Newspaper Reporter



A reporter for a major Japanese newspaper

I cover Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Kitakyushu as a reporter.

Do  you think the Japanese mass media is giving the Japanese people a complete, honest, and direct description of the health risks and dangers of radiation from Fukushima?

This is the first time for the government and reporters to talk about such a big incident.  But there is no concealing of information.  There was no intentional hiding of information. 

But I agree, there is not enough information getting out.  Many people thought the government and the media did not give out enough information.  But my newspaper did not hide information.   If there was a problem with information not getting out, it was because reporters and the government did not have the proper knowledge. 

Some people from other countries felt more seriously about the effects of radiation, but the Japanese media tends to believe what the government announces.  There was no way to confirm the government information, so the media had to relay that information. 

So there was no way to independently get the information?

At first, the media could not go within 13 or 20km of the Daiichi plant, so we could not get information.  We had to ask the government and TEPCO for information.  It was difficult to independently get information. 

But a few months later, our paper independently checked the government's information.   We'd never experienced such an incident, so it was very difficult to act properly.  But we wrote what we believed at that time.  There was no hiding and no pressure.

Is information about the current situation accurate?

Yes, the truth is being revealed little by little.  But even now at Fukushima the power went out, so the incident is continuing.  So we have to report on it. 

Now the government wants to restart the nation's nuclear reactors.  Now two are active and they want to restart more of the other 48.  Some people say it's too soon, and I agree.  Last summer and this winter we managed to get by without the use of the nuclear power plants.  So if we can get through one more summer without the use of nuclear power, people will start to believe that we don't need it.  So the government wants to restart the nuclear power plants as soon as possible to maintain the economics of the situation. 

If Japan stops using nuclear power, other countries will be more careful about promoting nuclear power.  If Japanese technology can't deal with nuclear power, how can other Asian countries deal with it?  So there will be a big effect. 

But little by little people forget the danger of Fukushima.  So the government is waiting for that.  The prime minister never says we will give up nuclear power. 

As a matter of fact, nuclear industries dominate the local economies, like the Kyushu Electric Company.  The top government officials were elected with the support of the nuclear industry, so it's hard for them to go against the nuclear industry.  And so the nuclear industry believes they can restart the reactors soon.   We have to divide the nuclear power companies from the electric companies so they don't wield so much power. 

Is that possible?

Yes, it is possible.  The Democratic Party of Japan tried to divide the electric companies, but last year the government changed and the situation changed completely.  But quite a few people support the division of electric companies. 

Some high level bureaucrats went to TEPCO as part of a sort of golden parachute, and they are entrenched there so it's not easy to regulate those companies;  because these senior bureaucrats  have good jobs there.  So this system should be abolished.

But about 60% of Japanese people want to abolish nuclear power.  Once there is an accident, many districts are damaged.  Kyushu was also damaged.  Foreign tourists stopped coming here in Kyushu.  They thought all of Japan was dangerous.  Perhaps all companies suffered financially in Kyushu.     With our company, newspaper readership went down.

What do you think about the burning of the radioactive debris in Kitakyushu?

It's a little bit dangerous, because spreading that debris to other places is not good.  But I heard the effects were small.  And the friendship between Kitakyushu and Tohoku grew, and friendship was expressed.  And they repeatedly check for danger.  I don't criticize the city or mayor so much.  The debris must be burned somewhere, so they accepted it and expressed friendship with Tohoku.

Do you think it will end up being dangerous for the people of Kitakyushu?

We don't have enough data on how the radiation will affect us.  Spiritually I am uneasy about how it will affect children and young people.  But I hope it will not affect those people.   
It was a very hard decision for the mayor, but he said friendship was necessary.  Other cities in Kyushu refused to accept the debris.

Was it the right decision?

Friendship was important, and the measured radiation was under the threshold for safety.  So the mayor had to support Tohoku. 

Is there any pressure, (for example from mass media management, the government, sponsors, TEPCO, etc.) for the mass media to not report fully or honestly on health risks and safety concerns from radiation?

There is no pressure, especially for reporters.  But in the advertising department, they feel the pressure.  But the reporting departments are not affected by this pressure.  In the advertising department they might feel the pressure.  But in Japan the reporting department doesn't feel the pressure because their department is stronger. 

More than half of our revenue comes directly from readers, so we don't need the sponsors so much.  If it is revealed that a sponsor has pressured and affected the news, it will be a big scandal.

More than half of the reporters at our paper feel we don't need nuclear power.  But the others believe we need it because we don't have enough alternative energy sources.  This is the LDP's [Liberal Democratic Party's] way of thinking.  But we should decide like Germany on a deadline for closing our nuclear power plants. 

So you personally have never felt any pressure?


Is there more pressure on TV because all of their revenue comes from sponsors?

Yes, that is the weakness of TV.  In Kyushu, the Kyushu Electric Company is a very major sponsor. 

Does that affect the news?

Never in newspapers, but on TV it must be very hard to criticize the Kyushu Electric Company.   There is no information on this, so I don't know.  It's just my opinion.

At the Nishinihon Newspaper, the Kyushu Electric Company was a major shareholder, so it's not easy to criticise them.  There was a scandal about this, but they said that their coverage was not altered.  But in this case you can see the Kyushu Electric Company has a strong influence on politicians and local newspapers. 

Many people seem uninformed.   Is the media giving people enough information?

Young people don't like to read newspapers.  They get news on the internet, and they can choose what they want to read.  The government noticed this, so one or two years ago they started including newspaper readership into the elementary school curriculums.  Young people are easily manipulated by the government or extremists because they are uninformed.  They don't have enough information about the world.

About two years ago, soon after the accident, I made a comment at the New York Times online.  Japan always pursued economic efficiency after WW2, so people became rich.    But more important than money is life.  People finally realized after Fukushima that life is more important than money, so we must use this opportunity to give up nuclear power.  That opinion was chosen as Editor's Choice.  But two years later, the government does not understand the seriousness of this accident.  Even now they insist we can get cheaper electricity from nuclear power.  Even now they don't understand. 

In the group where I practice English, some members work at the Kyushu Electric Company, and they support it because of the economics of the situation.

The Kyushu Electric Company has a lot of power, so it's not easy to stop them.  Many small towns depend on the nuclear power industry's subsidies for having nuclear reactors located in their towns.  So nuclear power companies dominate those cities.  But if there is another accident, we will disappear.  People should know this risk.

Why do you think people don't talk about radiation from Fukushima?

People easily forget.  Only two years ago there was a big accident, but people forget.  They don't think about social problems much, especially young people.  They are busy with their own work so they don't think about it. 

Some people in other countries believe that without making effort we cannot improve democracy.  After WW2 we were given a democracy.  We didn't struggle for it.  Young people don't vote or think about democracy.  In school, they don't have a chance to think about political problems.  They don't have a chance to think about having their own opinions.  Everything is just memorizing.  It's always passive.  Only the teacher is talking.  They don't have a chance and they don't have the custom or habit of developing their own opinions.  It is a cultural and historical issue.   Japan looks like a democratic country, but sometimes I wonder is it really. 

There is also a lot of corporal punishment.  Teachers don't think about the students' individual rights.  Many students are beaten.  Democracy has not developed enough.  People don't think of social or political problems seriously.  Only professors and media pundits think about these problems.  So young people are easily influenced by the media or extremists because they don't have their own opinions.




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