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Rumours 18 March, 2011

Filed under: news — johnraff @ 2:55 pm
Tags: , ,

After major disasters communication breaks down and rumours can get out of control. After the Tokyo earthquake of 1923 Koreans were accused of poisoning wells and many were killed. In spite of our modern telecommunications, some of the same can still be seen after Japan’s 3/11. In Tokyo there has been a wave of panic buying – instant noodles and the like disappearing from shops, and long queues to buy petrol. Fuel shortage in fact has been a major problem in getting relief to survivours of the earthquake.

They’re having a really hard time. Many people had taken refuge in isolated places, with roads destroyed and no fuel for trucks, so had to get through the recent cold wave without enough food, water, heating oil, blankets, medicine… Supplies are only now, a week later, starting to get through to some extent. Many are elderly and already some have died.

Meanwhile the nuclear reactor at Fukushima is an ongoing story. Today they’ve been spraying it with water, which might help cool things down, and are working on getting power back to the coolant pumps. Maybe we can avoid a general meltdown. Fingers crossed. American, Korean and British authorities have apparently told their nationals to evacuate to 80Km from the Nuclear site and many Japanese are trying to do the same. Those who can are said to be moving from Tokyo to cities further west. Some resident foreigners are already leaving the country – apparently the price of an air ticket to Beijing has gone up from the usual ¥30,000 or so to around ¥200,000!

Rumours abound, carried by email, twitter, all the modern tools of communication which are supposed to give people ready access to the truth. Traditional broadcasters are urging people to get their information from radio and TV, and maybe they have a point here.

Of course the worst rumour mill of all is the stock market – everyone wants to be one step ahead so buying and selling turns on a whisper. Yesterday, on the basis that Japanese companies would be wanting to repatriate some of their foreign holdings for reconstruction at home, the yen shot up to a ridiculous rate of 76 to the dollar at one point. It’s back at 82 now, but Tokyo stocks are well down on a week ago…

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7 Responses to “Rumours”

  1. Cameron Smith Says:

    The problem with relying on traditional news organisations is that they are relying too much on internet rumours, and have become too focused on “how people feel about what’s happening” rather than what is actually happening. “How people feel” it seems is just another way of saying “what are the rumours”.

    They are also sensationalising in order to keep the story going, and in this instance, it’s been having a significant impact on the story itself, witnessed by the evacuations. The BBC, for example, has replaced calm information on radiation risk with information on levels of radiation that not even any of the power station workers appears to have received, let alone people hundreds of kilometres away. And you’d be hard pushed to come to the very constant and clear scientific advice – which is somewhere like Tokyo is not a dangerous place to be for your health.

    People often say “I keep hearing different things – who can we trust?” Surely, of any profession in the world, it’s journalists who are supposed to be good at assessing this. Instead, they’re in the grip of reducing everything to the opinions and feelings of disparate individuals, which in reporting on science and public health is highly irresponsible. As a friend of mine put it – Billy Bob from Yamanashi gets two minutes on the World Service to talk about the panic and about how little he knows, the British Scientific Advisor gets twenty seconds to explain the realities.

    Hopefully there will be a backlash against this kind of reporting – I know it’s enraging people where I live in Japan.

    • Roger Says:

      Hello Cameron, I agree nobody likes to have their time wasted listening to idle gossip.On the other hand internet rumour about “how people feel about what is happening” has led to the fall of two pretty nasty regimes recently with maybe more to follow ( whether you feel this will ultimately be for the best or not will of course depend on your own views ) something that the traditional press is very unlikely to have achieved or indeed wished to.
      Experts especially when working/speaking for the government can at times appear to have tunnel vision.Earlier this week the governments chief adviser on nuclear power said in a BBC interview that the plants involved were perfectly safe,when reminded of the current condition they were in he said that that was the failure of the pumps not the plant……..is it me?

      • Cameron Smith Says:

        First of all, the British chief scientific advisor (Sir John Beddington) has NEVER during this crisis made a claim that the reactors were safe. Instead he has said that a place like Tokyo is (with a high degree of probability) perfectly safe.

        Secondly, the claim that twitter fomented the overthrow of a regime is separate from whether the BBC or other large media organisations should employ such data in place of factual reporting. In many cases, untruths are given a pass, presumably because it’s how that particular individual (anonymous net user) sees the world and that’s interesting. It’s amazing how few media outlets have published straightforward useful guides to radiation risks. They published a LOT of comments by people who had no idea but were just freaked.

        The twitter/Internet revolution theory is in itself rather oversold. (The best account I’ve read of these issues is “The Net Delusion” by Evgeny Morizov.)

      • Roger Says:

        My apologies. The person Sarah Montague spoke to on the Today programme last week was neither the present or former Chief nuclear adviser to the government. Searching the archive I’ve been unable to find Sarah’s clip and correct myself, all of which puts that part of my post at least, firmly in the idle chatter / Billy Bob category. I can well understand anyone in Japan at the moment being more than a little annoyed. Once again my apologies …….Roger

  2. johnraff Says:

    All too true, Cameron. What role journalists should play in our right to know what’s going on in the world… Whether news should be offered as a public service… The whole concept of media as a commodity…

    Maybe we just have to keep to “freedom of speech”, and look for people who tell the truth?

  3. Sector11 Says:

    I got really “angry” a few days ago when I heard that all the URLs for “Donate-Help-Japan” type names had been grabbed up by the wrong people and the money is going directly into their pockets and not to help Japan. I keep having to “try” and explain a bunch of stuff to my wife and her family. They are caught up in the “nuclear cloud” stay out of the “rain” anywhere in the world theory. Knowing what I’ve known for years about radiation I know this is impossible with what is happening. But bad news makes good news and sells. And that’s the problem, bad news sells = $$.

    As if what Japan and her people are experiencing isn’t bad enough that they have to embellish on it. To misquote a line from ID4, “People are dying out there, I don’t think rumours are a what I’d like to hear!”

    I’m doing the best to “sift through the crud” to get what’s real – an impossible task it seems. I’m spared the “twitter” type things as I don’t have accounts with those.

    In your opinion how “reliable” is this site:

    http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/

    Good to hear from you John.

  4. johnraff Says:

    bad news sells = $$
    – exactly. 😦

    That NHK site should be OK. It’s the national broadcasting network here (they like to compare themselves with the BBC). A bit conservative maybe, but fairly solid.

    NHK do some good documentaries sometimes: I remember a big project last year to collect first-person experiences of WW2 by ex-servicemen. Horrific. Another one more recently was on “how Japan got into the war” analyzing the manipulation of media by the government to control public opinion.


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