What is “important news”?

I was watching the 7pm news of NHK TV on Saturday 2 May. NHK, in case you don’t know, is a Japanese euqivalent of BBC, a public broadcasting company. Some people call it “state broadcasters” as it seems (to some including myself) heavily influenced and controlled (voluntarily) by the government. “Volutary control” sounds like oxymoron. Never mind. I am not talking about the characteristic of NHK. It’s a different subject.

Yes, I was watching their news programme in that quiet evening. A top story was presented from London to report that Kate Middleton had now been hospitalised and a large crowd of media people and “royal enthusiasts” had gathered in front of the hospital. NHK’s correspondent looked and sounded excited.

I found myself wondering why her hospitalisation was such a big thing: the baby had not even been born yet. I was not terribly interested in the subject anyway but kept watching the programme as I had nothing else to do. Then came the second story and that was about the current situation of the earthquake in Nepal. NHK’s correspondent was talking about the uphill rescue efforts to save the lives of victims. Streets were full of debris. People looked exhausted and children looked sad.

Suddenly I was angry. Why did the story about Kate Middleton’s hospitalisation have to come first and the Nepal earthquake second? Who decided the order? Of course it was NHK’s editor, wasn’t it? Why did he/she decide that the royal baby story should be presented first and followed by the Nepalese situation?

Surely, the fact that so many people were desperately waiting to be rescued in Kathmandu was much more important thing to be told particularly to the Japanese audience who were in the same situation four years ago than the fact that a royal family member had been in the hospital expecting to have a baby.

Why did NHK’s editor decide to present the stories in that order? What was his/her mentality? I asked this question out of my own curiousity to my journalistic friends on the Facebook and a well-known TV journalist was kind enough to give me his own explanation. He said that perhaps NHK’s editor and sub-editor had a fixed idea that newsworthiness should be decided on the basis of:

a) whether or not it was about a “new” thing,
b) whether it was about any well known people, and
c) whether the story was “bright” enough to make the audience happy.

I am sure that he did not mean to say that editors follow these lines all the time. You can’t always have “bright” stories anyway! But in this particular case, assumingly, NHK’s editor decided to put priority on the story related to the royal baby: it was certainly new and about famous people and it would be a very bright story making everybody happy. Perfect! Why not the first story!?

Why did the Nepalese situation have to come as a second story? You know the answer. The tragedy was already at least a week or so old: not a new thing anyway. It was about almost exclusively about ordinary people. No VIPs. And, of course, the story would not make the world bright.

So, it was just that NHK’s editor did what any other editors would have done. He/she would not have been criticised by anybody. He/she was safe! Except that some crazy old pensioner found it unacceptable or even unforgivable particularly for the editor of a Japanese public TV station to put the Nepalese people in a second place, considering the agony of our own people had to live through at the time of the March 11 2011 disaster. I’m pretty sure that the Nepalese were among those offering kind assistance to the Tohoku people.

Perhaps NHK’s editor did what was considered to be “normal” in the world of media people. Would it be normal in the real world outside media? It would be disgusting and almost embarrassing to have to pay license fee to this public TV station…

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2 Responses to What is “important news”?

  1. Joy Murphy says:

    The order the news comes to us is annoying and, as you note, not weighted to the most important news but the glossy, glittery news of the lightweight public, who always seem to hunger after something that they do not have themselves. If only they could see how shallow that existence is when it is lived in snapshots of sexy clothes, fancy cars and the mundane birthing of little impact to our lives.

  2. Jiro Harumi says:

    Did you read this?
    What do Americans think about the British election? They don’t.

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