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April 15 2013


In Japan, A Wave of Media Distrust Post-Tsunami

Until about 10 years ago, the Japanese term "masu-gomi" -- rubbishy mass media -- was a derogatory word only known to a few Internet users. Not anymore.

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the northern region followed. All told, about 25,000 died or went missing. Two years later, more than 310,000 evacuees have been unable to return to their homes. Decontamination work at the power plant progresses at a snail's pace.

The unprecedented level of the disaster stunned the nation, including its journalists.

Credibility in Question

Without much time and sufficient background in nuclear expertise, reporters rushed to feed what the government, bureaucrats, academia and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, wanted them to tell the public.

When the government and TEPCO gave only partial facts or no facts at all, the resulting reports became inaccurate or simply wrong. The credibility of the press -- as well as the authorities -- fell sharply.

"Rather than trying to find out the truth, the media became a PR machine for the establishment," says Yasuo Onuki, a journalist who used to be an executive producer at Japan's public broadcasting service, NHK.

Some dubbed the Japanese media reports as "announcements by the Japanese Imperial Army headquarters" as in World War Two. Back then, the media deliberately downplayed Japanese casualties in the Battle of Midway, which is said to have been the most important naval battle of the war.

Waseda University professor Jiro Mori has a more measured view.

"The reason that important facts were not covered soon enough was, mostly, the media's insufficient ability to pursue the facts and a lack of good reporting skills.

"If the public got frustrated by the level of reporting, it reflects their high expectations. People believe that the media can do much more," Mori says.

Science journalist Shigeyuki Koide, who was a senior writer at Japan’s national daily, Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, until 2011, says that a certain level of distrust in the media among the public is "healthy."

"How to interpret what the media say is up to you -- readers or viewers."

But what if there are no reports or no journalists?

Unfiltered Reports Fill the Gap

On March 26, 2011, about two weeks after the disaster struck Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding areas, Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minami Soma, a city in Fukushima, appeared in a YouTube video. Minami Soma is about 25 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where the explosions had occurred. By then, the government asked residents in the affected areas to evacuate or stay indoors.

"We are left isolated," Sakurai said, bespectacled and wearing emergency gear.

Although the city asked the residents to evacuate, about 20,000 people still lived in the city. Substantial lack of supplies to the city and insufficient information from the government and TEPCO were major problems.

Speaking in Japanese but with English subtitles on screen, Sakurai spoke to the world. If the media "do not step into this area and get direct information," they will never be able to get or tell what really is the situation with the residents, he said.

"We would urge them to come here and witness what is happening."

It was a plea from the heart.

A blogger and former journalist at another daily, Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Yasuharu Dando records the press’ spinelessness in his blog.

According to Dando, there was an article carried in the Asahi Shimbun on March 15, 2011, in which a staffer in charge of locating the journalists on the ground, "instructed the correspondents in Fukushima Prefecture to get out from a 30-kilometer radius and report from indoors."

It was March 12, the day after the disaster hit, when the government had set the evacuation area at a 20-kilometer radius.

Not everything is in a sorry state, though. One survey shows that the majority of Japanese people on the whole give a thumbs-up to the media.

According to the Central Research Services, its 2011 media research on 3,461 people showed that the respondents gave an average score of 72 out of 100 in terms of trustworthiness of Japanese newspapers. This is the same score as in the previous year. They gave higher scores to NHK, at 74.3.

But while 75.5 percent of the respondents said the newspapers' earthquake reports were good, in terms of reporting the nuclear accidents, the percentage drastically drops. Only 39.4 percent said the papers' reporting of radiation levels was satisfactory, for example.

A Role for New Media


Wataru Sakata, a university student and blogger, says that March 11 offered an opportunity to give the Internet a proper status as a form of media: "A myth that there isn't correct information on the Internet has at last collapsed in Japan."

When people wanted to know more than the limited reports by the mainstream media, "they turned to the Internet and found expert opinions or information from the overseas media."

That once sniffed-at medium, Twitter, also gained a broader status. It has been a useful vehicle for many to spread the information, although the ease of using Twitter also at times contributed to the spreading of inaccurate data.

One of the destinations for information seekers was an opinion site, BLOGOS, which attracted the eyes of parents who were concerned about the safety of radiation with regard to their children. Similar to America's Huffington Post, about 700 bloggers write about their known fields for the site. Launched three years ago, it now has 25 million page views a month.

