Disaster Narratives and Media Theory Analysis
Nine years ago, the Great East Japan earthquake led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The emergency drew international media attention for several days as journalists played the crucial role of disseminating factual information to the public. However, an extensive analysis of the media coverage demonstrates lapses in the ability to maintain objectivity of the news content. As different media houses sought to create a sociocultural reality for its audience, the material was influenced by geopolitics and public opinion. The literature review employs several concepts, including Chomsky’s propaganda model and the media theory to expound on the similarities and differences in news coverage. The analysis of disaster narratives will equally identify if any changes took place in the presentation of information. Through the review, it is revealed that there is dissimilar framing of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in local, national, and international media. National and global media houses will depict reduced social interest with a focus on consequent human risks. In contrast, local media will reflect on the human and economic damages associated with the earthquake and nuclear meltdown.
Chomsky’s Propaganda Model
The propaganda model for media activities, developed by Herman and Chomsky in 1988, conceptualizes how ideology and communicative power link with political, social, and economic power as consequences of media output (Klaehn 43). The model argues that the size, ownership, and profit orientation of a news organization will influence its journalistic behaviors in numerous ways. Eventually, the influence will result in the development of right-wing bias in media discourse. Caranana, Broudy, and Klaehn provide a different description of Chomsky’s framework as they state that media discourse tends to mirror the interests of the market and its advertisers (3). News coverage becomes a representation of corporate affairs at the national level. The propaganda model holds that profitable mainstream media is a puppet system where conversations and content reflect the interests of those in power at that specific time and place.
Chomsky’s propaganda model is not the only theory that goes to show how news comes to be. While Media Theory informs on the crucial role journalism plays during disasters, the Framing Theory explains how governments use news releases to calm the public and minimize risks associated with a lack of knowledge or too much of it (Wisner, Gaillard, and Kelman 15). The theory was used to assess print articles covering Hurricane Katrina in 2006. After a four week evaluation, there were attributes of agenda-setting in the frames and tones. The analysis also showed changes in the frames as human interests were first prioritized before the shift to conflict, accountability, national economic damage, and morality (Brunken 1). The tone used by national news corporations when referring to the government or federal efforts was moderately neutral. However, local media houses were more negative. The Media and Framing theories help understand how different corporations, depending on size, illustrate federal responses to national disasters.
The Agenda-Setting Theory is better utilized in showing how different communication media are used to shape public opinion during or following disasters. According to Valenzuela, Puente, and Flores, the theory estimates that there is a high degree of convergence between national news media agendas (615). However, fragmented platforms, such as social media are influencing changes to the confluence. The online platforms represent a positive influence in negating the journalistic agendas presented in TV, Radio, and print. Barnes et al. agree with the assertion as they conclude four prominent newspapers prioritized public policy during Hurricane Katrina while online platforms focused on recovery and response (604). It can be said that the more significant papers were driven by the policy interests when it comes to the future of coordination before, during, and after disasters. The agenda highlights a connection between politics and news in the coverage of the hurricane.
Japanese Reporting of Fukushima
Japanese conversations on the nuclear disaster are bound to show more concern for social welfare and arguments of safety. According to Pizziconi, the discourses were harsh and sought to demystify several myths associated with nuclear power (1). As a result, local media exposed the cracks of the industry, including government regulations. The agenda-setting theory highlights that news coverage starts at human interests before shifting. Uchida et al. present a different purview of local print and television media during the Fukushima nuclear emergency. According to the authors, Japanese journalists confessed the difficulty in maintaining objective commentary during the disaster (Uchida et al. 1). An assessment of print coverage in the first six weeks shows a neutral tone and objective commentary. However, the emotions the journalist experienced affected their subsequent reporting.
Campbell provides a different view of Japanese reporting based on the size and location of the news houses. Using the Situational Crisis Communication Theory, the author investigated the differences between a U.S. national paper and a Japanese English language newspaper in the U.S. According to the review, the Japanese news organization held TEPCO responsible for the nuclear meltdown since the first day of its occurrence. Contrastingly, the U.S. organization portrayed TEPCO as a victim of natural disaster in the first few weeks of recovery (Campbell 13). The same difference is seen in a comparative report assessing media coverage by Japanese company NHK and the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC) (Imtihani and Mariko 945). The studies found significant differences in the sources cited with the Japanese firms using public statements while the larger organization hired experts. The U.S organization would end up using more sources in subsequent weeks.
