As the nuclear crisis unfolds in Fukushima, Yukio Edano, Japan’s chief government spokesperson, is emerging as one of the heroes in this drama.
Edano, who in a previous career was a patent lawyer, is chief of staff to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. The nation has come to depend on Edano’s briefings and updates to media regarding the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis.
In spite of reportedly being awake for 105 hours straight, Edano projects a calm, humble, and reassuring demeanor.
Though he is of course not without critics who believe the Japanese government is mishandling the situation, many have come to call the humble Japanese spokesman the “Jack Bauer of the crisis” in reference to the lead character on the TV show 24.
The consensus is that Edano is doing a fine job because he’s not spinning information.
In addition to using simple, straight-forward language, Edano is answering speculative questions, which many media trainers foolishly advise their clients not to do in times of crisis. Not responding to “what if” questions at moments like these can breed distrust.
Citizens have every right to answers for questions like;
What if the reactor melts down? Or, Can the radiation cause cancer?
Media trainers often wrongly advise their clients not to use negative words when a crisis strikes. That’s bad advice.
Scary as it may be, when the news is bad, use of words like disaster, crisis, and radiation poisoning build trust.
Five instances when it’s appropriate to use
Negative Words & Speculative Responses
- When lives are threatened.
- When the situation you confront has a high level of concern, coupled with a low level of trust in your ability to deal with it.
- When your day to day affairs are overshadowed by the situation.
- When you’re the topic of heated discussion and debate in your legislature.
- When you’re on the front page of major dailies above the fold.
During a crisis of this magnitude it is best to steer clear of response techniques that make it look like you are more concerned with building a Teflon veneer than you are of meeting the emotional needs of the public.