Random gaijin mail magazine dude nails it on Japan’s media-fueled swine flu panic

(Updated below)

I don’t remember when, but at some point I became subscribed to this guy’s mail magazine “Glimpses of Japan.” I can’t remember and can’t find the full name of the author (maybe he’ll come forward!) but his name is Mike, from a picture I saw once he looks like he’s in his late 40s, and he works at NEC Learning which is a provider of what appears to be classroom technology. He’s been in the country for what seems like forever and has an interesting sort of grizzled veteran’s take on developments here, though this seems to be written with an ESL audience in mind.

More often than not, he’s griping about the traffic in Tokyo, but this week’s post was so spot-on I want to share it with you in full. Enjoy:

Media Malady

2009.5.22
*****—————————————————————–*****

Once again I’m bemused by the pathetic state of the mass media here, particularly the TV news. The phrase “media circus” is often used to describe the antics of (especially) broadcast media when they get into frenzied over-reporting mode, but I don’t think that’s appropriate for the Japanese media’s latest hysterical outpouring of pseudo-news: if it were a circus it would at least be entertaining.

It’s bad enough that the Japanese government has decided to regard the “Novel Influenza A (H1N1)”, previously called the “swine flu”, as if it were much more serious than the rather mild, easily treatable influenza virus infection that it is. The media have been treating the “outbreak” as if it were the Black Death.

Breathless, serious-looking reporters stand in front of hospitals saying, in worried tones, things like, “this is the hospital where the 16-year-old high school student flu patient is staying”. I understand that TV news is a visual medium, and that they want to be able to show something, but a guy standing in front of a building just isn’t newsworthy, particularly when they are avoiding giving the names of the patients and the hospitals, for privacy reasons. It’s just not *news*, and serves only to make people more anxious about something barely worth worrying about.

With companies and local governments over-reacting by closing down schools, postponing events, and canceling business trips, an aura of panicked fear is being encouraged and expanded by the media’s relentless and largely content-free approach to reporting what little actual news there is. Huge signs on news sets show the number of people who have contracted the flu nationwide (not very many, actually, as a percentage of population, roughly comparable to the number of traffic accident *deaths* in Tokyo in a year), many of whom are already nearly recovered.

It can’t be making people feel more confident to see that, even with the science-fiction-like biohazard suited crews going aboard aircraft before passengers disembark, the flu still managed to spread, either.

There’s also more than a little xenophobia involved in the reporting, and in people’s responses to the influenza news.

I understand that there have been clueless, panicked, ignorant people asking local governments whether it’s safe to hang laundry out to dry and whether their pets are in danger. In the true spirit of TANSTAAFL, I also understand that many of the high school and junior high school kids who have been prevented from attending school in order to stop the spread of the flu…are taking advantage of the time off to gather in Karaoke rooms. That’s bound to be counter-productive.

Speaking of counter-productive, having the prime minister appear on TV in a kind of public service announcement, looking worried as he tells people not to be anxious and not to over-react or to believe spurious rumors…*that’s* a great way to cause people to worry *more*, not less.

I have a large capacity for being amused at the bizarre and the stunningly ridiculous, but the current exaggerated media handling of what should be a very minor issue
exceeds my ability to laugh.

I was, it’s true, cynically amused by a friend’s suggestion that the whole government/media pseudo-news frenzy/circus is a conspiracy to take the Japanese public’s mind off the terrible economic conditions and the administration’s inability to deal with them. I don’t seriously think that’s the case, but it would at least be more logical than what the truth seems to be.
Glimpses of Japan vol.240

On the surface, the overall media reaction to what could have been a serious outbreak seems fact-based and rational (with notable exceptions!). They followed every government move and reported on the infections. And basically the government did what it should have – maybe there was an over-emphasis on masks and they were a little slow to switch tactics when the virus turned out to be relatively harmless. But I have to agree with Mike and Takashi Uesugi who argue that the media completely freaked out over the swine flu. The breathlessness, the dead-serious tone, and the constant “breaking news” of every miniscule detail of the story all have combine to create an fearful atmosphere that’s truly numbing when you realize how comparatively non-threatening this flu virus really is.

That’s what leads people to believe they all need to wear masks to prevent infection, which did in fact cause well-publicized runs on the masks and opportunistic online auctioners. As Durf noted on Twitter, “The media set out to increase media importance to viewers, as usual; breathless reporting on panic-worthy stuff is the way to go!” This was the media trying to make themselves seem important through play-by-play reporting on whatever the scandal of the moment happens to be. A recent example of a how this behavior can get a little overblown was the flap over whether the kanji test guys made too much money from their massively popular product.

