In a sign, perhaps, that the world is on edge about a potential nuclear war, Japan’s public broadcaster on Tuesday accidentally sent news alerts that North Korea had launched a missile and that citizens should take shelter — just days after the government of Hawaii had sent a similar warning to its citizens.
The broadcaster, NHK, corrected itself five minutes later and apologized for the error on its evening news. The initial texts cited J-Alert, a system used by the government to issue warnings to its citizens about missiles, tsunamis and other natural disasters. But NHK later said that the system was not to be blamed for the false alarm.
Makoto Sasaki, a spokesman for NHK, apologized, saying “staff had mistakenly operated the equipment to deliver news alerts over the internet.”
The broadcaster’s swift rectification of its error stands in sharp contrast to the 38-minute delay that officials in Hawaii took on Saturday to cancel warnings of an incoming ballistic missile. It took a further five hours for Hawaii’s governor, David Y. Ige, to apologize for the mistake.
That blunder was blamed on a veteran employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, who had sent the missile alert to cellphones across the state by picking the wrong option on his computer for a routine drill, and then confirming his choice.
The mistake sowed panic, in that a missile launched from North Korea would land in Honolulu in about 30 minutes, giving people very little time to prepare.
But even in Japan, a country that routinely receives buzzes on cellphones and flashes on television screens warning of earthquakes and tsunamis, citizens took to Twitter to express their frustration and disbelief at NHK’s error, coming so soon after the debacle in Hawaii.
“I thought I would die,” one Twitter user wrote in Japanese, followed by a “LOL.” Another, using the name Michiya Hayashi, wrote: “Following Hawaii, NHK did it too. Don’t become the boy who cried wolf.”
If the citizens of Japan and Hawaii were only starting to shake off any sense of unease, North Korea waded into the debate on Tuesday, with its state-run newspaper describing the false alarm in Hawaii as a “tragicomedy.”
“The entire island was thrown into an utter chaos at the news that a ballistic missile was coming in,” the Rodong Sinmun said, with unmistakable glee.
In its customary colorful language, the newspaper also characterized President Trump’s tweet two weeks ago, in which he claimed to have a bigger nuclear button than the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as “a spasm of a lunatic” and the “bark of a rabid dog.”
“The spasm of Trump in the new year reflects the desperate mental state of a loser who failed to check the vigorous advance of the army and people” of North Korea, the newspaper said in a commentary.
President Trump so far has not responded to those comments.