Covering the Japanese Tsunami, UK style
I suppose that the more you travel, the less jingoistic you become. I am three thousand miles from the UK these days and it seems like so many light years from home – not! That’s it, really. Home is for me an ephemeral outdated concept, maybe the place of my childhood or childrearing years but many like me are now wandering creatures, itinerants in search of answers to questions we have had little time to frame because of our very movement, the constant change that has become our way of life. We may, like the Buddha, seek through our journeys to find enlightenment, somehow knowing it is not likely to be found in the fixed geography of our history but what we discover are peoples in lands who are just like us, clueless as to what existence is all about.
The expatriated gypsy flunks the test of knowledge more often than not by assuming that coming to terms with a new location, a foreign culture is somehow the same as discovering deeper answers. While engrossing and diverting, it rarely is. We carry our history on our backs. We live and die in new scenery, that is all.
Meanwhile, those we have left behind and who populate the ‘old country’ seem to become moored and mired in their unchanging homeland. Everything is weighed and measured against its history, its traditions and its certainties. Even when these stay-at-homes cross borders, they have one eye over their shoulders to make sure they can get back to safety as soon as the little adventure is over.
I am digressing in this ill-formed way as a lead-in to something which seems obvious to me but may not be to those whose news service it is. Watching the UK’s Sky News coverage of the tragedy of Japan’s earthquake and Tsunami, I felt somewhat ill at ease by its approach. It had a team out on Japan’s east coast. They made it seem that they were braving danger. They were concerned about the British who might be caught up in it. They talked to Save the Children workers about what they might do to alleviate the horrors for Japanese children. They rolled out the Minister who proudly boasted of the sixty odd crack force on a search and find brief. They marvelled at the Japanese refusal to loot, their order and discipline, they produced little cameos of individuals searching flattened towns for their loved ones. Worse, they played over and over the engulfing black sea of destruction as it took everything in its path, played it with their own version of the sinister Jaws theme, deep reverberations and oriental cymbals in disharmony. They played up the fears of radiation and how far it might be spread by winds.
In other words, it was news for those who can never shake off the notion of home. It was a cake of horror and it was to be eaten by those who are safe and far away from it all.
Al Jazeera, on the other hand, gave it straight, without translation into a UK cultural context.