By Michio Ushioda, Expert Senior Writer of The Mainichi Daily News.  July 6th, 2011

The ongoing crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant looks like an exhibition of panic by the elite. The headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled nuclear power station, has become hesitant to release information on the accident for fear that local residents would panic, as a result of which the utility is suspected of covering up information on the crisis. This suggests that the company’s elite leaders are panicking.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan should be hailed for quickly noticing that TEPCO had got into a panic when the crisis emerged. However, he himself panicked because he was overly irritated at the power supplier’s handling of the crisis, and visited TEPCO’s headquarters to give instructions to its executives. His actions only contributed to the confusion within the company.

Elite individuals are under the impression that members of the general public panic when faced with a crisis, but their view is not necessarily correct. Those who were victims of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami helped each other regardless of whether they are acquainted with each other, and took actions in a well-organized manner. In their news reports, overseas media outlets expressed surprise at how calmly Japanese disaster victims acted without panicking.

“A Paradise Built in Hell: Extraordinary Community That Arises in Disaster,” authored by U.S. writer Rebecca Solnit, highlights the phenomenon of togetherness at times of major disasters that has been observed all over the world. This is not only the case with Japan.

In fact, such mutual help was observed among London residents at the time of massive air strikes during World War II and between residents of New Orleans when they were hit by Hurricane Katrina. When citizens share the experience of a devastating disaster, it brings them a sense of solidarity that they usually do not have.

This March 24, 2011 aerial photo taken by a small unmanned drone and released by AIR PHOTO SERVICE shows damaged Unit 3 of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/AIR PHOTO SERVICE)

Politicians and other elite individuals must not view ordinary citizens as lost sheep. Excessive paternalism by the elite could cause themselves to panic and is highly harmful. A lesson that should be learned from panic by the elite observed in the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis is that politicians and other elite individuals should trust citizens and not cover up information.

However, in reality this principle cannot be simply applied.

For instance, one cannot help but wonder whether the way media outlets covered large-scale runs on banks during the financial crisis in the 1990s was appropriate. Almost all newspapers refrained from playing up the case for fear that their massive coverage could fuel panic among depositors.

This is also the case with the coverage of the latest disaster in Japan. It would be out of the question to report the disaster in a way that it could spur panic, but if media outlets imposed excessive self-restraint, it would also be a problem. Newspaper editors need to regularly check if they too are panicking. (By Michio Ushioda, Expert Senior Writer)

 

Source: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/perspectives/news/20110706p2a00m0na001000c.html

Original Japanese story