I don’t think the media all sat down and decided to incite panic. In fact, maintaining the status quo and helping to keep public order seems to be one of their missions that they take seriously. What’s more likely is every media outlet decided to take this threat very seriously and follow this potentially age-defining story closely, as they always do for the scandal/story de jour. Just in the case of a flu outbreak, the sum of their actions proved incredibly neurosis-inducing. As usual, whenever someone tells you “stay calm” or “don’t panic” that’s usually exactly what makes you start to panic!

On that last line about a government conspiracy to crowd the headlines with flu stories – I personally think there is something to it. The government (meaning the Aso administration, not the health officials) doesn’t have to have orchestrated the entire media response to fuel it to their advantage. And not everyone in the government is necessarily on the same page. Looking at health minister Masuzoe’s press conferences, for example, I get the impression that rather than cheaply exploit the scandal by burying other stories and panicking the public, he seeks to project an air of competence and cool-headedness (Aso’s “nobody panic” TV commercials, on the other hand, are a different story). And from a health standpoint the actions taken don’t seem too insane. I mean, the health checks and monitoring were necessary, and they didn’t do anything drastic like shut down Osaka just to help Aso’s opinion polls.

But it seemed like there was something in the public announcement that could have egged the media on. One especially dubious move was the government announcement that they specifically requested the mask companies to boost production – as if they needed to be told! Truly, it would be tragic and counterproductive if actual sick people couldn’t get their hands on masks because fearful healthy people bought them all.

What the government should be doing but isn’t doing enough of is actively calming people without screaming OK NOBODY PANIC. A good example was what Masuzoe did last week – he explained the facts about the flu without exaggeration or alarm and noted that the current status of the outbreak meant the government could tone down its response and stop in-flight inspections.

Interesting side note!!! On the asahi.com front page is this line advertising their swine flu special full coverage section: 予防にはまず手洗い “For prevention, first wash your hands”

Funny, what happened to listing masks first as the best line of defense just a week ago?! Well, since I posted my anti-mask rant (which itself attracted a decent readership in the Japanese blogosphere thanks to mozu which may inspire me to write some more in Japanese despite mozu’s warning of the “risk”) blogs and several major media outlets (Yomiuri print edition, Asahi (“don’t believe in masks too much”), and J-Cast so far as I can tell) have noted the CDC/WHO recommendations and the practices of other countries. Durf notes that at least one doctor on TV said to “ignore masks.” Unfortunately I don’t have time to document this in detail, but it is interesting to see how the message has evolved from GO GET A MASK NOW to some more rational consideration.

Most of the reaction came as a result of stories from places like the LA Times, so I think whatever impact I had was very small. But I think it was healthy that there was some signficant skepticism and pushback over the recommendations for EVERYONE to go out and get a supply of masks.

As the virus spreads to Tokyo, the call for MASKS MASKS MASKS will not end. The train operators are already campaigning for it in what seems more like a CYA maneuver than anything else. I mean these companies may be sued or publicly shamed if they don’t put forth a forthright and careful response. (Are you for preventing the flu or are you siding with the terrorists?) But at least we can remember to just consistently wash our hands and cough into our sleeves, we don’t need to succumb to this ill-informed misinformation.

Update: Somehow I missed this: the head of the health ministry’s flu response came out on May 21 to declare that it’s not necessary for people to wear masks “in outdoor areas where there is not much crowding.” And went on to explain, “Masks are intended to prevent infected people from spreading the virus. Please wear one if you have a cough.”

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34 thoughts on “Random gaijin mail magazine dude nails it on Japan’s media-fueled swine flu panic”

  1. I have arguments here.

    One.Japan isn’t the only country to think this is the second black death.So was the WHO,and elsewhere around the world.

    Two.No one knows the real nature of this influenza.All we know is this is “mild” for now.But so was the “Spanish Flu” in 1918.As long as we don’t have any vaccine for the moment,the only way to protect the society from pandemic is everyone takes emergency measures.

    Three.Japan now has the fourth largest number of patients,meaning the threat is real.Considering the heavy dependence on public transportation in every day life and bigger aged population compared to the U.S/Canada/Mexico,the potential infection/death rate could be higher than these countries.

    Four.There are 101 reasons we don’t tell the name of the patient.Besides,the warning would do the news.

    Five.This isn’t just another health care craze.We are not talking about banana diet here.So what the hell is wrong about that?

