The Coverage of the Catastrophe in Japan by U.S. Media is a Disaster on its Own

The fears about a nuclear meltdown in the Fukushima power plant after a tsunami hit Japan last Friday requires an all-embracing, around-the-clock-analysis by the media outlets in the U.S. to keep the American public informed. An obligation that comes, (if you as the contemporary cynic gave up on the educational mandate television used to have), with the charges of about $60,00 a month by provider Comcast, as one example. An obligation that also comes with the fact that we, as a paying audience have to endure ongoing, hebetudinous commercial breaks that remind us that we are determined to be consumers foremost and intelligible humans only subsequently. For the first three days major U.S. TV stations did not meet this obligation.

The global consequences of the ongoing catastrophe are yet unclear, but the current nuclear push by President Barack Obama, environmental organizations and Republicans and Democrats in Congress for clean energy alternatives in the U.S. is already at issue. The debate is now taking place in many other countries, Germany being one of them. Here, Generation Facebook is bringing back the '80s "Nuclear energy - No, thanks!" sticker, a big seller after the horrors of Chernobyl in 1986 and the threat of nuclear deterrence by the former superpower Soviet Union and U.S.

A piece by Michael Calderone and Joe Pompeo on Yahoo news Friday afternoon entitled "Cooper, Amanpour among TV journalists to Japan" caught my eye after I had checked into major US TV stations -- CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox -- without noteworthy results on a Japan update the morning after. In the interim, CNN is relying on NHK TV, Japan's state-funded broadcaster, which yesterday officially opened its news feed to Northern American TV stations in order to inform Japanese expatriates who live in the U.S. sufficiently. CNN is also broadcasting YouTube material and snippets of the so called "IReporters", where people without any journalistic training, can share their stories.

Calderone and Pompeo reported that "U.S. broadcast and cable networks, some of which were short-staffed Friday morning in Japan, are now sending top anchors and correspondents."

Convinced that a major news station like CNN would have an on the field correspondent network for disaster reporting, I had to realize they have, but not for an American audience that happens to pay a cable provider that doesn't carry CNN International, like, for example Comcast. CNN-reporter Kyung Lah is on the ground for CNN International, reporting at first over the phone, but nevertheless accounting the events to an international audience of 200 nations worldwide, not so much to her fellow countrymen.

We, as the U.S. audience have to rely on celebrity reporters like Anderson Cooper and understand that it just takes time to fly him out to Japan with a Mardi Gras hangover to share his tears with the world. CNN is, by the way, the same news station that, according to the Financial Times, ended 2009 with about $500m in operating profit for the year, its highest in its history.

Meanwhile, BBC News, the principal state-owned public service broadcaster in the United Kingdom launched several online components for its coverage of Friday morning's massive earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami in the Pacific Ocean. Its coverage includes a live events page, featuring a video stream of the latest news; a wave map to help predict the height of waves throughout the region; a video page offering clips of the earthquake's impact across Japan; and up-to-date analysis and updates on a reports page with a lot of original footage, provided by on sites journalists.

The BBC also broadcasts to every household in the UK for an annual fee of $242, which includes TV, radio and online services. In comparison the U.S. viewer is paying an annual $ 720 (!) with Comcast that secludes him and her from a substantial news information flow on a catastrophe of staggering impact for the entire world.