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  • Eliza Chan

No News is Good News

I’m probably not the only one who thinks the world is falling apart of late. Regardless of the war and mess we have created for ourselves, there has been in the last few months: flash floods in Australia; an earthquake in New Zealand; and now a tsunami in Japan. We all sit from the comfort of our homes and watch it unfold, over and over… and over again.

Now I think it’s great that the internet, digital cameras and phones with video function and other advances in technology has given us an insight into the world we didn’t once have. We have instant access to “on the ground as it happens” coverage of breaking stories and the images are overwhelming. Who can fail to be moved as you watch cars, boats and houses sliding around like toys in dirty bathwater? We are nothing against the forces of nature. And yet I start to feel it’s just too much. With channels like CNN, Sky News and BBC News, it is very easy to watch the same devastating footage for hours on end: the scrolling “breaking headlines”, the flashy font, the presentators giving a slightly different slant to the same stock footage. I feel like a blasphemer for saying it, because I do care. I spent three years in Japan and rushed to check the people I knew were safe. I’ve travelled in the Tohoku region and it was as beautiful and friendly as the rest of Japan. But really, what good is it doing them, is it doing us, to watch these videos on loop?

Having been recently watching Charlie Brooker’s excellent How TV Ruined Your Life, I have become hypersensitive to overblown repetition and bold print, all in capitals headlines flashing with stirring music on my news programmes. One of the arguments he makes, is that the news has gone from factual, unbias and as a consequence a little boring, to sensationalist, empathetic and entirely driven by public opinion. But I can’t help but admit, it sells. Saying an 8.9 earthquake, the biggest in recorded Japanese history, hit north-east Japan is so much less effective than this. Talking about blasts at a nuclear power plant doesn’t hold against footage of the blast. Numbers, figures, statistics, don’t hold up against computer graphics showing you how a nuclear power plant works, graphs showing the Japanese nikkei plummeting and maps of the spread of destruction. People being rescued from rooftops and jetsam is much more exciting when you can see it.

I think it’s great that we try to empathise with the victims in these scenarios. Seeing interviews, hearing from friends on Facebook and watching footage people have taken on their phones makes us feel like we were there. But we weren’t. And there’s an odd sort of subconscious feeling that emanates that simply because we’ve watched it on TV for a couple of hours, we know what it’s like. Yet for the majority of us, our houses have not been destroyed, our loved ones are not still missing and we do not have to deal with the aftermath that comes months and years after the TV crews leave. What state is Haiti in these days? Or Pakistan? Or even Australia and New Zealand? We don’t know because we aren’t being spoon-fed it and the public attention is as fickle as a celebrity relationship. Also, watching the TV gives us the feeling we’ve done our duty by showing we care. We really haven’t. There are a few people that may sit up and volunteer but they are unfortunately few and far between. We can show we care by donating money, time and resources, not by sitting at home shaking our heads regretfully.

British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal

No-one can be perfect. Nor can we keep a constant eye on all of the tumultuous events happening daily throughout the world. But I just think we should watch the news with a wary eye and mind our own reactions which have been twisted for viewer ratings. For example, I know a lot of people who asked me, or asked my sister about me in regards to Japan and the people I knew there. I know they were all well-meaning, but I also know that as soon as a disaster happens, the natural reaction has now become,  “who do I know who lives there?” If it’s your immediate friends and family I understand the concern, but when it becomes your friend’s sister, or your friend’s sister’s friends then what difference does it make to the strangers you know for certain that have died? You have never met these people and you have no real tangible link to them. But the illusion of a link makes it seem more real, gives you something to add to the table.

Here is all I can give you to add to the table. In late 2009, my friend and I interrailed down through the Tohoku region on a long weekend. The people were, as per the whole of Japan, incredibly friendly, and the places beautiful. I don’t know the exact repercussions of the earthquake and tsunami on these particular areas but I know Iwate was one of the most severely affected.

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#Tohoku #SKY #charity #nuclear #CNN #empathy #CharlieBrooker #internet #sensationalism #Japantsunami #HowTVruinedyourlife #news #japan #BBC #Japanearthquake

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