Australian journalists are abandoning field coverage of the earthquake and tsunami devastation and flying out of Japan, as radiation fears from damaged nuclear reactors worsen.
Commercial television crews have retreated to Tokyo, with Seven and Ten evacuating its journalists from Japan altogether. Other anxious news bosses are leaving reporters in the tsunami-hit north for now, while News Limited has flown a medical assessor from Sydney to Tokyo to report on the safety of its people.
Seven news boss Peter Meakin told Crikey this morning “most — if not all” journalists will have left the country by tonight.
“We have been taking advice on radiation levels and don’t intend to take any avoidable risks,” he said. “Accordingly, we have booked flights out of Japan for all our reporters and camera crews.
“I have no doubt that journalists from some organisations will elect to stay in Japan but our staff should feel no pressure to join them.”
Today host Karl Stefanovic, for one, is on a plane out. He tweeted overnight: “Sad because its such an important story. What about these people who can’t leave. No choice. Calm in the face of it all.” At Haneda Airport in Tokyo, during another large aftershock, he said: “Lights still shaking. Saw a ten news crew dive under tables..a bit on edge.The locals are cool.I’m having scotch”.
That Ten crew included globe-trotting former Al Jazeera journalist Hamish MacDonald, now roaming reporter for 6pm with George Negus. MacDonald has been documenting the “incredible destruction” in Sendai and desperate queues for food and fuel. Before flying out, he tweeted while taking cover: “family next to us is under the table praying. american family with two small kids.”
A Ten News spokesperson tells Crikey their crews all left yesterday.
Nine reporter Tom Steinfort also tweeted overnight he was flying out of Tokyo today. Nine also has senior Sydney reporter Mark Burrows, Damian Ryan and Amelia Adams on the ground — Mark Calvert, Nine’s news and current affairs director, told Crikey they’ve been pulled back to Tokyo, “and we’re constantly re-assessing the situation”.
“A move further south is likely. Total withdrawal from Japan is possible,” he said. Nine is not alone — some US TV networks have also retreated to Tokyo.
The ABC has three crews in the tsunami-hit areas of northern Japan, including resident Tokyo correspondent Mark Willacy and Beijing-based reporter Stephen McDonell, at a safe distance from the failing nuclear reactors at Fukushima and now working closer together. Its bureau in Tokyo is also providing support and coverage.
All staff will remain for now, but as ABC News policy head Alan Sunderland told Crikey today: “We have plans to get our staff out quickly if we need to.
“ABC News has significant experience in covering major overseas stories, and of course we also have our own permanent bureau in Japan staffed by both Australian and Japanese employees,” he said. “We have an important duty of care to all of those staff, as well as additional teams who have flown into the country to help cover the story. The ABC is therefore taking the best possible advice on safety on the ground.”
Australian newspaper journalists will also maintain a presence. Paul Whittaker, editor of The Australian, says he’s monitoring the situation “in terms of any further actions that may be warranted”. Staff safety, he says, is “paramount”.
“We have been monitoring events closely in relation to the radiation exclusion zone since its inception and began moving our people much further away from the affected area yesterday,” he told Crikey.
But other News Limited journalists are leaving. Herald Sun news boss Mark Alexander says the paper has decided to fly out Andrew Rule, its star recent recruit from Fairfax, and photographer Alex Coppel. He says News HQ in Sydney organised for the medical assessor to go to Tokyo and monitor the situation.