    Five.Very Obviously,this guy wasn’t in the states in October,2001.When America went crazy about another terrorist attack,envelopes with anthrax and wackos gunning down the Indians in turban and everyone weared the badge of the flag.

    Six.We are now cooling off the situation.

    “I don’t think the media all sat down and decided to incite panic. In fact, maintaining the status quo and helping to keep public order seems to be one of their missions that they take seriously.”

    OK,so you are telling me that the whole western media outlets have somekind of mission to topple down the exisiting order and turn the whole society upside down.eh?

  2. Ben Goldacre is a doctor who writes on science topics for the Guardian newspaper in Britain. He has a book and website called “Bad Science” and also has an active Twitter feed which I follow. The main thrust of his work is to show how scientifically illiterate the media and general population is in Britain and I suspect his observations apply elsewhere. His reaction to the swine flu coverage has been interesting.

    Yes, he found the initial media coverage of swine flu appalling and most people expected him to attack the ignorance on display. However, he also found the backlash against that coverage to be equally ill-conceived and resisted the calls to take sides. When swine flu didn’t immediately take hold around the world and start claiming thousands of lives, a number of commentators began to talk of fear-mongering and overreaction. What troubles Goldacre is that no-one seems to understand what “risk” means. He noted that one journalist even complained about the WHO saying “Words such as possibly, potentially, could or might should be avoided. They are unspecific qualifiers and open to exaggeration”. If we followed that man’s rules, anything less than a 100% risk should be ignored which is absurd.

    Goldacre wasn’t defending the media frenzy, he was criticizing the need for certainties in a world ruled by probabilities and, often, randomness. He pointed out that people spoke of infection rates as if it they could be accurately predicted when the truth is that, even with a known disease, the range of outcomes is enormous. That doesn’t make us helpless but it does mean we should be aware of what margin of error we are talking about.

    Do we really know with certainly that swine flu is no worse than any other flu outbreak? If we do, then Japan may be overreacting but one of the problems of managing risk is deciding an appropriate response. If there’s a 10% chance of a devastating epidemic, should we ignore it because it’s 90% certain not to take place? If there’s a 90% chance of a devastating outbreak but nothing happens, should we ignore a similar warning the next time around?

    I think Goldacre would agree that the Japanese media coverage has been excessive but he would also be concerned if people were too quick to denounce the whole thing as a storm in a tea-cup even if the disease turns out – as it seems it might – to be a minor health risk.

  3. Mulboyne, I don’t think many people are advocating ignoring the advice on washing hands, gargling and cough etiquette, all three of which have positive benefits, or at least nothing wrong with them. However, masks seem to have the status of being a magic amulet here, warding off all traces of evil virus, but they fail if you don’t change them regularly, if you don’t handle them correctly, or if you use them as an excuse to struggle into work when you should be home in bed.

    I see a lot of people in the backlash against the backlash are using the “but it could mutate into…” straw man – I don’t think many people are advocating not spending money developing a vaccine.

    On a separate note, I’d love to see some research (or even just theories) on why it went from 0 to 300 cases in a week in Japan, yet the UK (which I would guess would have more contact with North America) has had just 120 or so in three weeks, and has only closed individual affected schools.

    Interesting – I just searched Google News for that, and this story says containment with Tamiflu is “like trying to maintain the integrity of your submarine with screen doors”. The US expert says that Europe must be under-reporting, or at least not looking too hard for the virus, so that would imply based on the infection spread rate in the US and Canada, Japan is correctly reporting.

    I’m all confused now!

  4. These are conveniently numbered so I can respond to them in order:

    One. Right, but I am talking about Japan bc that’s where I am right now. I’d be interested to hear which other countries are having a similar experience.

    Two. True enough, I am more or less assuming that this will blow over, and I could be totally wrong. I mean, maybe I should just shut up and copy/paste government announcements. I am more than willing to trust the health officials on all emergency measures except for my anti-mask skepticism and what I see as some excessive “serious-face” from the news media.

    Three. Again, that’s true enough and I’ll happily comply with the measures save for the mask idea. Also, if it’s super-serious I’ll wear a mask AND stay home.

    Four. Personally, while I said the guy was spot-on, I personally am not taking issue with that. Mike apparently didn’t think blurry hospitals and anonymous patients made for newsworthy coverage, but I would agree that if the media is gonna go all out on this one then these patients’ stories are definitely relevant.

