Broadcasters face logistical problems in Japan's devastated areas

Nara, Japan, 14th March 2011:  The shortage of satellite space and fuel are two major challenges faced by companies supplying broadcast services in the tsunami-affected region of Japan.

Mac Shimamoto
“The shortage of gas is the biggest problem,” said Mac Shimamoto, who runs the uplink company, Ward, Inc. which is based in Nara, a city several hundred kilometres west of Tokyo. Having despatched several satellite trucks to the Sendai region, he told TVZ that finding any fuel for sale at petrol stations in the area is becoming increasingly difficult. With electricity being rationed in the country, people are now turning to generators as a back-up which means fuel is in extra demand. He said, “We can run for a few more days but after that we don’t know what will happen. We just have to keep calling gas stations around the area to see if they have any fuel left.”

Satellite space is also in high demand. Mac said that because of licensing issues, most of the SNG trucks can only uplink to Intelsat 8 but that due to the demand, transponder space was limited. “Technically we can go up to more satellites but the regulations are very tight and even though we made application to try to get a licence, we still haven’t got one. There are lots of politics involved.”

When the earthquake struck, within minutes Mac began receiving emails and telephone calls from broadcasters looking for facilities. In Japan, there are only about 10 SNG vehicles that are licensed to uplink to international satellites – one of them being his own truck. Calling round, he managed to secure several other vehicles and despatched them to the tsunami-affected area. But getting them there wasn’t easy.

“All the freeways from Tokyo to the Sendai area are closed and the regular road is packed with cars. Sometimes if you’re lucky, the traffic is okay – but you don’t know, it’s a big gamble to take the regular road,” he said. “So what we did is we took a freeway going to the other side of Japan. We went north and then over to the east and by doing that we could stay on the freeway even though the distance was much longer. The freeways are reserved only for emergency vehicles as well as satellite trucks but you have to have a permit which we were lucky enough to get.“

An additional hazard is that the cellular phone networks in some of the affected areas are not working. “This means we don’t always know where our SNG trucks are,” said Mac. “We call them on satellite phones every now and again so we can guide our clients to their location.”

For details of satellite news gathering facilities available in Sendai, Tokyo and other areas, please go to:
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