Soon after the earthquake/tsunami catastrophe of 3/11/11, Fukushima Daiichi took center stage with the Japanese Press and Tokyo government. In the weeks that followed, it became apparent that a considerable amount of Fukushima accident information was being withheld and/or spin-doctored by the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Since then, widespread distrust has been directed toward both entities, and there is no end in sight. Yet, the record shows that Tepco might not have been as culpable as the Press makes it seem. Not that Tepco has a perfect track record, but it appears that the Press refuses to give them credit for learning from the past and bringing themselves to a level of acceptable informational transparency. In addition, it seems Tokyo has learned from their mistakes and has shown improvement too, although not nearly to the degree demonstrated by Tepco. Why does the Press in Japan continue to promote unrestricted cynicism and conveniently ignore what seems to be quite obvious?
We might trace the roots of the problem to the first 24 hours of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan became dissatisfied with Tepco’s handling of the escalating complications at F. Daiichi and tried to take matters into his own hands. Additionally, Kan was irritated with the public information coming out of Tepco, so he ordered the utility to pass all information through his staff before releasing it to the Press. After a few weeks, it became obvious that the information being presented in no way conformed to the concept of transparency. This is when the Japanese Press began turning on Tepco and the government. Distrust grew far and wide. By the time Kan was forced to resign, distrust of Tepco and Tokyo had become endemic.
What I find interesting, and only seems to have been reported by my op-ed pieces, is that since Kan resigned the information coming out of Tepco has been quite trust-worthy. This strongly indicates that the prime source of the non-transparency issue lay with Kan and his staff of cow-towing political cronies. Subsequent PM Noda tried to clean up the government’s tainted Fukushima-informational image; literally no progress has been made. After months of tainted information flow, the damage had been done. Literally no-one trusted anything coming out of Tepco or the government. Unfortunately, an on-going state of suspicion and doubt continues to exist with respect to the “official” F. Daiichi reports posted to the Japanese Press at-large. For example, on Wednesday a distrust-laden statement by one of Japan’s antinuclear voices was given full news media audience by the Japan Times. Concerning the issue of F. Daiichi worker’s radiation exposure, Masako Sawai of Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center said “In Japan, nobody exactly knows workers’ conditions at nuclear facilities. Even after the Fukushima crisis started, there have been moves to conceal exposure.” No balancing statement by Tepco or the government was presented. When the Press fails to bend over backwards to find an opposing viewpoint concerning any popular issue…take it seriously. Take it very seriously.
Hardly a day goes by without at least one major newspaper running an article about Fukushima where distrust of Tepco and/or the Tokyo government is mentioned. In every case, no “balancing” point of view is cited…not even in reports posted by the precious few news outlets that seem to be the most objective in handling the nuclear issue, like the Yomiuri Shimbun. The Press’ promotion of distrust seems universal. What’s going on here?
For one thing, on October 3rd the Asahi Shimbun posted a survey of the 46 major newspapers in Japan concerning Fukushima accident. 28 of the papers, or 61%, had run numerous editorials calling for the complete abolition of nuclear power in Japan and 14 (30%) endorsed a gradual withdrawal from reliance on nukes. Thus we can see that 91% of Japan’s Press has taken an antinuclear position. Polls also show that as much as 70% of the public wants nukes either abolished or gradually phased out of the picture, as well. There’s no denying the Press caters to public opinion – it’s the foundation of the news media’s business. Combine widespread antinuclear opinion in the public with a Press that proclaims it doesn’t want nuclear power any more, exacerbated by immense distrust spawned by the Kan regime, and we can see why the Press is tacitly promoting on-going cynicism toward everything currently reported by Tepco and Tokyo relative to Fukushima, nuclear energy and radiation exposure.
While the level of nuclear transparency out of the Prime Minister’s office and the Diet have improved considerably since Kan stepped down, it would be misleading to say they have gotten the message in total. Better doesn’t mean it has become laudable…but it is better. On the other hand, the degree of transparency currently being demonstrated by Tepco is several orders of magnitude better then when Kan was literally sitting on top of them. Like I said earlier… since Kan stepped down the information coming out of Tepco has been quite trust-worthy. Is it perfect?
Perfection is a matter of opinion, the definition of which varies from person to person…group to group…newspaper to newspaper. Universally-accepted perfection is a pipe-dream. I don’t agree with everything Tepco has put out since Kan left office, but I disagree with very little of it. The best we can rationally demand from Tepco is doing the best thing possible. Over the past 15 months, Tepco has demonstrated a level of transparency that apparently out-strips any and all other businesses and industries in Japan. They learned from the horrid track-record compiled during Kan’s reign. Has Tepco achieved full, unquestionable transparency? It’s certainly light-year’s better than when Kan held the informational reins. By taking everything into consideration, Tepco deserves to be lauded for what they have done. It’s time for the Japanese Press to wake up and smell the roses. Continuing to promote unmitigated distrust towards Tepco is a disservice to the people of Japan. Until the news media steps up to the plate and gives credit where credit is due, the public of Japan will languish in the abyss of irresolvable cynicism…a condition in which everyone loses and no-one wins.