    Five. Banana diet was a small annoyance, but again my worry with the masks is they end up becoming the default for too many people. Admittedly it might be petty to worry about seeing people’s faces when there is a health scare.

    Five. I most definitely WAS in Washington DC after 9/11 and remember how everyone just shrugged off the PATRIOT Act at the time as something totally necessary (and of course it is still in force. No one even asked Obama to revoke it that I recall). If it counts, I felt personally disgusted at the ubiquity of American flags that just HAD to be flown outside everyone’s front door to show patriotism, and I let everyone know it. I didn’t think a mere terrorist attack should force people into this us vs. them mentality, and that is how I feel to this day.

    Six. Yup, the situation is definitely being scaled back. But of course if this is worse than feared stopping the in-plane inspections could be a fatal mistake. In that case you could maybe blame people like me or Governor Hashimoto who met with Masuzoe and apparently repeated the sentiments he expressed in public about not wanting to shut down the whole prefecture.

    “OK,so you are telling me that the whole western media outlets have somekind of mission to topple down the exisiting order and turn the whole society upside down.eh?”

    HELL no I don’t think that, though the strength of my convictions on the absolute suckage of the US media may be a bit more recent. But I am just not writing on that topic. One day I will write the ultimate manifesto on how I feel I should be able to write something about Japan without being painted with the “backhanded anti-Japanese” brush. That wasn’t this post.

  5. Yeah, Ishihara might be another one of those contrarians like me who will end up doing harm. I dunno. Just enough with the masks already.

  6. Spot on commentary.

    To add more fuel to the xenophobia angle, there was an interesting editorial piece (can’t find the link!) that went into why Japan is seeing cases, yet Korea and China aren’t – It’s because Japanese are so health conscious that they go to the hospital immediately, and therefore more cases are reported. (paraphrased)

    Now, I can tell you this as a fact – Koreans will send you to the hospital for a sneeze. A few years ago in Korea, I was put on an intravenous of mysterious yellow liquid for 2 hours because I had the sniffles. So the editorial piece is absolute garbage.

    But the bottom line is that the news is a lot like marketing, and what sells is what people are expecting to hear. “Today’s news: Everything’s going pretty well” probably wouldn’t be the biggest sales hit.

  7. I think Adamu’s original case against the effectiveness of masks was well made. I don’t think we should so easily move from that position to wholesale condemnation of the government’s response simply because nothing happens. I’m also inclined to believe there has been an overreaction in Japan but I can’t say I have a clear idea what they should have been doing instead. We have to consider how appropriate the response is in relation to the best estimate of the risk.

    Sure, masks may be ineffective but would we really be complaining about their use if swine flu proved to be deadly and contagious? I think we would if we could show that people were ignoring measures like washing hands because they thought masks were the real defence against infection. We might not if masks instead acted as a kind of national symbol of high alert, serving as a constant reminder to everyone to take the correct precautions. As Aceface has suggested, mask usage is common in Japan so perhaps it can serve a social function which complements an effective healthcare strategy. In that case, unless mask production and distribution was diverting significant resources or somehow causing greater infection because of misuse, there isn’t really wouldn’t be a problem.

    I suppose I’m reluctant to condemn a response because it looks stupid when nothing happens. It should be condemned because it’s wrong no matter what the outcome. Not everything the government has done is misguided if they believe the health risk is high but we can certainly take them to task if we judge they have overestimated the risk.

  8. One:Voila!
    Hong Kong.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8029871.stm
    Shanghai
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8033089.stm
    And ofcourse Mexico.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/26/AR2009042602827.html

    Two:
    We are always “serious-faced” when we are doing llive report from hospitals.

    Three:
    Media sez put the mask on when you go OUT.When you are IN,the masks no need.

    Four:
    “but I would agree that if the media is gonna go all out on this one then these patients’ stories are definitely relevant.”

    Actually we did cover the patients stories in very detailed form.Where were they and who were they with.You even linked to Japan Probe one.We just didn’t name the name.

    Five:
    Masks are handy.We are accustomed to them.Which is why we can feel safe with them just like Americans feel safer with handguns around.

    Five Number two:
    I was in NYC for the first time in seventeen years on October 10th,2001on my way to attend my friend’s wedding in Minneapolis.Shocking to see so many flags everywhere in Manhattan,even in antennas of the cars running Broadway.Media went totally crazy.New York Post was putting a head line as”Surrender or Die, Taliban!”.(True Story).ABC was airing non-stop “America Fights Back”.

    Six:
    “But of course if this is worse than feared stopping the in-plane inspections could be a fatal mistake.”

