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After Fukushima: The Fear Factor

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After Fukushima: The Fear Factor

The ‘apocalyptic’ media frenzy post Fukushima which displaced the real disaster story and horrific loss of life wrought by the earthquake & tsunami, sickened Japanese born Mari Shibata. Along with WORLDbytes volunteers she investigates the fear factor. Why did a nuclear incident affecting only a small area fuel global meltdown stories? In an interview with the Director of the Science Media Centre we learn of news values shaped by a concern to terrify people, journalists removed from stories for being too measured and scientists accused of lying. Granted unique access to Oldbury, the oldest nuclear power station in the world we learn how seriously safety is taken and due to fears of terrorism post 9/11 its tragic shut down to visitors. Through talking to relatives in Japan we learn of the progress being made to clear up the real mess made by a natural disaster, a story neglected by the Western media.

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Related topics: International, Science & Progress

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margo said:

WHAT apocalyptic media frenzy?
To find out anything, I have had to rely almost solely on the internet. UK press and television have reported very little indeed.

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Jen said:

It seems in this case that fear is more contagious than radiation and is a good example of modern day propaganda although I liked how Fiona Fox actually attacked the media but also defended them because that is how the industry in general works.

David Gardiner said:

This report makes the very interesting and important point that news editors are a lot more interested in impact and entertainment value than balance and accuracy when choosing what to cover and how to cover it.

Having said that I think the report showed some signs of falling into the same trap itself, in being too dismissive of radiation dangers, both from the Fukushima disaster itself and and from fission-based nuclear power in general. The Japanese, of all people, know that some kinds of high level radiation kill in all kinds of ways, many of them very slow, and the effects can be passed on to the unborn and permanent damage can be caused to the gene pools of humans, animals and plants. It is important to talk about both levels and types of radiation, as well as the likely time scale over which the radioactive material is going to be around. It’s a highly technical subject and you really need to interview experts and ask them the right questions. The evidence in this report seemed to me to be a bit anecdotal. The Skype sequences in particular exemplified this. The only place where it was a bit more rigorous was in the discussion of the vulnerability of the single very old British reactor.

Nuclear power is not the clean and reliable power source that we would like it to be, waste disposal is a major problem, it’s incredibly expensive to set up and decomission, requiring massive subsidies from governments, countries using it are by and large dependent on imported fuel, its vulnerability to terrorist attack is considerable, and it’s intimately bound-up with the nuclear weapons industry. None of this was mentioned.

I think this report made its point about balance in news reporting very well, but was a lot shakier when it came to discussing the relative benefits and risks of nuclear power in general.

helene said:

This report is very interesting because it highlights the fact that we are living in a society who asks for entertainment. The Medias are interested in spectacular events and they will focus only on the spectacular aspect of an event because they are convinced that people need exceptional news. Nowadays, in the Medias, it is all about feelings and emotions and we must keep in mind that the audience levels are king so to catch the attention of people; and they think the best way to reach this goal is to make them feel emotions. That is why, unfortunately, there is a consensus in the Medias who transmit a one-dimensional message where an important part of the information disappears. We really need such reports!

Marisa said:

Excellent report!
The hysterical decision by some countries in closing down some of the nuclear power plants after the Fukushima incident, was definitely an overreaction. The anti-nuclear campaigners exaggerated the risks of radiation to public health, which was then reproduced and normalized by the media.
Furthermore, this alarmism towards nuclear energy demonstrates how we are living in a culture of fear, where the idea of precaution and risk-aversion dominates our life. Unless something is proven to be 100% safe, we shouldn’t risk it (although nothing in life is completely safe). The problem with adopting such a precautionary approach (based on the idea of worst-case scenarios), is that it marginalises and disaccredits nuclear, which is a reliable and clean source of energy.

Vanessa said:

A great report! It really is eye-opening to see the other side of the story, and to be able to put the own fear into perspective.

Ahmed said:

So good to hear Japanese people talking about this – something we never get as British media reporters are presented as the only ones in the know, are flown out at great expense, usually tow the government line, and worse still they even become the story themselves.

S Gillis said:

Excellent alternative report and exactly why we need Citizen TV like this. I do think people who disagree with the points made are largely scared of nuclear power, the people who work in the industry and probably industry in general. Sadly an anti development, anti human view which is itself scary.

duncan said:

If this is your first dissapointment concerning media values then welcome to the world. It won’t be your last. Your utopian ideas are sweet but misplaced.
Unfortunately our media is focused on keeping viewers and readers, so they will first report on the most shocking elements and on those stories which are still developing, not on reporting on the most humanitarian issue.
It would have added a lot of weight to your video if you had interviewed someone who knows something about the potential dangers of nuclear fallout.
Fukushima has over 2 million people, not “hardly any poeple”, and is only 2 hours north of Tokyo not “very far north” in Japan. Make sure you check the info given by your sources. If one thing can be discredited, the whole thing can.

Hilda said:

Nuclear Power, Radation is not a topic everyone wants to discuss, but this video gives an idea from experts like Fiona Fox. The debate had shifted from earthquake and tsunami to nuclear problem. More attention should have been given to how the earthquake and tsusnami has affected human lives, education, water, agriculture and many aspects of live. Scientific communities should do more to reassure people about neclear technology. It is good to know that the people of Japan are picking up their lives and rebuilding, wish you good luck.

