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“Japan Quake Shakes TV: The Media Response to Catastrophe” on JapanFocus

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. We have just experienced an earthquake. Please move away from the buildings to an open area…We will provide more detailed information as soon as possible…”

The polite but authoritative “we” was the voice of the Tokyo DisneySea theme park in this instance, but similar, oddly reassuring warnings of peril were being echoed across Japan, mostly following the lead of television broadcaster NHK.

Japan has a thriving terrestrial broadcast television market, which in most cities comes down to half a dozen key players. To watch Tokyo’s six main TV stations side by side, as media scholars sometimes do, is to be subjected to an overload of dazzling color, brightly-lit sets, short, snappy jingles, silly commercials and plodding documentaries.

When the biggest earthquake in memory hit Japan at 2:46 PM on the afternoon of March 11, 2011, it took less than ten minutes for the bright, cluttered screens to be drained of color, commercialism and fun. With a disaster unfolding, TV stations were under intense pressure to change the tone of their broadcasts.

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