"Opinions from people who actually know about the relevant areas, instead of critics, are much more convincing," says BLOGOS editor Kota Otani.

The disaster also presented an opportunity for freelance journalists who filed numerous reports, often from the affected areas, without the constraints of rules governing the main stream media. The Free Press Association of Japan, founded in January 2011, has been holding press conferences for them to grill those in power.

Hirohito Yamada is a co-founder of a new web service, called "byus"  (read as "by"- "us" ). The site picks current affairs topics and asks its users to express their opinions. Side-by-side, the site displays the pros and cons of a chosen topic.

"We wanted to create an opportunity for people to think critically about issues" instead of accepting what others want you to think, Yamada says.

"It's easy to simply accept what the mainstream media present us," a 23-year-old student, Rei Omori, says. "But I learned what I saw and read does not tell the whole picture. The important thing is to use the media, instead of automatically taking things in as they are."

Former newspaper journalist Koide has also taken a new step, stimulated by the March 11 incident.

"The shambles and confusion following the earthquake and nuclear accidents revealed a failure of scientific communication among the government, the nuclear power industry and the scientists' community," he says.

In January, Koide began activities to develop what he describes as "middle media," which is aimed at niche readers and audiences. In its first symposium, he invited doctors and parents in Fukushima Prefecture to talk about the danger of thyroid cancer among children in the affected areas. Next month, he plans another symposium.

Tokyo correspondent of a British newspaper, the Guardian, Justin McCurry, warns of the danger of the media taking their "eyes off the ball as time passes."

McCurry visited Fukushima last month and the main fear among residents was that the Japanese national press was no longer interested in Fukushima, apart from anniversaries, etc.

"Several people I met said they now depend on the international media to keep this issue alive."

Photo by Luis Jou García on Flickr and used with Creative Commons license.

Ginko Kobayashi is a freelance Japanese journalist and author. She lives in London and writes about media, technology, journalism and social affairs while going back and forth between Japan and Britain. Her books include "History of the British Media" and "WikiLeaks That Japanese People Don't Know." She blogs about British media and publishes a column on Yahoo! Japan as well as on BLOGOS.

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This post originally appeared on the website of the European Journalism Center, an independent, international, non-profit institute dedicated to training journalists and media professionals to the highest standards in journalism.

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August 22 2012


Foreign journalists 'intimidated' in China: Press groups

DOHA Centre for Media Freedom :: Foreign press associations in China expressed alarm Tuesday over recent incidents of intimidation directed against foreign media workers, including the alleged beating of a Japanese journalist.

A report by AFP, www.dc4mf.org

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August 13 2012


Plant manager Masao Yoshida, Fukushima: 'The human element has been lost' in many investigative reports

A remarkable story especially in a country where counseling is rare, "and admitting to receiving counseling even rarer". 

Japan Real Time | Wall Street Journal :: In an unusual postscript to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident last year, the manager of the plant at the time — Masao Yoshida — has agreed to the release of a video in which he talks about what he was feeling during the thick of the crisis.

"Fukushima Daiichi plant. The workers" - A report by Yoko Masuda, blogs.wsj.com

Tags: Japan

August 07 2012


Tepco releases 150 hours of footage of Fukushima nuclear meltdown

BBC ::  Tokyo Electric Power Company has released 150 hours of footage showing the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. TEPCO is looking to counter criticism it was unprepared for the accident, the world's worst since Chernobyl. The video reportedly shows tension between Tepco workers and executives over how to handle the disaster.

Tepco initially refused to release the videos, but its new management decided to do so after it was accused of lacking of transparency.

A report by www.bbc.co.uk

Tags: Japan

April 29 2012


A Facebook page documenting debris from Japan's Tsunami

The Next Web :: It’s been just over a year since a devastating tsunami hit Japan, and the Maritime Museum of British Columbia (MMBC) has come up with the latest online project aiming to help survivors, in a unique way, with the use of a Facebook page.

Continue to read Nancy Messieh, thenextweb.com

Tags: Facebook Japan

April 23 2012


Japanese broadcaster NHK expands into US market

Journalism.co.uk :: NHK, Japan’s public service broadcaster, has expanded into the US market with the launch of a 24/7 English-language news channel for New York residents. In a statement announcing the launch, Tetsushi Wakita, head of NHK WORLD, said the launch would help fill the gap in the market left by US media organisations closing or downsizing their bureaus in Tokyo.

