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Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011
When will the Japanese media stop avoiding antinuke sentiment?
On Dec. 15, freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki held a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan about his new book, "Yakuza and Nuclear Power," which describes Suzuki's stint as a worker on cleanup detail at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor last summer. Though the book is mainly about organized crime's involvement in the crisis, the press conference was more wide-ranging and highlighted by minutiae that could only come from someone who was part of a process: the taxonomy of pay grades, the architecture of Tokyo Electric Power Company's deniability in terms of worker health, the veneer of scientific expertise that hides a lack of scientific rigor.
During the press conference (which is available to watch on YouTube), Suzuki said he is not qualified to comment on whether Japan should abandon nuclear power, but that the current "dire" situation at the reactor continues despite the government's reassurances regarding a "cold shutdown." He also explained why he brought his story to the FCCJ. "The Japanese media have turned away from this issue," he said, "and I have a great deal of information."
It's commonly held that the foreign press has covered the nuclear disaster more critically than the domestic press has. Some consider the foreign coverage alarmist, while others say domestic reporting has been too mindful of Tepco influence and government policy. Much of the intelligence Suzuki presented has already been reported in other Japanese media, though not necessarily in such detail. However, two recent news stories show how the mainstream media remain skittish about the subject.
The Asahi Shimbun on Nov. 29 reported on a press conference by publisher Hiroshi Hayakawa, who in late October tried to buy time on two TV Asahi programs — the evening news show "Hodo Station" and the afternoon talk program "Tetsuko no Heya" — to advertise the fall/winter issue of one of his magazines. The theme of the issue was a proposed national referendum on nuclear energy, which Hayakawa supports but the central government has shown little interest in.
TV Asahi rejected the commercial, citing standards of the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters, which state that members should not air commercial messages that might be confused with the content of news programs, the idea being that "controversial social issues must take all viewpoints into consideration."
Hayakawa did not overtly criticize TV Asahi's decision at the press conference, and the coverage it received may have been worth more than whatever promotional benefit he could have derived from the airing of the CM, especially given the magazine it was advertising: Tsuhan Seikatsu, a catalogue sales publication. In fact, Catalogue House, Hayakawa's company, currently buys airtime for the same issue, except that the subject of these commercials is mail-order sales pitched by prominent celebrities who talk about their satisfaction with the merchandise they've bought through the magazine. At the end of the CMs, though, the cover of the current issue with the headline "A referendum on nuclear power, as soon as possible ..." is prominently shown.
Cynics may snort that Hayakawa is using controversy to draw attention to his business, and Catalogue House says that since news of the CM's rejection the number of hits to its home page has skyrocketed. But Hayakawa has always used Tsuhan Seikatsu as a platform for his political viewpoints, and the magazine tends to highlight products that are considered "socially responsible," including energy-saving devices and merchandise from the stricken Tohoku region. Moreover, the articles in the fall/winter issue are serious pieces written by well-known journalists. They just happen to be in a mail-order catalogue.
A more direct application of media discrimination is the focus of another case of squeamishness with the antinuclear position, initially reported in the Asahi Shimbun Nov 16. Two years ago, well-known environmental activist Yu Tanaka was asked by the publishing arm of the Nishi Nihon Shimbun in Fukuoka to write a book about "creating communities" based on a lecture that Tanaka had given. The project started in February 2010 with a target publication date of October 2010.
All the editing had been completed by the fall, but shortly before the galleys were ready the project editor contacted Tanaka saying that his "superiors" had asked that 12 pages having to do with problems related to pluthermal technology — plutonium fuel used in commercial reactors — be removed. According to the Asahi, Tanaka thought this request "strange" but agreed to the cut. Nevertheless, Nishi Nihon Shimbun kept putting off publication and then canceled the book in December 2010. As it turns out, Kyushu Power Co., which operates nuclear reactors and has been seeking approval for a pluthermal power generator, is the second biggest shareholder in the newspaper.
Nishi Nihon Shimbun turned down Asahi's request for interviews until the latter paper published its article. Since then, Nishi Nihon has released a statement claiming that the original manuscript lacked logical coherence and that the reasons for suspending the book project had nothing to do with any "special consideration" for Kyushu Electric. Tanaka countered that if this were true then the editors should have asked him to rewrite the material during the editing process, but they never did.
It should be noted that the entire drama took place before the Fukushima crisis and that it might not have come to light — meaning the Asahi wouldn't have covered it — had there been no crisis to make people more sensitive to the nuclear power industry's perfidy. But it's also worth noting that both the Catalogue House and Nishi Nihon Shimbun stories were covered as news by one of Japan's papers of record. It may not qualify as the sort of reporting that Tomohiko Suzuki thinks is important, but it's progress.