20th JAMCO Online International Symposium
March to August, 2012
The Great East Japan Earthquake: Japanese TV Coverage and Foreign Reception
Japanese TV stations began reporting the situation moments after the earthquake. At times of disaster, the broadcast law requires NHK and other major stations to provide necessary information in order to prevent and decrease the damages. This clause in the law is characteristic to Japan as it faces many natural disasters.
Looking back into history, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 occurred before radiobroadcasting service began in Japan. Many newspapers were banned as they spread unsubstantiated information. Japanese journalists know that this experience lead to censorship system that severely harmed the press freedom. The NHK’s “national programming standard” states that when emergency situations occur, NHK will actively provide information, protect people’s lives and do its best to prevent and lessen damages. In so doing, it states that NHK will use expressions that do not arouse fear and anxieties. NHK has been training and exercising disaster response on a daily basis.
In the face of 3.11 earthquake, TV stations successfully delivered accurate information in a prompt manner, telling the audience to remain calm. It was clearly the result of past experiences and daily trainings. However, major earthquake, huge tsunami and nuclear disaster all happened one after another affecting enormous range of areas that both media and people got caught up with incessant news updates. We could not sit and think calmly, losing sight of the big picture and the necessary responses.
The Tokyo correspondents in this symposium has applauded the calm response by the Japanese TV stations but has also pointed out the doubts concerning the reliability and credibility of the nuclear-accident related information.
The reports by the Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company has pointed out the following: “Since March 11th, many have lived in anxiety from the unprecedented nuclear disaster and the effects of radiation, desperately in need for more information. However, the government failed to respond to the people’s anxieties by being the provider of accurate information.” “There were many occasions where initial reports underestimated the situation and the actual severity were revealed only later. People lost their trust toward the government. Also, the government failed to properly inform the foreign countries that were greatly concerned with the spread of radioactive contamination and the safety of their own people in Japan.”
After the earthquake, Japanese TV stations began broadcasting investigative programs that reviews Japan’s nuclear policies and the situation of radioactive contamination. They have also been re-examining their disaster reports to prepare for future earthquakes.
Disaster response against major earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear disasters is a concern not only for Japan but also for the world. Asia Pacific regions have suffered earthquakes and tsunami and many other countries have concerns over their nuclear power plants. What Japan has experienced on March 11th and the following months provide many meaningful references to the rest of the world. Japan is expected to report to the world about its experiences.
The Great East Japan Earthquake reminded us of the duty of journalism to contribute in protecting people from natural and other forms of disasters, in making society a better, safer place to live.