Reports differ on Japan

While foreign media has portrayed the situation in Japan as a nuclear disaster with global implications, students and faculty interviewed all said the atmosphere in Japan was calm.

“Personally, I did not feel in danger in Tokyo,” Mark Butterworth, a teaching assistant on the School of Management trip, wrote in an e-mail. “Indeed, the foreign media painted a very different picture from the Japanese media.”

Some students interviewed said they were confused by the conflicting messages sent by news reports in Japan and abroad.

Wilma Bainbridge ’10, who is conducting research in Japan under two fellowships but left temporarily before the earthquake, said different media reports made it hard for her to assess the amount of danger in Japan.

“It seems like the American news media is making a big deal out of the situation, and Yale is advising students to return to America,” she wrote in an e-mail Thursday. “On the other hand, the Japanese news media is pretty calm about things and the University of Tokyo is advising people to return to Japan. So I can’t tell whether the Western media is blowing things out of proportion to gain viewers, if the Japanese media is trying to cover something up to hide a mass panic.”

According to Jun Saito, an assistant professor of political science who has studied Japan, the Japanese media relies heavily on government information, which may not be the most accurate. Government figures may portray the nuclear situation as less dire than it truly is, he said, while foreign media’s reporting may be more objective.

Yet some students and faculty in Tokyo at the time of the quake said the calm reaction of the Japanese seemed justified.

Astronomy professor Sarbani Basu, who was in Tokyo to attend a conference on studying the sun and stars through starquakes, said sensationalist reporting of the situation in Tokyo by foreign media had left her disappointed. “My regard for CNN and BBC is now completely down,” she said. “The news reports seem to be exaggerating a lot of stuff. They’re talking about destruction — yes, there’s a lot of destruction, but it’s in the tsunami-hit area, not around Tokyo.” She added that in the part of Tokyo where she was staying, she did not see shortages of food or of gasoline as reported by some sources.

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