In times of crises, leaders often try to "manage" the information flow. While that may have worked in the past, John M. McKee says it's not even possible anymore. However, it's clear that the Japanese Prime Minister is still trying to do just that.
The outlook for Japan is extremely tough. These satellite pictures show the dramatic impact of the tsunami, and there is still a lack of information about the true impact of those nuclear reactors that may have begun melting down. The company that owns them is well-known for misleading officials in the past.
My son and his wife live in Japan. Fortunately, they're based in Sapporo, on the island above the one that was so badly hammered recently. We've been in constant communication via Skype, Facebook, and email since the first earthquake.The differences in news availability, and sharing, between there and here is dramatic: I'm often supplying him with new insight or giving him links to reports on issues that are not yet available through the Japanese media.
In all likelihood someone in government there is trying to "manage the news." Leaders often do that in crises. We repeatedly see them react that way in business crises (for example, a car company that has uncovered a technical problem that may risk customers' safety) and governmental issues — like when a bank suddenly goes insolvent and puts the financial industry at risk.
Usually they'll say they do this because they don't want to cause panic. ("They won't understand! It will cause uncontrollable problems! We need to get ahead of this before we disclose...")
I doubt this is was ever the right approach, but today, with internet connectivity even during periods of revolution and natural disasters, it's definitely a bad choice. People (even those of us who "don't understand" how big the problems are) usually behave decently when they understand what they are facing. And even if you don't agree with that comment, trying to manage the news when millions of people are on panic alert is untenable.
The Japanese government would be wise to start being more transparent and forthcoming with their citizens. More than perhaps any other nation, their citizenry respect those around them. They know how to handle problems involving crowds and scarcity. And, they are getting the real information from outside sources already.
Here's to Their Future...