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Television dominated Japanese coverage of the recent disaster

Television dominated Japanese coverage of the recent disaster

After the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan on March 11 and the ensuing tsunami that devastated the coasts, the world, and Japan itself, was following the event via breaking news and news coverage.

As Martyn Williams, IDG News, reported (via PCWorld.com), millions of Japanese flocked to the Internet and social media websites in the aftermath.

However, according to two surveys, the article said that television retained its place as the primary source of information for the Japanese. "The data highlights the growing importance of Internet-based information sources in Japan, but underlines the continued dominance of traditional media and the trust Japan has in its well-funded public broadcaster, NHK".

Many news site saw big jumps in their audience: according to Nielsen NetRatings Japan, Reuters attracted a million Japanese and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.), operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plants, increased its audience from 500,000 to over 5 million during the period, the article reported.

Social media sites saw increased use - it added - with Twitter increasing its PC audience by a third, but the NetRatings data doesn't count cell phone use, which is an important platform for social media use in Japan.

Despite these figures Internet remained behind television as a primary source of information.

The Washington Post reported that NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, has for the past two weeks covered a triple disaster using 14 helicopters, 67 broadcasting vans. But, above all, with no adjectives.

The anchors and the reporters were given a manual for how to cover the disaster, as using "massive" or "severe" was prohibited. The aim was not to stir-up panic and to keep viewers "levelheaded".

"This makes NHK, at once, the best place to follow a disaster and the strangest. Its restrained reaction to all things harrowing and life-threatening is one of those textbook Japanese paradoxes, and in recent weeks Japan has responded to its crisis much in the manner that NHK has presented it", the Post wrote. "For those accustomed to the breathless coverage of Western cable news, NHK can feel almost pedantic -- it has the resources of the BBC but the quirks of a middle-school science teacher," the Post wrote.

NHK was prepared to cover a crisis with 460 remote cameras set up across the country, allowing for immediate footage of any disaster site and an emergency warning system that could warn of a quake - pre-empting coverage- seconds before a tremor hit. The article said that NHK mandated that a certain number of anchors live within five kilometres of the studio, so they could run to work if downtown Tokyo were crippled by a quake.

Before March 11 this could be seen as the product of breathtaking bureaucracy but NHK was so quick in breaking the news that it saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives. The earthquake struck at 2:46 pm, the article reported, and NHK broke into its coverage at 2:48 pm. NHK had a helicopter and a cameraman on standby in Sendai, and a pilot had him in the air right around 3 p.m. It was the last flight approved for departure at an airport that was soon swallowed by the tsunami.

The Post noted that despite the efficient coverage, with the government often vague about radiation leakage NHK has pushed only delicately for clearer data.

However, in the early hours of the event, a collapse of the electrical system made very difficult to use modern media: tweeting, blogging or emailing, and even using the phone.
The Washington Post reported that, unable to operate its 20th-century printing press -- never mind its computers, Web site or 3G mobile phones -- the town's only newspaper, the Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun, wrote its articles by hand with black felt-tip pens on big sheets of white paper.

As the article said, after writing articles Hiroyuki Takeuchi, chief reporter at the Hibi Shimbun and his staff copied their work onto sheets by hand for distribution to emergency relief centres.

Sources: PCWorld, Washington Post (1), (2)


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Author

Federica Cherubini

Date

2011-03-29 19:12

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