Amelie said:

What a brilliantly reported, well-rounded and informative report. It’s impressive how it exposes the way UK news work and that news journalism in this country seems to follow priorities of sensationalism and fear mongering rather than reporting the correct facts in the right proportion. It is outrageous that journalists are pressured by editors to write stories from a certain angle even if that one does not accurately represent the facts. The public has little choice to verify the information from the news. I therefore think that British media has a responsibility to report facts and issues truthfully without an underlying agenda. The fact that even the Science Media Centre London openly condemns their journalistic practices seems to suggest that the issue is very serious. I liked how the report investigated the issues of public misunderstanding in regards to ‘radiation’ and the perception of surpassingly risky nuclear power plants. This was a natural and not a human disaster and in my opinion British media would have done a better job focussing on the terrible destruction of people’s homes and the social and economic struggles faced by Japan. Instead of selfish and unfounded fear, Britain might have just felt that little bit more empathetic towards the Japan if the real catastrophe caused by the tsunami had been the news rather than the comparatively smaller issue of the damaged nuclear power station.

Hanif P said:

I found this video via an American blog http://atomicinsights.com/2011/08/worldbytes-after-fukushima-the-fear-factor.html where one person says German rescue teams were withdrawn due to radiation fears – awful if true. Good report in challenging overblown fears.

Mari said:

Norm – I think you haven’t quite understood why I brought that point in. JH said in his post that he doesn’t buy into nuclear because the industry are trying to make money out of it rather than save lives. The film wasn’t intended to cover the business behind nuclear at all – it’s more about questioning the ethics of newsmakers and how that brings about false levels of fear.

Carol said:

Not surprised to hear all the scare mongering coming from the media; actually ignoring the earthquake and subsequent tsunami where many, many people lost their lives and homes. No-one died due to the Fukushima Nuclear Plant damage.
It’s good to hear the truth not only from Fiona Fox, but also from people living in Japan.
I have now learned through this film just how safe nuclear power is.
Would make a great educational film.

Norm said:

Sorry Mari, but this story has got nothing to do with whether nuclear plants make money or not and anyone that argues such a line is just missing the point. The film exposes the anti-progress predeliction of the press and media at the current time and the lack of genuine human concern for the victims of the tsunami. To try to reduce such a story to some simplistic ‘it’s all about money’ argument is to evade the political dimension altogether.

Mari Shibata said:

Thank you everyone for your comments and I’m glad to see that many of you have taken into account what Fiona Fox has revealed to us. I had a similar encounter with a senior BBC journalist, if you want to read the story visit my blog which should be linked to my name.

For those people who are curious about the nuclear industry making money, you’ll find that it isn’t a very profitable business at this stage especially in Britain compared to other countries like France where almost 80% of their energy sources are nuclear. There are some criticisms that some plants have been given too much investment and have not made enough in return. Sellafield which has recently been closed down because they haven’t secured enough business, although for unjustifiable reasons the closure has also been blamed on what happened in Fukushima. So the argument that the nuclear industry is out to make big money cannot be fully backed up.

Randolph Ferry said:

Mari is right to point out the lack of proportionality in the press coverage of recent events in Japan. It seems to me that the the promotiom of nuclear fears very rapidly displaced the reportage of the devastating damage and loss of life which were the direct consequences of the earthquake and tsunami. A measured assessment of people’s needs in the aftermath of the tsunami was sacrificed in editorial rooms in preference of purveying a nuclear based panic.
Mari’s visit to Oldbury helps to allay nuclear fears and critically question the ‘story’ we were all supposed to go along with. So why did the press paint such a panicky picture? I would say they were stooges of the current pro-nature, anti-modern and anti-human political culture. I also began to wonder whether they were also a little anti-Japanese in their outlook.

Higgins21 said:

Good to hear latest on Japan for a change would like to know which news room it was that moved people off the story for being too measured seeing inside Oldbury does make it seem less scary especially if this really is the oldest working power station

Kamish said:

Fiona Fox tells a shocking tale but obvious really we just don’t hear it said – I’m not a nuclear fan myself but I give you credit for allaying fears and I can see how real horrors of Tsunami were down played

Jane Oliver said:

Excellent report & well made medi centre women is very upfront about what has gone on scary that medi think scaring us is needed- treats us with contempt – great to get a view inside a nuclear power station – i didn’t know they ever were open to visitors i thought it was all more dangerous and hush hush & thank you too for updating us on Japan.

JH said:

Disagree with comment below just because people want a good living standards & that whether we like it or not involves making money doesn’t mean industry is full of evil people who want to kill people as Fiona says in the video I don’t buy it

Imlovinit said:

OK point taken re apologists & the Oldbury man seems sensible but we do know there is a money issue here & the nuclear industry is out to make big money not save lives

Sarah K said:

This is truely amazing I’m a bit shocked at the medias capacity to exagerate on this but I suppose I shouldn’t be and the Oldbury guy is really calming – it does help reinstate trust

Rob said:

This is a truly illuminating, and level-headed piece of video journalism. It shows the vast disparity between the perception that the media have helped create by promoting the ‘terror of radiation’ and the reality on the ground which is the earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused huge devastation killing thousands of people, while the Fukushima disaster has led to no deaths from radiation.