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Tuesday, 12 April 2011


March 15.

It is difficult to write this because I, like everybody else, am on tenterhooks.
Here I sit, breath bated – whatever that means – waiting to find out if the Japanese engineers can convince a couple of nuclear reactors to cool down.
I, along with 99 per cent of the population, am on the set of tenterhooks holding the hope that the whole thing just blows over, if you’ll pardon the expression.
The other one per cent, seemingly comprised of Sky News, the ABC and our commercial television stations ­- along with a motley crew of rabid greens, climate change activists and Gaia disciples - are on the other tenterhooks.
This set holds the fervent hope that the Japanese fail miserably and that there is a really apocalyptic ‘nuculer’ (as one of our local radio announcers insists on calling it) conflagration.
I can understand the assorted anti-nuclear groups rooting for the fuel rods, after all, it would be sort of free publicity their ‘end of the world is nigh’ cause could only dream of.
The media’s motivation is a little more difficult to understand.
Perhaps it has just collectively decided that disasters related to water and earthquakes just aren’t the ratings grabbers they once were after the saturation coverage given to the Queensland floods and Christchurch earthquake.
This could be true for Sky, which literally gave us weeks of endless reels of stock footage of water slowly spreading across Queensland while panic stricken reporters told us that the “towns being inundated by water” was “unprecedented”.
This removed any nagging doubt that Queensland towns were being inundated by strawberry jam, but raised further doubts about whether Sky reporters know what unprecedented means.
The culmination of that marathon coverage was Sky commentators and reporters relentlessly informing us that Brisbane was about to suffer a flood of “Biblical” proportions.
It didn’t.
There was less scope for Sky to build the tension with Christchurch, given the event had already happened, but we still got a channel dedicated to round-the-clock re-runs of the same 10 minutes of footage.
One would have hoped that they might have learned a lesson in temperance, but sadly, they seem to be following the same guidebook with Japan.
“Frantic engineers” battle to “avert nuclear catastrophe” scream the Sky talking heads. Occasionally, to relieve the boredom, they used “brink of nuclear catastrophe”.
It all sounded eerily like a re-run of Brisbane with the added element of farce in their effort to paint a picture of a group of Japanese – probably the most stoically phlegmatic people on the planet - nuclear technicians running around, tearing their hair and screaming Banzai at each other.
Meanwhile, over on Al Jazeera and the BBC, interviewed nuclear scientists were patiently pointing out that yes, explosions were bad but, no, a nuclear catastrophe was not in the offing.
By late afternoon Sky had filched a nifty little graphic used earlier on the day and plonked one of its own reporters in front of it to mouth the words, also mostly filched from the BBC.
Shortly after that, a reporter from a rival network, on the ground in Japan, inadvertently belled Sky’s alarmist cat.
“You must be very concerned,” asked David Speers, “about the radiation from the damaged nuclear plant?”
“No, not really. I’m here to cover the real story, which is the human devastation caused by the tsunami.”
Battered, but unbowed, David rolled out Greens deputy leader Christine Milne to restore balance to the force.
Milne’s opening serve brilliantly wrong-footed everybody expecting her to launch an anti-nuclear barrage: “What we are seeing is a terrible humanitarian catastrophe unravelling before our very eyes … “
Ah, we all thought, she’s at least going to acknowledge the real tragedy and not the hoped for one, but: “It was bad enough with the earthquake and tsunami, but watching the Japanese have to cope with this nuclear disaster is just terrible …”
It was too much for David, who never really recovered his poise, leaving the court wide open for Milne.
“Particularly for a country that lived through Hiroshima and Nagasaki … The whole world is worried sick for the Japanese people, I just hope those containers hold … nuclear power is not a safe technology and now we see the consequences.”
Milne confidently asserted that “communities are feeling quite unnerved by the thought of living near a nuclear reactor”, but conveniently forgot to mention that people are worried mostly because of rabid ‘nuclear power equals three-headed children’ campaigns run by political parties like hers.
David tried to fight back - “pro-nuclear groups point out that over the last 10 years there have been seven deaths associated with nuclear power, but 44 deaths related to wind farms” – but Milne brushed him aside and went through in straight sets.
“I’m not going to confirm or deny those figures … nuclear is not safe and it is costly … we have fantastic renewable resources around the world and technologies ready to go.”
These technologies are news to most of us, who are fairly certain that wind and solar power generators can’t provide base load power and are currently only surviving in infant form because of massive Government subsidies.
Then, in a neat reversal of what I assumed was fairly standard market forces, we are told that a carbon tax is needed to make coal-fired power more expensive, so that the already subsidised renewable sector can compete – after it unveils these hitherto hidden new technologies.
I always assumed that businesses prospered by making a product better and/or cheaper than its rivals, thus forcing more expensive producers to find ways of either cutting costs to compete or finding a different product to make.
So, a Government that refuses to put import tariffs on products from countries that don’t have a carbon tax, thereby allowing Australian companies who do have to pay a carbon tax a slightly more level playing field, because it would be unfair is going to put a tariff on cheaper power producers to enable more expensive producers – which still don’t have a product – to compete.
I’m confused as, no doubt, are the legion of Australian businesses sent to the wall after being undercut by Chinese competitors.
Meanwhile, there are enough pictures and reports coming out of Japan about the true catastrophe that has already happened, rather than an unfolding story that may or may not get worse, to leave you shaking your head in disbelief.
You would have thought that this would be a story that called out for a dedicated channel bringing us 24-hour coverage, and you would be wrong.
At least 500,000 people homeless, tens of thousands of people literally wiped off the face of the earth, entire towns obliterated in minutes.
All of this in a country which has been a major trading partner and close regional ally for 50 years, now facing a repair bill estimated at $10 trillion dollars (the tsunami levy is going to be a doozy).
Nobody argues that Queenslanders and the Kiwis of Christchurch have suffered – little tragedies are writ large to those who suffer them, but I’d be prepared to bet that if you asked a Queenslander or a Kiwi what they felt after watching coverage of what the Japanese have suffered they would be human enough to admit that they got off lightly in comparison.
If they get it, how come our news media don’t?

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