    Well,now that the virus has landed and spreading widely,in-plane inspections are no longer needed.Thus canceled.

    “backhanded anti-Japanese” brush”

    Not my wording.

  9. ”To add more fuel to the xenophobia angle, there was an interesting editorial piece (can’t find the link!) that went into why Japan is seeing cases, yet Korea and China aren’t – It’s because Japanese are so health conscious that they go to the hospital immediately, and therefore more cases are reported. (paraphrased)”

    Here’s the link.I don’t see this article particulary “xenophobic”
    http://sankei.jp.msn.com/life/body/090520/bdy0905202147025-n1.htm

    And this is how it’s been reported in Korea.
    http://www.excite.co.jp/News/column/20090521/Rocketnews24_9384.html

    Beware the foreigners.They spread anti-Japanese viruses!

  10. You’re right, it wasn’t particularly xenophobic – Just more nationalistic anti-Asian-neighbor passive-aggressive reporting you can often find in various Japanese news sources. (And I’m not implying U.S. or Korean news sources are any better – They’re not)

    It just saddens me because people buy into it so quickly, and it’s just pure rubbish. If only there were Japanese and Korean versions of Jon Stewart to take on the AP.

    And I can tell you that for this particular story, the Korean media is being relatively level-headed. You should have seen the headlines during the American beef mad-cow import controversy. For whatever reason, Japan and Korea seemed to have switched roles with this Swine Flu sensationalism.

  11. “Just more nationalistic anti-Asian-neighbor passive-aggressive reporting you can often find in various Japanese news sources. ”

    Which part of this article is “nationalistic” and “passive-aggressive” to Asian neighbor,Alex?
    As a guy works in Japanese news agency,I’m interested.

    “It just saddens me because people buy into it so quickly, and it’s just pure rubbish.”

    People buy into the part that Korean paper claimed Sankei thinks Koreans and Chinese are “low-graded” which is completely absent in the original article.

    “And I can tell you that for this particular story, the Korean media is being relatively level-headed. ”

    Would like to know more about that too.When Japanese paper analyze the situation it’s “xenophobic” and Korean makes up a story completely from thin air and it’s “relatively level-headed”?

  12. Why are gaijins SO paranoid about “Japan-being-most-definitly-paranoid” or “Japan-being-totally-xenophobic” on this issue here?

    We are only wearing masks for the sole purpose of not getting sick and that probably don’t hurt anyone.Not that we are running around and put a gag on every filthy gaijin mouth on street or something.

  13. Aceface, it is embarrassing that the Japanese are wearing masks trying to prevent the flue. Mask has only limited efficiency, and basically mask as preventions for flue is an urban myth. Many medical doctors with whom I work have pointed that out, but still the media and even sometimes the government is calling out to wear mask to prevent the flu. No wonder that Gaijin’s are laughing.

    And frankly speaking, information about the flue seems to be almost 2weeks late here in Japan compared from North America or Europe (or even from Singapore). The day Masuzoe (I have totally lost confidence to this person. He DID escalate the hysteria with Japanese medias) did a press conference for the TV camera explaining about the plane seat of the first Japanese patient, I received instruction from my company (which is an international one) that all former restriction for international business trips is lifted, because this flue is no more dangerous than seasonal flue and probably the symptoms are less severe.

    I am a believer in the role of gatekeepers in information business, but this time the media (TV and Newspapers) did a kind of self-destructive activity. Incredible sensationalism (government included).

  14. “Mask has only limited efficiency, and basically mask as preventions for flue is an urban myth. ”

    That’s right,Masks has “limited” efficiency.Meaning it’s not zero.And it can prevent virus leaving your mouth to other people.Since no vaccines were made for this specific type at the moment,and if the masks don’t harm anyone,but the virus does,why is it wrong to promote that?

    “And frankly speaking, information about the flue seems to be almost 2weeks late here in Japan compared from North America or Europe (or even from Singapore). ”

    I totally disagree here.We check what WHO says daily.

    “No wonder that Gaijin’s are laughing.”

    Since we can’t put any masks(or gags) on their face against their will,there’s nothing we can prevent that from happening.But then,being foreigner’s laughing stock won’t harm the physical health of any Japanese.Flu does.

    Gaijins can laugh all they want on what ever they see and chose to find them wacky and weird.But the point I’m making is why is this “paranoid”?Or even “xenophoboic”?
    That sort of generalization is offensive to my ears and irritates me.

