Fukushima and Media

Martin Fackler is the chief of the International New York Times in Tokyo. When talking about media’s role in Japan, he sounded frustrated. In his seminar he criticized the role of media in Japan moreover, he spoke about how media is not functioning as the controlling mechanism of the government or other influential stakeholders. This essay is going to point out the weakness of the media in Japan, how they are losing their influence and their power while influential political or economic stakeholders control the media- consequently manipulating people’s mind. The example of Fukushima underlines the weakness of the system of the media in Japan.

What happened in Fukushima:

When the Great Tohoku Earthquake and the following disaster of Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis happened on the 11.03 2011 there was the phenomena of media sending completely different information to the people. There were Japanese media on the one hand and there were foreign media on the other hand analyzing the Fukushima power plant explosion and disaster from two different perspectives. Comparing the Japanese media with the foreign media one could have the feeling these media are reporting two different incidents- so much difference was there. According to Fackler, Japanese press was put under pressure by the government not to spread information that could lead the Japanese people in panic. It is understandable that the government always attempts to prevent any kind of a panic in a situation such like the Fukushima disaster. Fackler, however, was convinced that he and his team had to tell the truth to the people. From the beginning on he wrote about the great scale of the spread of radioactivity. Since he belonged to the foreign press the Japanese government did not have the power to put him under such a pressure not to write about his findings. Even months and years later, Japanese press has to be very careful when reporting about Fukushima post disaster consequences.

This statement can be underlined with the current happening. Few days ago, the boss of the centre-left newspaper Asahi press had to apologize in front of the publicity for providing the people with wrong information about the Fukushima disaster. Asahi press is one of the big newspapers that have critical opinion on government’s behavior and statement. Generally spoken, Asahi Newspaper, Mainichi Newspaper and the Tokyo Newspaper are the three big Newspapers in Japan who have critical view on the government, especially related to Fukushima disaster. Not wanting to go too much into the details but what happened was that Asahi press had reported that about 90% of the Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Cooperation) workers left the working place Fukushima Daiichi while the disaster was going on, apparently against the Director’s instruction and his order. The so called “Yoshida (the director of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant) diary” that in the beginning the government was strongly opposing to be published is now partly published. Apparently it was neither 90% of the workers who escaped from Daiichi nor was an order of the director to stay there. (But I assume it was about “80% of the worker” and there was an “instruction” made by Yoshida to

keep working). Normally, if a newspaper makes such a mistake it will just apologize in the following paper to the readers- but not so this time. There was a sharp “Asahi Newspaper-Bashing” organized by Tepco, government and government supporting Newspapers such as Yomiuri and Sankei Newspapers. Asahi press was seen as the “enemy” by the government. I will now explant why it can be analyzed in this way.

To understand this particular situation one has to know the deep connection between the industries, in this case Tepco and the government in Japan. Not only the industry and the government but also other influential stakeholders are more or less tightly connected with each other. In the 1970th and the 1980th Japanese firms and producers were called “Japan Cooperation” referring to the fact that Japanese firms were backed up by the government. With the “Iron Triangle-model”, there was a strict connection between the LDP politicians the bureaucrats and the industry. Those actors provided each other with information and moreover supported each other creating a win-win situation. When the bubble burst in the end of the 1980th this model of iron triangle was regarded as one of the reasons why Japanese people got in to this crisis not being able to find the solution for two or three decades. From the model of success, the same model was seen as the reason for the crisis. The model of iron triangle is regarded to be destroyed after the bubble but even today the strict tie between political elite and the industry is not to be ignored. The strong connection still exists. Tepco for example is the shiny example for this. Tepco was strongly supported by the government. Now after the disaster it became bankrupt and it is a state-owned company. And that is exactly the reason why it is so dangerous to criticize Tepco since this act is the same as criticizing the government. The government and the bureaucrats tolerated Tepco’s action for decades. Again and again Tepco was hiding small accidents and incidents to the public. There was a clear give and take situation between Tepco and the state since the state was always pushing the nuclear energy. Besides, “Amakudari” took place (ex-elite bureaucrats getting a good position in Tepco after they got retired, Politicians became sponsored by Tepco etc.) additionally, Tepco had Japanese press such as Yomiuri Newspaper or Sankei Newspaper on their side making commercials for Tepco. Those media manipulated people’s mind with wrong facts claiming that nuclear energy was safe and there no possibility of an accident. The Fukushima disaster shows how that was wrong.

The Asahi press was one of the few Japanese press that kept criticizing the government’s behavior- not only in relation with the Fukushima incident but also in some other fields. Now Asahi press will be weakened through this scandal and there will be only two other Newspapers that are government-critical but frightened to be next being attacked and become destroyed by the government.

In that sense Japanese media and the principle of free speech is facing a dark time with the Abe administration trying to strengthen the government changing the laws and furthermore attempting to change the Japanese constitution. The protection of national security law that came into force in the beginning of the year is in fact a law that takes away any power from the government-critical media. The law forbids spreading out information that could endanger the state. The consequence of this law is immense. Technically, no newspaper could write about the Fukushima situation too government-critical since this information could “endanger the state”. In fact quite many things can endanger a country.

Author: Leon Daiske Oberbaeumer