Media Mix, Mar. 27, 2011

Article in Apr. 4 issue of AERA about nuclear power

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the “fourth disaster” of the current crisis. In the piece I mainly talk about rumors and the lack of credibility surrounding pronouncements from officials, and in the end remark that nobody knows what to believe any more. I purposely avoided talking about the coverage by the non-Japanese press because I talked about it briefly last week and also because I didn’t feel I had anything constructive to add to the already overheated discussion on the subject. Though the Japanese media’s coverage of the nuclear disaster has been circumscribed by too much reliance on “experts” who have a stake in Japan’s nuke industry, I don’t have much use for the opinion of many non-Japanese who say that even the foreign press’s “sensational” coverage is preferable since it’s better to be safe than sorry. If the foreign press’s coverage is preferable, it is because the bulk of it actually hasn’t been sensational. America’s two papers of record, the New York Times and the Washington Post, to name just two foreign media, have done an excellent job of relating the situation at the Fukushima reactor and the relief efforts in the stricken areas. Though the exodus of foreigners from Tokyo and Japan in general was “blamed” on sensational TV reports by the likes of CNN, since then the coverage by both foreign and domestic news outlets has started to reach an equilibrium. I still believe the foreign press more on the subject of Fukushima and the attendant radiation effects, but it seems that the local press has finally started to realize that they have to take every announcement from various official bodies with a grain of salt. This morning on one of the news talk shows, economist Noriko Hama said something the Japanese media should take to heart: The only way that Japan will be able to overcome the crisis of confidence that the disaster has caused is for the authorities to share everything they know about the situation as events unfold. In other words, the patronizing tone of the announcements, as well as that of the expert analysis, is only succeeding in alienating people. What she didn’t say, but which was implicit in the remark, is that it’s the media’s job to hold the authorities accountable to this sort of transparency. A small but important way to start would be to acknowledge that there are people in Japan who have always been against nuclear power. Though I harbor certain doubts about the effectiveness of these kinds of advocacy groups, the very fact that they have been persona non grata as far as the mainstream media is concerned seems to be part of the problem. Realistically speaking, there has been no debate over the wisdom of Japan’s nuclear energy policy in the media, and thus these anti-nuke groups operate in a vacuum where their ideas are not challenged sufficiently, just as the nuclear power industry itself operates in an environment where they can basically say whatever they want without being opposed. It is up to the media to moderate their divergent opinions so that the public has an idea not only of what they get from nuclear power, but what they lose as well.

As I said in last week’s column, maybe now is the wrong time to start the debate. But since yesterday, I’ve seen two reports on Japanese TV about anti-nuclear rallies in Germany in response to the Fukushima disaster. No allusion was made to any similar-minded movements in Japan, though maybe there will be tomorrow: Anti-nuke marches in various Japanese cities are scheduled for today. Or course, anyone who watches such a news report has to wonder if there isn’t a similar movement in Japan, which may be the point. And I was encouraged to see that in this morning’s issue of the Asahi Shimbun-related weekly AERA, there is an article where several advocates of nuclear power are questioned alongside several anti-nuclear power advocates. One such advocate was even interviewed in the Asahi Shimbun yesterday. It may be the first time I’ve seen such opinions expressed in mainstream publications.

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3 Responses to Media Mix, Mar. 27, 2011

  1. I'm one of those evil scientists says:

    It’s always easy to complain to get one’s face on TV. If Takeshi is so upset that Kan is not in Tohoku getting his hands dirty, why is he not there himself getting his hands dirty? Why are you, Philip, not doing that? And for that matter, why am I not doing it? Because it makes no sense. Manpower is not the problem right now. Shortage of gasoline, doctors, supplies is the problem. Tohoku cannot accommodate volunteers from outside right now. They need to accommodate the victims first. And complaining about the attire of the cabinet? Seriously, who cares what they wear? Takeshi is only trying to cling to his 15 minutes that have expired long ago.

    According to you, scientists, who actually know what they are talking about, are not to be believed because they supposedly have a stake in nuclear power? How ridiculous is that? So, who is to be believed then, a conspiracy theorist with a hat made of aluminum foil? This is the kind of irrational behavior that starts the rumors you yourself complain about.

    • philipbrasor says:

      I did not say that scientists cannot be believed because they have a stake in nuclear power. I said that there are no opposition voices on TV because the media has accepted the official line that nuclear power is a national priority. There are scientists in Japan who are opposed to nuclear power, but these scientists are not interviewed on TV. (A few of them, however, are interviewed in this week’s issue of AERA) Are they all conspiracy theorists? It’s impossible to know, because no one allows them to appear on TV.

      • I'm one of those evil scientists says:

        I always got the impression that most experts on NHK were there mostly to explain what was happening at Fukushima, and to try to explain what the immediate risks were, so that people would not panic for no reason. I never got the feeling that they were promoting a policy. Energy policy discussions can wait in my opinion: some quake/tsunami victims still don’t have enough food or medical supplies.

        For the record, I am not a proponent of nuclear power. It’s not even my field.

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