Well, the threat of a nuclear meltdown seems to have subsided at least, or rather, the Western media seem to have lost interest in that side of the story, which now feels a little like a convenient distraction for the Western powers to start dropping bombs again on another Arab oil-producing country. Regardless of the wrongs and rights of the Libyan situation, the message is coming through loud and clear: Japan is yesterday’s news, just like Egypt and Tunisia were a couple of weeks before. As the global media focus moves on however, I really hope this doesn’t give the impression that things are all back to normal again, or stop people from giving to the various charities established to help the victims (such as the Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund here in the UK).
Still, in some respects, aside from keeping the victims of this tragedy in the global public’s eye, one has to wonder how useful much of the Western media coverage of the Japanese situation was. There’s been an ongoing discussion on the Kinejapan mailing list over the past few days about both the shortcomings and the scaremongering in the global media since the Fukushima problem began. To give one example, on 16 March The Sun newspaper published a story under the lurid headline “Japan nuclear cloud terror”. A mere two days the former editor of this loathsome tabloid, Kelvin Mackenzie, lambasted Green Party MP Caroline Lucas on BBC1’s Question Time programme, declaring that nuclear power was 100% safe and only a propagandist for the environmental movement would have you believe otherwise. Oh the irony…
That’s not to say the other papers are faultless, of course. Take a look at this front cover from last week from The Daily Mail, a paper targeted squarely at the reactionary moron market.
One expects little more from The Daily Mail or The Sun, of course, but has the BBC been much better? To be honest, I think the BBC possibly handled things in a slightly more sober manner than most other news outlets from other countries, but just one important thing – if Japan is the third biggest economy in the world, as we have been so regularly reminded over the past week or so (and the second biggest until it was ecliped by China last year), then why haven’t the BBC got at least one correspondent in the county WHO CAN SPEAK JAPANESE!? It was enough that even the two syllable city name of Sendai was subjected to continuous mispronunciations (I’ll gloss over the hash they made of Minamisanriki…), but the repeated inconsistency in the name orders of their interviewees (again, mispronounced) merely served to demonstrate that most of their reporters were passing on secondhand information at best.
Well, that would be all well and good, if the facts weren’t occasionally so wildly inaccurate one wondered whether said journalists were merely plundering back issues of The Sun for their info. The biggest gaff I witnessed, and I would have sworn I’d misheard it were it not for someone else on Kinejapan raising it, came from one correspondent in Shinagawa interviewing a number of foreign residents who were queuing to get their re-entry visas before they left Japan, who introduced an interview with a Chinese girl by asserting that “more than half of the workers in Japanese factories are Chinese.” Please, if you can’t get your facts straight, then don’t report them, because there are so many people in this country who have visited Japan, have spent time there as English teachers or whatever, or who have Japanese friends, that it is quite evident when the various news agencies are hideously out of their depth.
None of this is new of course. I’ll just draw your attention to a particularly interesting book that occupies a privileged place in my shelves, despite being long out of print (although you can currently pick up used copies pretty cheaply), Cultural Difference, Media Memories: Anglo-American Images of Japan, which highlights some of the bizarre orientalist thinking that still permeates the Western media. Perhaps someone at the BBC should read it, as Japan might possibly be in the news for a while yet. Of course, in this 24-hour rolling news culture, Japan is not the only country to suffer from this kind of hysterical over-reporting. I still vividly remember how the British media managed to fan the flames of chaos in the wake of the disputed election results in Kenya in 2008: I remember because I had a ticket booked to visit my parents who live in Nairobi, who gave me a completely different account of the turn of events by phone and by email. I also remember being in a deserted hotel at the coast talking to the Kenyan barman who complained that the whole coastline was going to be facing a very hungry year after all the tourists had been scared away by the BBC and Sky News, and that the images of the isolated riots in locations several hundred kilometers away that he’d seen on TV were like those form a completely different country.
So the point is, as if one needs reminding, take with a pinch of salt whatever you read in the papers, hear on the newspaper or read. You’re more likely to get a more accurate picture from people out there through Twitter or Facebook.
Which leads me on to the latest uploads from Ian Thomas Ash, showing us over here how it really is, minus the hoopla:
Despite radiation fears, we can still smile in Tokyo, 18 March 2011
A week after the earthquake are Tokyoites still hoarding?, 20 March 2011