  15. “That’s right,Masks has “limited” efficiency.Meaning it’s not zero.And it can prevent virus leaving your mouth to other people.”

    Once you are affected, yeah. BUT wearing mask long before someone around you is affected? That is comedy.

    “Since no vaccines were made for this specific type at the moment,and if the masks don’t harm anyone,but the virus does,why is it wrong to promote that?”

    Strange, never heard the this logic in promotion for masks in major TV programs or newspapers. I remember only Asahi mentioning that it is not efficient to prevent the flu shortly.

    How many people around you knows that? Are they all wearing mask trying to prevent leaving virus from your mouth or are they wearing it to prevent entering the virus in your mouth?

    The government and the media are just not dispatching the right knowledge, which is needed to prevent escalation and hysteria. That is very much disturbing and that irritates me.

    “Gaijins can laugh all they want on what ever they see and chose to find them wacky and weird.But the point I’m making is why is this “paranoid”?Or even “xenophoboic”?”

    True not xenophobic. not paranoid? I don’t know….

  16. オー、ノー、と思わず声が出た。

     北見市市役所。
     関西出張帰りは自宅でしばらく発病しないか様子を見る。
     首都圏でも発病者がで出たから、首都圏帰りも同じ扱いと。

     札幌の発熱相談センター。
     関西の人と会ったら気持ちが悪くなったと相談。
     近いうち、その対象が首都圏に広がり、最後は向かいの人、隣の人にまで広がるのだろうか?

     これは何だ、と思う。
     北海道で発病者が出たら、たぶん出るだろうが、そうしたなら、みんな、例の籠城に入るのだろうか?
     笑い事ではすまされないが、真剣にそう思っている人も多いのかも知れない。
     
     インフルエンザA(H1N1)を早くに、”新型インフルエンザ”という区分から外すべきだ。
     本当に毒性の高いものが出てきたときは臨機応変に区分を変える。
     そのような対応をしてゆかないと、必要が無いときにエネルギーをすり減らし、肝心な時に何も対応出来なくなる可能性がある。

     国も科学的根拠をもとに、臨機応変に対応を指導すべきだと思う。

    http://nxc.jp/tarunai/index.php?action=pages_view_main&page_id=26

  17. “wearing mask long before someone around you is affected? That is comedy.”

    I confess. I don’t wear them myself either.(Following Adamu’s advice of which he’s going to take the full responsiblity if something bad happens.)
    But then, the reason why others wearing the mask is to prevent some tragic events happens to their well being.If it ends up as a comedy,then it’s can be accepted.

    “Strange, never heard the this logic in promotion for masks in major TV programs or newspapers. ”

    That means our propaganda machines are not working enough.

    “The government and the media are just not dispatching the right knowledge, which is needed to prevent escalation and hysteria. That is very much disturbing and that irritates me.”

    You see Aso on TV commercials lately?It very much disturbing and irritates me at the same time,but at least it the sign of the Government is trying to dispatch the right knowledge,which is to remain calm.

    “True not xenophobic. not paranoid? I don’t know….”

    There’s pretty good reason to be afraid of the virus that don’t have a cure.That’s not”paranoid” in my book.

  18. “You see Aso on TV commercials lately?It very much disturbing and irritates me at the same time,but at least it the sign of the Government is trying to dispatch the right knowledge,which is to remain calm.”

    Yep. but a too late action and also they have to call calm down because with their ineffective policy, they have greatly contributed to make up this mess.

    From the beginning, some have criticized that the current GoJ plan for preventing pandemic flu is only aimed at devastating and dangerous flu like bird flu or SARS, but not apt and effective enough to prevent escalation of more minor infectious flu.

    The media should have pointed that out and they should have criticize the government for that. They didn’t and rather jumped in to the hysteria.

    Very disturbing indeed.

  19. Well,if there are any effective policies to prevent the flu,I’m all ear and listening.

    The mess went total out of control because of the outbreak in Kansai happened with in a day.You can’t accuse anyone for that.

    “From the beginning, some have criticized that the current GoJ plan for preventing pandemic flu is only aimed at devastating and dangerous flu like bird flu or SARS, but not apt and effective enough to prevent escalation of more minor infectious flu.”

    And we don’t want take the risk of listening to this “some” since “many” had thought there are very little knowledge that this is not like SARS and avian flu.We only found out about this through the progress,and I also want to remind you that being “minor”infectious NOW doesn’t mean they stay that way.Could change with in a day or hundred years.

    “They didn’t and rather jumped in to the hysteria.”

