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Is this just a “small” careless mistake? Or…?

On Monday, ABC News online released a report titled “Japan whaling forum warned against sympathy vote.”

Ah, yes.  It’s that time of the year … yet again.  The annual four day meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has started in Jersey, UK.  

The article by Sarah Clarke, an environmental reporter, expressed a concern about the outcome of this year’s meeting.  Given the situation of Japan which was hit by an unprecedented disaster earlier this year, some IWC member states may feel sympathy towards the country and may vote in Japan’s favour.  That was the concern expressed in the article.

Japan has been asking for the resumption of small-type coastal commercial whaling for years without success.  Japan is expected to request for the permission once again this year, according to the report.  Australia does not want to see that happen.  It has been always against commercial whaling.

For anti-whaling Australians’ relief, Environment Minister Tony Burke made it clear “the humanitarian issue in Japan has nothing to do with the 25-year commercial ban on whaling”.   “Australia’s stance remains the same”.

“Fair enough”, I thought.  “No drama here,” and I was about to jump to another site.

But, HEY!  Wait a minute!

I knew that a photo in the article was not actually matching the content of the story.  The photo was a very familiar one – the one which caused much controversy in 2008.  Some of you may remember.  It was a photo taken by the Oceanic Viking, an Australian Customs Service’s ship, which was sent to the Antarctic by the Rudd Government to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet.  

The photo shows two whales, big and small, being winched up to a factory ship of the fleet.  The Daily Telegraph and other media reported “mother and calf whale killed – first photo of the slaughter.”  The then Environment Minister Peter Garret commented that he was sicken by the photo.

However, the Japanese was quick in denying the claim.  On the same day, the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, which is the body conducting the scientific research whaling, released a statement saying that the two whales were not a mother and calf.  In a media release, it said “[b]oth whales were female, and both were not lactating”.

If you cannot believe whatever the Japanese side says, then forget about this claim by the Japanese but just judging from reports which followed, it seems that the mother and calf description was false.

Even so, the photo has been repeatedly used in Australian media reports on Japanese whaling since then.  Although it was a little bit uncomfortable to imagine that there must be a lot of people out there who still believe they were mother and calf, because the media avoided referring to the relationship between the two whales, I managed to let it pass.

But this time, it was different.  The caption of the photo read “Japan conducts what it calls ‘small-type’ coastal whaling in the North Pacific (Australian Customs Service: File photo).”  This does not look good.  

First, as mentioned above, this photo is obviously a shot from the Antarctic and NOT from the North Pacific.

Secondly, and more importantly, the Japanese small-type coastal whaling does NOT use this type of big factory ship.  It is a small scale whaling using small boats.  

In addition, putting vertical commas to small-type is quite disturbing.  Like in the case of “scientific whaling”, it gives you an impression that even the Japanese are saying that it is a small-type, it actually must be a large scale whaling.  Why not?  It is a “commercial” whaling.   Should be killing hundreds of whales …

That’s the impression which this short caption indicates and, I must say, it is terribly misleading the public.  This is very “un-Australian” — unfair.

As I said in the previous blog, I’m trying to be somewhere in the middle in the whaling debate.  And I am willing to get to know what Australians are really thinking about the practice and am ready to respect their views and decisions.  

But I cannot tolerate this type of error which may mislead a process to decide.  The Australian public is entitled to be given fair and balanced information.  The media is responsible for those “small” details.  The negative consequences of those “small” errors are sometimes very critical.  

I would like to believe that this was a “small” error made by the ABC staff.  Hope it was not intentionally done.  They were just a little careless, weren’t they?


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