I was just about to get out of the car to go and talk to an old schoolteacher about the memorial service for a friend who had just died when someone on FiveLive said something about a plane crashing into a building in New York. I assumed it was a microlite breaking an office block window, a stunt gone wrong, and I went and talked about death for 45 minutes. When I got back in the car and turned the radio on again, it became very apparent, very quickly, that the world was changing. I spent the next four hours or so glued to the television.
Since then I’ve barely watched television news. I don’t want to. I’ve seen very little footage of what has happened in Japan over the last 6 days. I get my news from the radio when I wake up and before I go to bed, and, during the day, increasingly from Twitter, be it the news feeds I subscribe to, or breaking trending topics, or friends, acquaintances, and others I follow discussing world events and affairs. I’d rather not see the terror, the horror, the chaos.
When I’ve caught Channel 4 News, or BBC News at 10, I’ve seen live reports from journalists in Japan delivered against anonymous night-time cityscape backgrounds that may as well be Sunderland as Sendai, the reporters deferring back to rabbit-in-headlights academic experts from choice UK universities for comment, and they are sitting, safe and secure, in regional TV studios, away from the terror, the horror, the chaos.
How much did the world media spend on chartering flights to Japan at short notice in order to send film crews, editors, reporters, and producers to the scene; could and should that money have been spent on sending aid instead of rubberneckers-by-proxy? Japan is a developed country with a pretty ravenous media infrastructure; it’s not as if we need to send cameras there like we did to Haiti or the Thai islands.
Why do these people need to be there at all? What if something dreadful happens, if the word Fukushima does attain the same level of associative dread as the word Chernobyl or, heaven forbid, Hiroshima? What if, as posited in conversation with friends last night, Shelagh Fogerty comes back to FiveLive with leukaemia from exposure to nuclear disaster? Is that an acceptable cost of on-the-scene reporting? No. Not in any reality is that acceptable.
I feel like the media are desperate for Fukushima to turn into a new Chernobyl, for the horror to ramp up to unbelievable, nightmarish levels. Desperate to report on it. Desperate for people thousands of miles away to be united in absolute abject terror. I do not want this to happen. I hope it doesn’t happen. But watching Twitter I see people nowhere near Japan, who aren’t journalists, feverishly tweeting links to updates about the situation in Fukushima as if they too are hoping for the worst potential outcome to become the inevitable outcome, and I wonder, frankly, what the fuck we’ve come to. I don’t know much about nuclear power but I know Chernobyl was very nearly 25 years ago, and that the lessons we learnt from it must surely mean that every step has been made to make sure it never happens again. The Japanese are not stupid. Their architecture, their culture, is earthquake-ready (if not quite tsunami-ready; what can be?). Their nuclear reactors are not going to have been forgotten. It can’t get that bad? Surely? We know too much, we’ve seen too much, to let it happen again. Surely?