Shineha and Tanaka’s research shows the differences in reporting between Japanese organizations, one working at the local level and the other on a national basis. The bigger news houses showed a faster decrease in coverage of Fukushima (Shineha and Tanaka 122). The rate of decline was faster in the company’s online platforms. The statistic can be used to show newspapers take up disaster issues more actively compared to social media. However, there was an increase in both communication channels concerning exposure and radiation (Kim and Bie 194). Local news dwelled on the disaster for longer. The reports were fragmented in terms of opinion as different local news organizations focused on different effects, felt in dissimilar regions. The divergence informs that the reduced interest was driven by urban residents who experienced fewer damages.
Other literature show differences in the framing of the immediate risks associated with radiation from the Fukushima accident. According to a review of news frames, local media was more factual with negligible, predictable, and hidden risks (Orui et al. 10). Local corporations were more intent on informing the public on the short-term and long-term health effects of the radiation. Domestic content equally included solutions for minimizing or blocking exposure to the radiation. Contrastingly, national frames had little information concerning the health effects of the disaster. The approach shows practical insight on risks associated with audience perceptions and attitudes (Cleveland). National media is more aware of the possible chaos that will ensue with the comprehensive dissemination of the realities at Fukushima (Bonati 502). As federal tools, the larger organizations did not dwell on the issue as not to alter public perception concerning the feasibility of nuclear power.
U.S Coverage of Fukushima
The Japanese government thought that foreign reporting of the nuclear disaster was a bit problematic. Mazahir, Yaseen, and Siddiqui used the Attribution Theory, Framing Theory, Cultural Value, and Situational Crisis Communication Theory to explain why international news was harsher in its coverage of the emergency. According to the authors, foreign news did little to cover the health risks associated with the radiation. Instead, they focused on the number of nuclear plants in Japan, steps taken to shut them down in the wake of the earthquake, public safety concerns, and anger with Tepco (Mazahir, Yaseen, and Siddiqui 563). Foreign media looked at the history of Tepco, the construction of Fukushima, its management, and technical lapses leading to the disaster (Broinowski 2). The point of focus was not the only difference.
Basu informs on the U.S. tendency to invite expert engineers to explain the Fukushima meltdown and its consequences on live TV and radio. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Huffington Post all included professional opinion in their quantification of environmental and economic risks associated with the meltdown (Basu). Unlike in Japanese news, where experts were subject to public inquiries, there was no audience challenging the insight given by the testifying professionals in American media (McNeill 24). Expert knowledge is known to be used as a tool for misinformation and can create public uncertainty. The approach equally creates information vacuums during the recovery phase of a disaster. Filter criteria need to be applied in the selection of experts with an emphasis on first-hand experience with the type of emergency and counter scientific opinions.
Foreign coverage had less censorship of news investigating the Japanese nuclear industry. The Attribution Theory informs that government’s work towards their best interests, and shortly after the earthquake, the Japanese regime blocked access to Tohoku and areas near Fukushima (RSF). Foreign journalists alongside freelance Japanese journalists formed networks to help gather and analyze information concerning the environmental and health implications of the disaster (Harnett). Unlike Japanese media, U.S. coverage differentiated nuclear fusion and fission. In the separation, fission, which was found at Fukushima, was considered a hazardous source of power with intensive capital requirements (Schmidt et al. 3). International news criticized the technology, science practices, and policies implemented at Fukushima. The critic highlighted that the safety problems at Fukushima were not isolated, but rather a realization of past warnings.
U.S media focused on the systemic faults and consequences of the disaster as opposed to health risks as a function of refining their nuclear policies. According to Park, Wang, and Pinto, American coverage examined the consumption, alternatives energy sources, energy regulation, and public opinion surrounding atomic energy within a broader political analysis (417). The research shows the same media approach in developed countries with nuclear power, including the United Kingdom and Germany. As per the tenets of the attribution theory, foreign news companies have less need for responsibility judgments compared to policy opinions (Jeong, Yum, and Hwang 24). Therefore, reporting focuses on perceived industry responsibility as it increases the societal punishment for the Japanese government and the energy sector.
The literature review explains the narrative techniques that influence news content, meaning, and ideology, drawing from media theories and research. Media is seen as a critical tool for disaster risk management. However, dependent on dominant interests, risk management entails different functions. News coverage of Fukushima by Japanese companies was influenced by their size, state control, revenue streams, and public opinions. Large companies experienced censorship and did not dwell on environmental and health risks. Local news corporations were more firm with their critic of the government and Tepco. The media houses equally provided the public with more accurate information on health risks and possible solutions for minimizing radiation exposure. Foreign news houses were driven mainly by political and economic (policy) interests. Patterns of reporting shifted from possible global health, environmental, and financial risks to the moral judgment of Tepco. While local and foreign media was more factual in its reports, there was minimal critic on the credibility of sources.
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