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Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010
Ship collision coverage exposes media bias
This week's collision in which a Japanese whaling ship chopped off the bow of an antiwhaling boat off Antarctica not only highlights the international tussle over the contentious hunt but has also led to a clash between Japanese and Western media as well.
The environmental group Sea Shepherd said its high-tech antiwhaling boat, the Ady Gil, was deliberately rammed by the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru No. 2, while Japanese officials claim the collision couldn't be avoided because the activists' boat slowed suddenly in its path. The Ady Gil was hit on the port bow.
Six crew members from the Ady Gil were reportedly rescued and Sea Shepherd members said the damaged boat eventually sank Friday while being towed toward a French base in Antarctica. One crewman reportedly suffered broken ribs.
How the incident unfolded depends on whom you ask.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp., the country's public broadcaster, reported the accident with the headline "Whalers hit Sea Shepherd boat" on its Web site. In the article, it quoted a Sea Shepherd spokesman saying the Japanese vessel perpetrated "completely and absolutely a willful act."
The report said the Fisheries Agency in Tokyo is investigating the incident, but did not mention that the agency also claimed the activists slowed suddenly, thus causing the collision.
London-based Reuters published a story from Canberra headlined: "Japan whalers sink boat." Its initial report Wednesday quoted only the activists.
An article titled "Japanese cut in half antiwhaling ship Ady Gil" by the Australian tabloid The Daily Telegraph also failed to mention the Japanese government's contention that the vessel could not avoid the collision.
It also said "the Japanese refused to respond to mayday calls and fled the scene," quoting Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson, who was aboard the Ady Gil.
The Sydney Morning Herald gave space to the Japanese angle. Its article "Japan criticizes NZ over collision" mentioned the Japanese government has lodged a complaint with New Zealand over Wednesday's clash between the protest boat Ady Gil and the Shonan Maru No. 2.
The reporter also mentioned that most Japanese are not interested in the whaling issue as very few eat whale meat regularly.
Japanese newspapers had a different take on the incident, with most calling it a collision between two ships. The Sankei Shimbun ran a front-page story Thursday claiming the Ady Gil had sailed too close to the Japanese vessel and suddenly slowed down, based on statements from the Fisheries Agency.
Although the article stated that Sea Shepherd members said they were suddenly rammed while idling, it also pointed out that the Nisshin Maru, another Japanese whaling boat, was harassed by the activists. The Asahi Shimbun's headline on the story referred to "a collision with an antiwhaling boat," and described the Ady Gil trailing a line from its stern in an attempt to snag the Japanese vessel's rudder and propeller earlier. It said "the Ady Gil did not send out a distress call after the collision," contradicting Sea Shepherd's claim.
The Yomiuri Shimbun's headline was worded more strongly. "Sea Shepherd boat cuts into the path of a patrol vessel," it said, and the article stated "the Japanese vessels repeatedly warned the Ady Gil, but it did not stop approaching."
When it comes to media coverage of international disputes that touch on value-laden cultural issues, truth, like beauty, seems to be in the eye of the beholder.