Within minutes of Japan being hit with the largest recorded earthquake in its history as well as an ensuing tsunami on March 11, journalists were on their feet, ready to provide the public with fair and balanced information, and continuing coverage of the catastrophe, as is their duty.
But some self-proclaimed “journalists” didn’t really get on their feet. Instead, they sat down in a comfortable chair, touched up their foundation and prepared to report the news by reading off of a teleprompter from the comforts of an air-conditioned room.
Even through such a horrendous disaster, which to date has killed more than 9,000 people, network news kept their focus on the entertaining and tear-jerking aspects of the damage done, and didn’t even bother to check their facts or do any actual investigative reporting.
In a rush for ratings, sensationalism and sloppy reporting quickly controlled these “expert” reporters, and they shied away from their responsibilities as a journalist.
In America, FOX News lost its credibility by inaccurately reporting that if another large earthquake were to hit Tokyo, residents should evacuate in order to avoid a nuclear meltdown at the “Shibuya Eggman nuclear reactor.” FOX News displayed the name on a map that showed nuclear plants in Japan that were in danger of a meltdown. The problem: Shibuya Eggman does not have a nuclear plant, as it is a nightclub and music venue in Shibuya.
This is just one of many distasteful examples of the hurried “reporting” being played back on our televisions.
Then, while the tsunami ripped through Japan, splintering buildings and tossing boats and cars, the West Coast held its breath as they waited for the tsunami to hit its shores. Many true journalists were busy investigating the direction of the approaching wave, predicting how big it could be and providing West Coast residents with continually updated information about wave size and the predicted time of impact. But what did we see on television? Interviews on the beach with ignorant surfers waiting for the “killer” waves, and boring shots of nothing happening in the ocean except the usual 2-3 foot waves.
But that didn’t stop the middle-aged man in a yellow rain poncho from standing on the sand in front of the camera, telling us how we should get to higher ground immediately as the impending surge slowly approached our homes on the hills.
It wasn’t just our national reporting that sensationalized the impact of the disaster. Taiwan exaggerated the news also, using words such as “doomsday” and “flee” to describe the disaster and let residents know what they should be doing, resulting in complaints from residents of the unnecessary panic resulting from the reports.
Television news reporters provided the public not with timely, essential information, but with highly sensationalized, incomplete and sometimes incorrect news. This is a full disservice to a public that most likely kept their television on news channels throughout the day to keep track of the earthquake and tsunami coverage.
It’s already difficult enough to turn the television to a local news station and actually end up in a positive mood about the continuing coverage of depressing and horrific stories. Where has the significance, accuracy and fair and balanced news in broadcast media gone? Television journalists need to follow the duties and ethics of fair and balanced reporting that they have vowed to uphold, whether the situation be as catastrophic as this earthquake or as boring as an annual town event, and follow the lead of the journalists that are risking their lives to get the most accurate facts that will not only inform the public, but help them as well.