Continue to read Tom Rouse, blogs.journalism.co.uk

Tags: Japan

April 16 2012


Dick Costolo: Twitter to expand Japan sales staff on local growth

Bloomberg :: Twitter Inc. will “aggressively” add sales staff in Japan to attract more advertisers as local user growth exceeds the company’s global expansion, Chief Executive Officer Dick Costolo said. The microblogging service will continue to invest and hire in Japan and will also add engineers.

Continue to read Naoko Fujimura | Takashi Amano, www.bloomberg.com

Tags: Japan Twitter

February 11 2012


Wataru Sawamura: Japan, the earthquake and the media

open Democracy :: The worst disaster in Japan since the second world war hit the country's north-east coastal region on 11 March 2011. The combination of tsunami and nuclear crisis presented the media with great practical problems and ethical concerns. Wataru Sawamura, an experienced journalist with the leading newspaper the Asahi Shimbun, reflects on how he and his colleagues sought to fulfil their professional responsibilities as the tragedy unfolded.

Continue to read Wataru Sawamura, www.opendemocracy.net

Tags: Japan

January 08 2012


Fukushima's nuclear disaster lays bare Japanese media's ties to top

Japan Times :: Is the ongoing crisis surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant being accurately reported in the Japanese media? No, says independent journalist Shigeo Abe, who claims the authorities, and many journalists, have done a poor job of informing people about nuclear power in Japan both before and during the crisis — and that the clean-up costs are now being massively underestimated and underreported.

[David McNeill:] The disaster at the Fukushima plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) again revealed one of the major fault lines of Japanese journalism — that between the mainstream media and the mass-selling weeklies and their ranks of freelancers.

Continue to read David McNeill, www.japantimes.co.jp

Tags: Japan

January 01 2012


Associated Press: 7.0-magnitude sea quake shakes Tokyo, but no tsunami

Associated Press :: A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck under the sea south of Japan on Sunday, shaking buildings in the capital but causing no apparent damage or tsunami. The quake struck near the uninhabited island of Torishima in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) south of Tokyo, and its epicenter was about 370 kilometers (230 miles) below the sea, the Japanese Meterological Agency said. It did not generate a tsunami.

Continue to read AP, www.google.com

Tags: Japan

December 30 2011


Tom Fenton: How well did the media cover the world in 2011?

Global Post :: From the Arab Spring to the Russian Winter, historians will mark 2011 as an inflection point that changed the course of the 21st century. It was one of the most eventful years that I have seen in a lifetime of reporting world events. Any one of its extraordinary stories would be enough to make it an extraordinary year — including the apocalyptic tsunami that destroyed a Japanese nuclear power plant, and a near-meltdown of the world’s second most-important currency that threatens to plunge the world into another deep recession. 2011 has been just one big, unexpected event after another.

As the year reaches its frenetic finale, it’s time for Tom Fenton to ask how well the American media handled the biggest news year in decades.

Continue to read Tom Fenton, www.globalpost.com

December 29 2011


Free access - Japan gets Wi-Fi dispensing vending machines

Free access to news and information for the mainstream should be a public good.

TechCrunch :: It’s no secret that Japan is the country of vending machines, but this is new: Tokyo-based beverage company Asahi Soft Drinks took the wraps off a vending machine [JP] that not only offers drinks but also sends out Wi-Fi signals within a 50m radius. The Wi-Fi will be available for free, is accessible with multiple devices, without registration, and for anyone to use

Continue to read Serkan Toto, techcrunch.com

Tags: Japan

November 26 2011


@wblau - The Future of News: What to learn from Fukushima and the Arab Spring?

Check out Wolfgang Blau's Google+ page (link below). Readers are invited to send their questions.

Wolfgang Blau @wblau | Google+ :: Debate coming up: "The Future of News: What to learn from Fukushima and the Arab Spring?". - Wolfgang Blau will be chairing a debate between the Director for New Media at Al Jazeera English, Mohamed Nanabhay and the Japanese internet pioneer and new director of the MIT Media Lab, Joichi Ito. The debate will take place at the News World Summit in Hong Kong.

[Wolfgang Blau:] Which tools and methods would you both recommend for verifying social media sources in crisis reporting?

Continue to read plus.google.com

Visit the site News World Summit, HK, www.news-worldsummit.org

September 04 2011


LNR - Japan: Soul Patron - A rich media journey through Japan

A debut by filmmaker Frederik Rieckher, Soul Patron presents a rich media journey through the atmosphere and culture of Japan, led by Tokotoko, an exquisitely animated bunny. In Buddhism, Mizuko Jiz is the protector of deceased children: children who died before their parents in particular. In the form of an interactive journey through Japan, Frederik Rieckher – who created Soul Patron as part of his master’s degree course in applied sciences – gives an impression of the atmosphere and culture of this country. 

