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Fall 2019

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Observatorio (OBS*)

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On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 (Mw) earthquake off the Pacific coast of Honshu, Japan, caused a devastating tsunami, killing thousands of people. The 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake also created a partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, operated by TEPCO. TEPCO’s and Japan’s government response during this tragedy is the focus of this study. How institutions handle crises impacts public trust in institutions, which is a central theme. Using Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) as a framework, a content analysis of a U.S. national newspaper and a Japan-based English language newspaper was conducted covering a period of three months following the disaster. The primary objectives were to determine the nature of TEPCO’s communication and the extent to which unethical crisis communication patterns were revealed in the news sources. Key findings included a) TEPCO maintaining the role of victim throughout the early stages of the crisis, thus accepting no responsibility for the radiation problems; and b) TEPCO minimizing the risk of radiation in the early weeks of the crisis, while it had more concrete data suggesting otherwise. Other findings including differences in content as a function of newspaper source and crisis stage are also reported.


Originally published by Observatorio (OBS*) under a Creative Commons 2.0 in Observatorio (OBS*), 2019, Volume #13, Issue # 4. DOI: 10.15847/obsOBS13420191473.