Kinkomokuzetsu: Column

March 31, 2011. Ryukyu Shimpo

According to Kahoku Shimpo, a local newspaper in Miyagi Prefecture, false rumors are being spread through the areas stricken by Great East Japan Earthquake. The rumors are to the effect that, “Chinese are stealing relief supplies,” “Sex crimes are occurring all over the place,” “You will be irradiated if you get wet in the rain,” and “Murder-robberies are occurring one after another.”

Such false information has been spread not only through personal communication but also through e-mails and Twitter, reflecting just where society is at the moment. The rumors are so widespread that Miyagi Prefectural Police have distributed leaflets urging people not believe incorrect information.

A deep sense of concern and a shortage of information have sparked the spread of those rumors. Experts state that it is important for people to connect with reliable sources of information such as news reports, and that we must be wary of hearsay circulating as cell-phone text messaging.

When the Great Kanto Earthquake struck in 1923, hundreds or even thousands of people were killed due to false rumors that, “Koreans have poisoned water wells.” The fact that 16 newspaper companies were destroyed, shutting down the supply of information, was also a factor behind such massacres.

When the Great Hanshin Earthquake occurred in 1995, a rumor circulated that an earthquake of 6.0 on the Japanese scale was imminent, but the Japan Meteorological Agency moved quickly to provide correct information and thereby ease public disquiet.
There is an all-pervading concern regarding the radioactive discharge from Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. The Japanese government’s public statements seem to be contradictory, in that while on the one hand they state that radiation has exceeded regulatory levels, leading to limitations on product shipments, on the other they state that there is no immediate adverse effect on human health. We don’t know which to believe, so concern over the current situation grows.

American author Mark Twain is quoted as saying that “a lie can travel half way round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

In times of emergency, information must be delivered accurately, quickly and in an easily understandable manner. The Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company both need to understand the concerns of the Japanese people and to take them to heart.

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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