Air NZ boss: Nuke threat overplayed

21:36, Mar 20 2011
Air New Zealand CEO and pin-up boy Rob Fyfe
GREEN MAN: Air NZ boss Rob Fyfe is a strong advocate for sustainability.

Air New Zealand's CEO Rob Fyfe has hit out at the news media in two messages to his staff, saying they are guilty of leading the world toward a ''humanitarian travesty'' in coverage of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

In his second message he described himself as ''a lone voice'' trying to fight sensational media.

In the first message, written four days ago, he said there was no probability that Tokyo residents would be affected by radioactivity from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station.

He blamed the media for the fears.

And in a new message out today, he said it was "clear the media are struggling between which disaster and human tragedy to give greatest prominence too''.

Fyfe's first message on the disaster was highly critical of media.

"As a result of misleading media coverage in many countries around the world, some airlines have come under pressure to stop flying to Japan and some governments are coming under pressure to recall their search and rescue personnel,'' Fyfe said in the message.

''If lives are lost and human suffering is exacerbated in those areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami because of exaggerated and inaccurate media coverage, it will be a humanitarian travesty.''

Air New Zealand, he said, would keep its staff in Tokyo.

He said he had been disappointed with New Zealand media coverage on Fukushima: ''Little of it is fact based, it is increasingly taking the form of a docu-drama with a mixture of fact, ill-informed non-expert opinion and a fair dose of fiction.''

He said expert advice showed that ''the situation is completely safe for our staff resident in Tokyo and our visiting crews who are more than 200km away from the nuclear power stations''.

Even if there was a meltdown at the plant, the exclusion zone would only need to be 50km.

''The bottom line is that these experts do not see there being a possibility of a health problem for residents in Tokyo,'' Fyfe said.

''The radiation levels would need to be hundreds of times higher than current to cause the possibility for health issues and that, in their opinion, is not going to happen.

''The experts do not consider the wind direction to be material. They say Tokyo is too far away to be materially affected.''

Fyfe said the situation was very different from Chernobyl, where the reactor went into meltdown and the encasement, which exploded, was left to burn for weeks without any control.

''There have been no radiation levels reported in Tokyo above normal ambient levels. There is no panic in Tokyo and in fact life is very quickly returning to normal. There are the occasional aftershocks and a small percentage of shops are still closed, but the vast majority are open,'' Fyfe wrote.

He was critical of TVNZ's Close-Up programme which interviewed him, just after running a piece about Chernobyl.

''In my view it was a shameful piece of drama. The woman's story was tragic, the piece was designed to instil fear in the minds of those who have loved ones in Japan such as search and rescue personnel, Air New Zealand flight crew plus the 6000 New Zealanders that may be in the country along with those who have Japanese friends.''

In his latest message, Fyfe said given the news agenda ''there was no shortage of drama, instability and human suffering to choose from''.

''Yet, as much as the media coverage is dominated by all this doom and gloom, it continues to be the resilience of the human spirit that stands out for me in all this coverage.''

Fyfe said he spent most of the week ''as a lone voice in wanting people to take a fact-based, rational approach to the issues facing Japan, it is with some relief to see an increasing number of international agencies coming out with more realistic assessments of the nuclear situation and media coverage becoming less sensational and exaggerated''.

He told his staff that the International Atomic Energy Agency, World Health Organisation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation had declared that international flight and maritime operations could continue normally.

''Screening for radiation of international passengers from Japan is not considered necessary at this time. Currently available information indicates that increased levels have been detected at some airports, but these do not represent any health risk.''

Fyfe said, based on Christchurch's experience, he expected aftershocks would continue for some time in Japan.

''The latest advice is that almost 18,000 people are dead or missing and my heart and thoughts go out to those awaiting news of loved ones who are missing,'' Fyfe wrote.

''While I have had a lot of feedback from people indicating they have valued these updates on Japan, given the situation is stabilising I will reduce the frequency and only report on any significant changes.''