Fukushima media looks back on disaster coverage, one year later

Last month I translated the first half of a very interesting round-table discussion for Nippon.com, consisting of several reporters and editors from local Fukushima media, discussing both the developing situation in the prefecture and the way it has been perceived by the outside world. (The second half, no less worth reading, was translated by an internal staff member.)

I found reading (and translating) the piece to be very interesting, and made me realize that despite all of the attention I had devoted to the unfolding disaster and subsequent recovery efforts, I had never put any significant effort into looking at reporting actually producing by Fukushima residents, rather than national and international reporters sent in to cover the story. And, as the discussion makes clear, there was a lot of difference in tone.

For example, Murakami Masanobu of Fukushima Central Television says,

I remember the impression I had when the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was opened to the press for the first time in November, 2011. The event was organized by the press club attached to the Cabinet Office, with the local media also allowed to take part. But we had been inside the plant several times [prior to the accident], and tended to emphasize aspects likely to be interesting from the local perspective—how things had changed since the explosion, and so on. But the cabinet press club members all took a very predictable line. It was as though they were learning about the high radiation levels for the first time, even though the results of monitoring had already been made public.

He also has a rather (and I must say, justifiably) exasperated take on how foreign media has covered the events.

If they come across a child with a nosebleed, sore throat, or diarrhea, they just go right ahead and run the story without checking to see if there is any scientific basis for attributing these symptoms to radiation. Then we get criticized by people in Japan who have seen these reports in the foreign media and want to know why it is not being covered here. There’s a misunderstanding that the local media is obsessed with conveying the impression that everything is safe. But that’s not true—the reality is that we’re just trying to report the facts accurately. But when irresponsible reporting appears in the foreign or national media, they end up distorting our local coverage. Ultimately, it has the effect of eroding the trust that local residents have in us. It’s a depressing situation that’s been dragging on ever since the disaster happened.

I think all of us, and Americans in particular, will also find the following assessment of Hayakawa Masaya, of the Fukushima Minpou newspaper, familiar on a certain level.

I think the local media has a vital role to play in continuing to broadcast the latest facts and raising the issues. As time passed after the disaster and nuclear accident last year, and especially after the national government announced that the nuclear crisis had been “concluded,” there was a conspicuous drop in the levels of coverage of the situation by the Tokyo-based media. There’s a vague sense that people just want to regard the story as finished and move on. But, as I said earlier, cleanup operations in Fukushima are at a standstill, and the situation is pretty much unchanged from the way it was immediately after the disaster. How can you call this a “conclusion”?

I very strongly suspect that a similar phenomenon occurs whenever a major disaster is concentrated in a less populated and less powerful region of a country rather than a major city, for example the way New Orleans has been largely ignored by the national press since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In part 2 of the discussion, Hayakawa makes explicit comparisons with the long-term national coverage of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, and the Minamata Disease of Kumamoto Prefecture, based on discussions he had with reporters from both of those regions.

These are just a few sections that stood out most to me, but please read the whole thing and let us know what you think.

2 thoughts on “Fukushima media looks back on disaster coverage, one year later”

  1. The support for local newspapers in Japan is pretty great. Just read that New Orleans’ last daily newspaper is cutting back from 7 days a week to 3. Not good.

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