Is Western Coverage of Japan Veering Into "Disaster Porn"?

japanquakedisaster.jpg
Reuters via NYT
An idea getting thrown around on the Internet is that American news networks' coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan is a form of "disaster porn." This post from Tokyo photographer Rikki Kasso's blog reposted on Tumblr sums up the argument:

Please everybody do not refer to CNN, or most American news networks for accurate updates on the development of the situation here. I would suggest Japan`s news network of NHK. Most news networks keep running the same 4 or 5 video extreme damage loops focusing on the body count and tragedy. Those are valid points as well, but to repeat them with music and logos is sickening, and now Japan has become the lead star in the American News network Natural Disaster Series.

True?

I just spent 25 minutes watching NHK, and frankly, everyone is covering the same stuff right now. NHK is definitely a bit calmer and more even-handed in tone, and I suppose CNN has flashier graphics. But there's no getting around the fact that the news coming out of Japan is a really big deal and should be covered as such, and it seems a little knee-jerky to say that the American media is operating under some kind of prurient ulterior motive.

This is CNN's homepage right now as I write this:

cnn_screenshot.png

Here's NHK World's:

nhk_screenshot.png

Now, when you take a look at MSNBC's, you kind of get the "disaster porn" argument:

msnbc_screenshot.png

Is this sensationalist or over the top? Maybe. But if you're going to hype something up, it might as well be the biggest natural disaster the world has seen in years.

That said, the relentless tabloidization of American television news isn't really tasteful for the coverage of anything. Fancy graphics, thunderous music, and other bells and whistles add nothing to the content of stories. Yet for better or for worse, they've become part of the framework. This reminds me of when Bill Maher said that American coverage of Haiti was disaster porn, because the media actually followed up (too much, he thought) on the aftermath instead of peacing out after a few days. Thing is, nearly half of American households contributed to the Haiti relief effort. People weren't just watching because they have some sick interest in disasters -- they were watching and being moved to help.

So, sure. The way our media is covering Japan isn't as sober as it could be, and it isn't ideal. But if it gets people following the story and spurs them to contribute, that's really what counts here.

[rgray@villagevoice.com] [@_rosiegray]



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