October 19, 2013

Late last year, a poll of the 50 major Japanese news outlets resulted in 47 admitting to being antinuclear. This tends to explain why every seemingly negative event at Fukushima Daiichi – no matter how trivial or inconsequential – gets widespread, tabloid-level coverage. The positive is carried by the precious few nuclear-neutral (called pronuclear by Japan’s antinukes) Press sources, with little or no coverage by the overwhelming majority. But, something has happened that seems to have caught the antinuclear Japanese Press off-guard. Her name is Lady Barbara Judge of Great Britain.

Lady Barbara has extensive experience in managing the decommissioning of defunct and/or damaged nuclear facilities with Britain’s Atomic Energy Authority. Her credentials are impeccable. Lady Barbara was hired by Tokyo Electric Company as one of their foreign expert consultants, along with former American NRC boss Dale Klein, to advise Tepco with the cleanup of Fukushima Daiichi. Her knowledge and proficiency has been widely touted by all Japanese Press outlets. Until this week, Lady Barbara essentially said the negative things about F. Daiichi the Tepco-bashing Japanese Press loved. However, her latest Tokyo Press interview has shown that she is as astute with the Press as she is with nuclear technology.

At the interview, Lady Barbara stressed three key points…

1. “They [Tepco] need to have a number of foreign firms to come in and assist them with the cleanup. For TEPCO right now, it’s a question of learning as you go.”

2. The recent spate of contaminated water leaks and spills at Fukushima pose no health threat to the public.

3. Tepco should be allowed to restart nukes at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station to improve the company’s finances.

It should come as no surprise as to which of her three points made headlines and comprised nearly all of the articles that followed. The first, of course. The Japanese Press has the undeniable agenda of trying to make Tepco appear incompetent, and they have done a very good job when we consider the Tepco-bashing journalism common to the international news media. However, Lady Barbara’s other two points contradict the intent of Japan’s Press coverage.

The overwhelming number of articles concerning the Fukushima leaks/spills say that the waters are toxic, tainted with radiation, contain carcinogenic radioactive Strontium and etc.  Clearly, Japan’s news media is sending a subliminal, at times overt, message that the leaks/spills do indeed pose a public health threat. Lady Barbara said just the opposite.

Next, Japan’s Press bends over backwards to publicize any and all who are against letting Tepco restart any of the units at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. Since the Press wants their readers to believe Tepco is incompetent, then they cannot be trusted to safely run the K-K units. The underlying assumption is that Tepco allowed Fukushima to happen and if they start up any K-K units, it will happen again. Let the possibility of Tepco bankruptcy be damned! Tepco is anything but trustworthy, and nothing else matters. Regardless, once again Lady Barbara’s statement that Tepco’s K-K units should be restarted contradicts the news media’s agenda.

Ordinarily, Lady Barbara’s two not-negative statements about Tepco would not have seen the light of day. But, she has been widely advertised as a sort of nuclear savior by the Press. Ignoring any of her publicly-stated opinions would eventually come back to haunt Japan’s news media. Letting the sleeping dog lie would leave her first point out of the mix, which would also not be in the best interest of the Press. So, what did they do? Without exception, Lady Barbara’s two not-negative points were posted in the very-last paragraph of every Japanese article about her Tokyo interview – without exception!

Technically, this type of reporting is called “balanced”. To me, balance would have been best-served by giving equal focus to each of Lady Barbara’s points. However, giving each point equal time would only serve to possibly diminish public skepticism towards Tepco, and that simply cannot be allowed! The agenda-directed western Press has been doing this sort of “balanced” reporting with nuclear energy since the seminal days of Three Mile Island, nearly 35 years ago. It seems their Japanese colleagues are now following the same path. Here’s the subtle strategy – statistics show that most people read the headline and a paragraph or two of the following article. It’s the minority that read articles to their conclusion.

Lady Barbara Judge is a sharp professional, including her dealings with the Press. Three decades ago, I was news media spokesperson for an Ohio nuclear plant. Back then, I wish I would have used the ploy Lady Barbara is implementing now. First, establish unquestioned credibility. Second, tell the Press what they want to hear. Then, add-in material the Press might find uncomfortable to post. It will end up at the article’s very end – an obligatory mention, if you will – but at least the good news will be available to anyone persistent enough to consume the whole enchilada.