Media Management in Disaster Events: A Case Study of a Japanese Earthquake

Media Management in Disaster Events: A Case Study of a Japanese Earthquake

Eleonora Benecchi, Vincenzo De Masi
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3658-3.ch015
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According to a survey by Goo Research (April 2011), the average Japanese person appears to have relied primarily on television news for gathering information in times of disaster, and as unlike a lot of overseas media, the public broadcaster NHK’s news broadcasts were defined as very calm and measured. This chapter focuses on the NHK coverage of the earthquake and nuclear crisis in March 2011 compared with private channels’ and specific websites’ coverage with regard to specific events. The aim is to enlighten the ways and the tools through which Japanese Public Television played a double role: on one side it became a primary source of information for hard news and played a “service” role for the population in need; on the other side and with special regard to the coverage of the nuclear crisis, the duty to inform was balanced by the duty to reassure the public and promote harmony so that NHK privileged government and corporate statements about the Fukushima situation. The authors corroborate their study through an analysis of NHK’s programming and private channels’ changing schedules and advertising during the recent disaster. This chapter provides a concrete example of the potential television role in disaster mitigation, taking into account both the positive and critical aspects.
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The object of this study is the use of Japanese Public Television to manage and mitigate the earthquake consequences and the Fukushima situation. A preliminary analysis of the tools and strategies used by NHK to describe the earthquake and the tsunami occurred on March 11th and to inform people about their consequences, will demonstrate that the Japanese Pubcaster entered a “natural disaster mode” during the first week from the natural disaster. A follow up analysis of the official statements and documents released by NHK Media Department during the first week from the earthquake will help enlighten the main characteristics and functions of the so-called “natural disaster mode” and will demonstrate how this kind of coverage is innate to the NHK.

A sample analysis of the programming and contents of the week from March 11th to March 19th will demonstrate how in the NHK coverage of the disaster the duty to inform was balanced by the duty to reassure and promote harmony. With special regard to this last point we will perform a comparative analysis of specific events connected to the Fukushima incident as reported both by NHK and independent journalists on the Net.

This study aim at documenting a type of TV coverage we have defined as the “NHK natural disaster mode,” in the belief that this model could represent a good practice to follow when covering a natural disaster and its immediate consequences. Despite its good features, though, this model has also shown some critical aspects when confronted with controversial situations, such as the Fukushima incident. As Japan’s nuclear energy crisis continues to unfold at the Fukushima Daiichi power station, the news media have struggled to sort through confusing, and often conflicting, information about damage to the crippled plant and its threat to public safety.

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