Broadcasting Media"(New Media, 2007).

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