Friday, March 18, 2011

The world gone bananas...again

The quake and tsunami in Japan last week left me shocked and saddened, but the subsequent focus by the western media on the nuclear incident to the exclusion of almost all other stories has made me properly angry. How much easier it was for them to film foreigners queueing up to leave the country at Narita International, than tackle the issues facing the locals who have no choice but to remain: such as humanitarian aid and social reconstruction?

It's clear that in today's world, there are few institutions that anyone is willing to trust and that right at the bottom of the trust pile sit politicians and scientists. (Ok, maybe bankers and oil company executives are in the mix too.) You might think there's good reason for this, but consider also that they have less of an clear-cut commercial incentive to manipulate us than the 24-hour media outlets.

We may not trust them all that much either, but they have enough of a trust advantage over officialdom to make it worth exploiting — for in spite of the fact that we keep on falling for their scare stories (Mexican flu...), it's still so much easier for us to believe that experts, elected officials and corporate spokesmen are deliberately keeping us in the dark, than it is to wise up to the fact that the global media have been conspiring to keep us all shit scared.

In this case the scientists were out there with real information from quite early on, but the news channels chose to ask oncologists in a different part of the world — or even their weather man — how the 'fall-out' from the Fukushima plant was likely to pan out.

In the west of England, where radon gas is emitted naturally, around 1000 extra cancer deaths occur as a result each year. Has the French government made plans to evacuate its citizens from Exeter? Non.

It's difficult to be sure how many people have died from radiation-related causes since the melt-down at Chernobyl in 1986; I've seen estimates ranging from 1000-9000, but whatever the actual total, it's considerably less than the 25,000 we can assume have died in the same period in Devon and Cornwall.

And if we are to trust the scientific experts just a little bit, the reactor at Fukushima simply cannot experience the same sort of catastrophic radioactive emission as that which occurred at the Soviet plant, and come what may, the particles emitted in the steam won't pose a threat to the population of Tokyo.

I'm currently getting more radiation from the 4 or 5 bananas I eat every day than anybody in the exclusion zone around Fukushima. And yet yesterday I watched a Mexican news piece on how salt was selling out across China and you just knew that a given proportion of viewers would respond immediately by rushing out to buy some salt.

You'd think that the big worry to emerge from this whole appalling disaster would not be whether nuclear fuel is safe in the long term, but what would happen if a quake of that magnitude were to take place directly in front of the bay of Tokyo where 36m people live.

Wednesday was the most irritating day to watch either CNN or BBC World. All told nothing significant happened, either in Japan or Libya, and so the 'Breaking News' mood became rather strained and the speculations rather flimsy. Highly paid reporters who must have been starting to feel a bit like the cast of Two and a Half Men over in North Africa, were briefly allowed back on our screens to report on the slow advance of Gaddafi's forces on Benghazi.

But back in Japan Emperor Akihito showed up on TV, an event that we were duly informed was 'rare', which apparently meant that we were to draw the direst conclusions from it. The New York Times led the way that day in imputing the whole mess to something endemic in the Japanese/Asian way of political leadership; warnings unheeded, information distorted, actions delayed — clearly expecting us to have forgotten both Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon blow-out.

One also has to suspect that organisations like the Guardian and the BBC are to a significant extent staffed by people who like to revel in stoking up emotive narratives which cause massive commercial damage to everyone except themselves.

Now, forget everything I just said and answer me this: why are the senior members of the Japanese government all starting to dress in ugly blue boiler suits? Could it be that they're just about to take refuge in their secret underground bunker? Either that or the tsunami washed up a paca-style container full of old M&S clothes which had been floating around the Pacific for ages like all those rubber ducks .

1 comment:

Begonia said...

Algun comentario sobre la primera burra--quiero decir dama?