    But I don’t see that much of a hysteria around.Especially out of English Japan blogs.
    And the people were wearing masks because of the hay fever right before the flu fiasco anyway.

  20. Although it would appear that Japan’s media has seemingly lost the plot over the whole H1N1 (so-called) ‘crisis’, it would appear that they are not alone. I hail from the UK and whenever I switch to BBC News 24, the same sensationalist clap-trap is churned out in much the same manner as their Japanese counterparts.

    The best of it is that as soon as the story was picked up, it was dropped like a shot when something more ‘news-worthy’ could be found: if that’s public service broadcasting then God help us all.

  21. Update: Somehow I missed this: the head of the health ministry’s flu response came out on May 21 to declare that it’s not necessary for people to wear masks “in outdoor areas where there is not much crowding.” And went on to explain, “Masks are intended to prevent infected people from spreading the virus. Please wear one if you have a cough.”

    http://news.livedoor.com/article/detail/4164854/

    Found this link from Horie’s blog (Horie’s blogging again!). Incidentally, Horie goes even further than some of the commenters here by suggesting that the “extreme conservative nature” of Japanese people as seen in the rush to don masks is probably behind Japan’s relative lack of risk-takers and entrepreneurs.

    To illustrate his point, he imagines what would happen to a grade schooler if he or she questioned the need to wear masks. Surely they’d be ridiculed and possibly a long-term target of bullying from then on.

    At the beginning of this part of the tirade he admits the argument might be a little bit of a stretch, and personally I think he should have stopped himself there. Where in the world can an elementary school student EVER contradict the school’s orders? That’s exactly the time when adults make all the important decisions.

    Even still I am tempted to buy his new book…

    http://ameblo.jp/takapon-jp/entry-10266359397.html

  22. @Adamu All told, a timely and useful post. I remember watching one newscast where the coverage appeared to consist of the following:

    Newscaster: This just in … it turns out patient x in hospital y does not have H1N1 influenza. Our reporter is at the scene …
    Reporter: It turns out patient x in hospital y does not have H1N1 influenza. The’ve just made the announcement …
    Authority figure: It turns out patient x in hospital y does not have H1N1 influenza.
    Reporter: There you have it … It turns out patient x in hospital y does not have H1N1 influenza.
    Newscaster: What a relief. It turns out patient x in hospital y does not have H1N1 influenza.

    @Aceface I don’t think irresponsible or unprofessional reporting is limited to Japanese media. American media’s capitulation to the Bush administration’s agenda in the years following 9/11 is a case in point. Fox News? Embarrassing. New York Post? Rubbish. Both Japan and America are guilty of pandering to the masses by dumbing down coverage and focusing on emotion rather than facts.

    However, at least American media polices itself. As Alex noted in his comment, John Stewart and Steven Colbert help restore balance by playing the role of court jester. Most quality American newspapers, meanwhile, have an ombudsman to help ensure that their coverage is fair and balanced. We also have websites like FactCheck.org (http://www.factcheck.org/) to check the facts about what’s being said.

    Who plays the role of court jester in Japan, pointing their finger at the emperor (not THAT emperor) without clothes? No one that I can see.

    When that principal offered his tearful apology to the nation, who came out and said, “Enough already. Why is this guy apologizing for something over which he had no control?” I, too, practice 自己責任, but sometimes people can go overboard. I wonder if any reporters felt like voyeurs during that press conference?

    Do Japanese newspapers have ombudsmen?

    Does Japan have anything similar to FactCheck.org?

  23. “Do Japanese newspapers have ombudsmen?”

    No.We don’t.(Not the institutional one,I mean)And that’s a problem.
    But still this has little to do with the issue we are talking about.Because the ombudsmen system works AFTER we have problem in the coverage,not before or during the process.I don’t think it will effect in the editorial process of ongoing issue.

    “Does Japan have anything similar to FactCheck.org?”

    Like 2ch?Kidding.FactCheck probably won’t work in this case simply we don’t know much about THIS disease and neither does Jon Colbert.

    I can understand why Americans bringing up Jon Colbert and co.I run into an argument(Yes.on internet.Silly me)that America is grand since they have David Letterman and Japan has no equivalent in media environment.But going to the shrinks more often than the others doesn’t mean you are mentally healthy than the others,No?
    And we don’t have Rush Limbaugh type being loose on the air here.Not that I think we don’t need the court jester type(well,maybe we have people like Beat Takeshi,or Mino Monta or Now dead Chikushi Tetsuya and they can be counted as such,but this needs more argument.again on internet…),but half of America depends too much on cynical critics and the other half simply don’t have literacy or just gave up following the event blindly believe in Americana.Or that’s my take on the situation.