Here are some of its screens. Visit the site for your own virtual journey through Japan:






Visit the site to start your interactive journey Soul-Patron

Continue to read www.doclab.org

August 02 2011


Japan - Risk-aversion measures spreading after March 11 quake

asahi.com(朝日新聞社) :: The devastation of the March 11 earthquake has prompted local governments and businesses to scramble for measures and proposals to mitigate future damage in this natural disaster-prone country. Their growing fears have not only led to flight of business operations to safer areas and raised calls for changes in the power generation system, but they are also rekindling calls to relocate capital functions out of Tokyo.

Continue to read Kenichi Goromaru Staff writer, www.asahi.com


Fukushima Japan - More 'tainted cows' shipped to Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama

Daily Yomiuri :: Another 290 beef cattle raised in Fukushima Prefecture have been shipped inside the prefecture as well as to Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures after being fed what is believed to be cesium-tainted rice straw harvested in Miyagi Prefecture. This brought to 872 the number of cows suspected to have been contaminated with radioactive cesium and shipped from Fukushima Prefecture. Six cattle farms in Iwaki, Sukagawa, Furudonomachi and Ishikawamachi purchased the straw and fed it to their cows.

Continue to read www.yomiuri.co.jp


Japan - Nuclear plant workers developed cancer despite lower radiation exposure

There is no reason to believe that low(er) radiation exposure is more safe. The following story reported by The Mainichi Daily reminds us of the workers still staying at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. It shows that we should not feel too save if we hear exposure is below legal limits. It's a deathly job and it will be the same tomorrow.

Mainichi Daily :: Of 10 nuclear power plant workers who have developed cancer and received workers' compensation in the past, nine had been exposed to less than 100 millisieverts of radiation, it has been learned. The revelation comes amid reports that a number of workers battling the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant were found to have been exposed to more than the emergency limit of 250 millisieverts, which was raised from the previous limit of 100 millisieverts in March.

Continue to read mdn.mainichi.jp

July 21 2011


Japan - Women's World Cup triumph an inspiration for now and the future

Mainichi Daily :: The morning of July 18 was a happy one in Japan, energizing the entire country. The Japanese people, faced with so much sorrow over recent months, were able to rejoice winning the Women's Soccer World Cup final, bringing the championship to Japan for the first time.

But have you recognized that: After every match including the final, the Japan team unrolled a banner reading "To Our Friends Around the World, Thank You for Your Support" and carried it around the edge of the pitch to great roars of appreciation from the crowd? And did you know that in the past, women selected to the national team had to pay half their own expenses for international tournaments? 

Continue to read mdn.mainichi.jp


Japan - James Cameron's promise: documentary about Tsutomu Yamaguchi

Japan Times :: A documentary film on double atomic-bomb survivor Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who was joked about on a BBC quiz show, will make its British debut this summer. BBC had called Yamaguchi "the unluckiest man in the world" for experiencing both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in August 1945. 10 days before his death of stomach cancer in January 2010 at 93, James Cameron visited Yamaguchi in a hospital in Nagasaki. During the meeting, Cameron said he would make efforts to create a film on atomic-bomb survivors, as Yamaguchi had hoped.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi - continue to read Junko Horiuchi, search.japantimes.co.jp

July 11 2011


Japan - A record of the disaster - Google uses Street View tech in Kesennuma

New York Times :: An oddly equipped car made its way last week through the rubble in this tsunami-stricken port city. On the roof: an assembly of nine cameras creating 360-degree panoramic digital images of the disaster zone to archive damage. It is one of the newest ways that Google, a Web giant worldwide but long a mere runner-up in Japan’s online market, has harnessed its technology to raise its brand and social networking identity in this country. 

[Shigeru Sugawara, mayor of Kesennuma:] I’d like them to record Kesennuma’s streets now. Then I’d like them to come back, when the city is like new again, and show the world the new Kesennuma.

Google is using its Street View technology in Kesennuma and elsewhere to make a record of the disaster while tracking reconstruction efforts. In a country with the world’s second-largest online advertising market, after the United States, Google is finally winning new friends.

Continue to read Hiroko Tabuchi, www.nytimes.com

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