Covering A Story 'Beyond Japan's Imagination' NHK played an important role in warning citizens of the coming tsunami on March 11. And although it has been praised for its overall disaster coverage, some have questioned its reports concerning the nuclear situation, because NHK is part of a network of vested interests.
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Japan's Public Broadcaster Responds, Reports Crisis

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Japan's Public Broadcaster Responds, Reports Crisis

Japan's Public Broadcaster Responds, Reports Crisis

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

But as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Tokyo, nothing could prepare NHK's journalists for the harrowing images that they captured.

ANTHONY KUHN: Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF ALARMS)

KUHN: A minute and a half after that initial warning, NHK's news department director Noriyuki Oogi pressed a button, sending NHK into emergency broadcast mode.

NORIYUKI OOGI: Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF A RINGING PHONE)

KUHN: Oogi says that no matter how disturbing the images being broadcast may be, NHK policy says that its announcers and reporters must keep their calm.

OOGI: (Through translator) Our main purpose is to deliver the information accurately. And we believe the best way to do that is in a calm manner, because if our anchor is shouting and saying get out now, that would be fear mongering.

KUHN: NHK senior announcer Shinichi Taketa narrated the images.

SHINICHI TAKETA: (Through translator) A black wave is now engulfing the houses and the farmland.

KUHN: As he prepares for the evening newscast, Taketa says he expected to see the tsunami rushing inland.

TAKETA: (Through translator) What I didn't expect was for the tsunami to completely engulf the fields, and then the houses. And then you can see it coming up to a road, and there was a car and people just standing there. To see this before my eyes was incredibly difficult.

KUHN: Taketa says he's covered earthquakes and tsunamis before but nothing like this. His narration this time may have been calm, he adds, but his emotions were not.

TAKETA: (Through translator) This natural disaster has caused a great many casualties. So I have to wonder if there was a way we could have lessened the casualties or saved even one more life.

KUHN: Takesato Watanabe is a media scholar at Doshisha University in Kyoto. He praises both NHK and Japan's commercial media for their job in reporting on the earthquake and tsunami.

TAKESATO WATANABE: But about the nuke accident, I think NHK do know the facts, what's happening, but they are not reporting well, and private broadcasters, they don't have any staff who understand the nuke accidents scientifically.

KUHN: Watanabe argues that Japanese media have not been critical enough because they themselves are part of the network of vested interests that includes power companies and government regulators. He says that for decades, NHK and other Japanese media have conveyed the nuclear lobby's message, that nuclear power is safe and necessary for Japan. He points out that NHK's funding must be approved by Japan's Diet or parliament.

WATANABE: To get NHK's budget passed in the Diet, they must follow the ideas of the ruling party or economic circles' ideas represented by the power stations.

KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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