    My point is since there is no victim in this media coverage on this issue,but only the dignity of the virus that they were not as lethal as media had been reporting,what the big fuss about? And any of you ever thought about what would have been the reverse?
    What would happen if media don’t do any report and we had outbreaks?

    I bet the cynics and conspiracy theorists would still blame media for undermine the threat at the expense of people’s health for the benefit of economic recovery/Aso leadership/or plain being damn in the age of Web2.0.

  24. There’s a critical piece in the Mainichi on the role of the Japanese government and media. In particular, it notes that there was nothing like this response during the SARS outbreak although the government classified that as a “class-1 illness” (1類感染症).

    http://tinyurl.com/poy7jo

  25. What exactly is supposed to be so great about David Letterman? His show is mostly crap.

  26. @Mulboyne.

    one:
    Nishikawa Megumi is(or was) the head of foreign news department of Mainichi and in no way responsible for the flu coverage in Mainichi.The flu issues are usually being covered by “Society社会部”and Science”科学部”department guys that’s the reason why Nishikawa can write an armchair-critic like piece.And ofcourse being the foreign news guy,he is more concerned about how Japan being viewed from aboroad instead of necessity of the society.

    two:
    We didn’t know much about SARS back then,but one of the lessons learned was everyone must be informed about the potential danger of the virus and it’s spread beyond the boundary must be monitored around the clock,instead of hiding them like Chinese did.We also know how infectious the influenza can be compared to the avian flu,so I don’t think Nishikawa’s argument won’t have much support in the editing room.

  27. On Saturday evening I saw a news piece that looked at masks and their effectiveness. For the respirator N95 masks (the round face-shaped types), straight out of the box they had a leakage factor (I didn’t quite catch exactly what it was measuring) of just a few percent. Trying out a few different brands of masks, they first got the subject to turn their head a few times, and sound out some vowels to simulate movement over time. Trying the same test the leakage factors were from just a couple of percent to about 40%. They didn’t try again after an hour of wearing, sadly.

    For the simpler fanfold masks, straight out of the box they were 100% leakage!

    They then spent an equally long time on stopping sneeze particles, but without mentioning that if you’re sneezing you shouldn’t be out and about in the first place!

  28. Top story on today’s Yomouri print edition stresses that masks are intended for those trying to keepbfrpm spreading infection, not those wprrring about catching it. They stress this point by describing the mask shortage due to panic and hoarding.

  29. the other morning, I believe on Tokudane or maybe Asazuba, they showed how to make your own mask. You can use kitchen paper. If you fold it nicely and staple rubber bands on the sides that go around your ears.

    They explained how masks are only a preventive measure and do not form a complete seal and filter. But its kind to others if a person with a cold uses a mask. Sneezes carry germs. With a mask, a sneeze will be stopped from spraying in the air.

    Here is a link illustrating a simple way to make your own mask.

    http://gigazine.net/index.php?/news/comments/20090521_papermask/

  30. @Aceface

    Ombudsman: Sorry, but it is relevant. H1N1 just happens to be the latest symptom of the larger disorder, which is irresponsible/unprofessional reporting. You can ignore it by focusing on the issue du jour, but it will still be there tomorrow.

    Letterman, Colbert, et al: I specifically mentioned John Stewart because he’s not Letterman; nor is he Takeshi. Mina Monta — seems like a nice guy, but Monta is not Stewart.

    If you’ve never seen Stewart’s dismantling of the talking heads from Crossfire, it’s worth a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFQFB5YpDZE

    This is what I’m talking about. Not Limbaugh or Letterman. As for there being no Limbaugh in Japan, surely you jest. We can begin with Sakurai Yoshiko.

    Media coverage: I’ve not asked for the flu to be ignored. That would be absurd.

    Americans and psychiatry: A debate is not finger-pointing. No need to drag the unquestioning/undereducated American public into our (you and me) debate about the need for more accountability in the Japanese media.

  31. Um, “Monta is not Stewart”? What planet are you on? Everyone knows Monta is Regis (except Monta is way more opinionated). It became official when he hosted the Japanese version of Millionaire

  32. @Aceface

    As for the Internet … It is a society; online, yes – often anonymous, irreverent and profane – but a society nevertheless. Each of us contributes to the conversation, and each chooses how they participate. We bring to it who we are.

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