How Japan came to rank worse than Tanzania on press freedom — Los Angeles Times

” The state of press freedom in Japan is now worse than that in Tanzania, according to a new ranking from the non-profit group Reporters Without Borders.

Japan came in 72nd of the 180 countries ranked in the group’s 2016 press freedom index, falling 11 places since last year.

Europe’s media was deemed to have the most freedom this year, but the situation has worsened significantly in most of the Asia-Pacific region.

For Japan’s journalists, things have taken a turn for the worse relatively recently. Just six years ago, the country ranked 11th in the world.

Getting worse

Japan’s poor performance on press freedom is particularly surprising given its standing as one of the world’s leading developed countries. The island nation of 125 million people has the world’s third-largest economy and a vibrant democracy whose postwar constitution guarantees freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

“With Japan hosting the G7 meeting next month of leading democracies, the press crackdown is an international black eye for Japan and makes it an outlier in the group,” said Jeff Kingston, a professor of history and director of Asian studies at Temple University and author of the book “Contemporary Japan: History, Politics, and Social Change since the 1980s.”

The 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant set the stage for the erosion of press freedoms, Kingston said. “Japan’s slide in the rankings began with the incomplete coverage of the Fukushima meltdowns and the government’s efforts to downplay the accident; Tokyo Electric Power Company (and Japan) denied the triple meltdown for two months,” he said. “Sadly, the Japanese media went along with this charade because here it is all about access. Those media outlets that don’t toe the line find themselves marginalized by the powers that be. Since [Fukushima], Japan’s culture wars over history, constitutional revision and security doctrine have been fought on the media battlefield.”

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned for a second term in 2012, five years after he resigned abruptly amid growing unpopularity in 2007, his administration began cracking down on perceived bias in the nation’s media.

At first, the media didn’t hold back in criticizing his administration. The press lambasted Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso for saying that Japan should learn from the way the Nazi party stealthily changed Germany’s constitution before World War II. But critics say Aso’s suggestion foreshadowed things to come.

Two years ago, the Abe administration pushed through a state secrets bill ostensibly designed to prevent classified information from leaking to China or Russia. But the measure allows for journalists and bloggers to be jailed for up to five years for asking about something that is a state secret, even if they aren’t aware it is one. Thousands protested the law when it was passed on Dec. 6, 2013.

Abe’s friend, conservative businessman Katsuto Momii, became the head of Japan’s major public broadcasting company, NHK, in 2014, in a move that has compromised the independence of its reports. Momii has stated publicly that NHK “should not deviate from the government’s position in its reporting.”

Abe’s Liberal Democratic party also recently proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow the government to curtail speech that “harms the public interest and public order.”

In June 2015, members of the party urged the government to punish media outlets critical of the government and pressure companies not to advertise with them.

This year, Abe’s Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi threatened to shut down news broadcasters over “politically biased reports” — something TV and radio laws in Japan empower her to do.

A week later, three television presenters who had been critical of the Abe administration were all removed from their positions.

Veteran reporters in Japan have criticized Abe’s government for applying pressure to reporters, but also decry the increasing self-censorship going on in the country’s press. “To me, the most serious problem is self-restraint by higher-ups at broadcast stations,” Soichiro Tahara, one of the country’s most revered journalists, told reporters last month.

“The Abe administration’s threats to media independence, the turnover in media personnel in recent months and the increase in self-censorship within leading media outlets are endangering the underpinnings of democracy in Japan,” Reporters Without Borders concluded in its report released this month about declining media freedoms in Japan.

“Independence of the press is facing serious threats,” David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Tuesday. “Many journalists who came to me and my team asked for anonymity in our discussions. Many claimed to have been sidelined or silenced following indirect pressure from politicians.”

The state originally invited Kaye to visit last December, but the trip was canceled abruptly after Japanese authorities claimed to be unable to set up meetings in time.

Kaye called for Japan’s Broadcast Law to be revised to ensure press freedom, and criticized Japan’s press club structure as detrimental to an independent press. In Japan, reporters are granted access through press clubs, or “kisha clubs,” formed around groups and government organizations. They serve as gatekeepers, and typically don’t grant access to weekly magazines, like Shukan Bunshun, which excel at investigative journalism.

“Journalists in those kisha clubs tend to be focused very much together in this same kind of social network. And I think that allows for mechanisms of pressure. It may be a kind of peer pressure that’s very difficult to resist,” Kaye said. ”

by Jake Adelstein



Four years out, Fukushima reactors still spewing — Bloomberg

” Fishermen trawling the waters off Japan’s eastern coast have been alleging for a while that radioactive water was again spilling into the Pacific from the Fukushima power plant that melted down after a massive earthquake in 2011. On Feb. 24, Tokyo Electric Power Co., which is responsible for the site, admitted those suspicions were justified. And it turns out that Tepco knew about this latest radioactive leak since last May — and the giant utility said nothing for almost a year.

In the 15 days since Tepco finally confessed, have investigators raided its Tokyo headquarters? Have regulators demanded that heads roll? Has Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his bully pulpit to demand accountability from the company that gave the world its worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl? In any other major democracy, those steps would have been obvious. But none have occurred in Japan. And that raises troubling questions not just about Tepco’s corporate governance, but the rampant cronyism enabling it.

When he took office in December 2012, Abe pledged to make corporate executives more accountable to international codes of conduct. In August 2013, he had a perfect chance to show his mettle. At the time, Tepco was still the butt of international criticism for its handling of the aftermath at Fukushima. Abe — concerned that the bad press would affect Tokyo’s campaign to host the 2020 Olympics — declared his government would push Tepco aside and handle the cleanup efforts directly.

It was all for show. Abe’s government never intervened, and Tepco stayed in charge. Four years to the day since the earthquake, Fukushima is still leaking; 120,000 people remain displaced; and Tepco’s opacity and incompetence are unchanged. The company’s obfuscations “tell us all we need to know about its resilient corporate culture of irresponsibility,” says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo. “It has not changed its stripes. The decommissioning efforts have been shambolic, it’s still incompetent and negligent and has a very deep hole to climb out of in trying to regain any public trust.”

How does Tepco get away with it? It’s protected from on high by the “nuclear village,” Tokyo’s answer to the military-industrial complex that is said to hold sway in Washington. This alliance of pro-nuclear politicians, bureaucrats and power companies promotes reactors over safer forms of energy like solar, wind or geothermal, and works to shield utilities from competition and global standards. (That’s how Tepco got away with consistently doctoring its maintenance reports for Fukushima and putting all of its backup generators underground in a tsunami-prone area.) Even after the Fukushima disaster, national nuclear regulators seemed more concerned about restarting Japan’s 48 remaining reactors (all of which have been shut down in the interim) than neutralizing the one contaminating the northeast of the country.

Tokyo was a scary place to be in March 2011 amid Fukushima’s triple meltdown. Most frightening, though, was the utter lack of transparency from the authorities. Tepco’s then- president, Masataka Shimizu, gave maddeningly contradictory accounts of events at Fukushima. Two months later, Shimizu took the fall for Tepco sending radiation clouds Tokyo’s way. Tepco’s idea of a new start was to replace him with a 36-year company veteran. Four years on, it’s still an open question whether Tepco, or the economy that spawned it, has learned anything.

“I find it galling that not only was Tepco never punished for constructing reactors well below the tsunami warning markers, thereby worsening the effects of the quake and tidal wave, but was even allowed to raise its rates to make the consumer pay for the cleanup costs,” says Robert Whiting, author of Tokyo Underworld.

Even in the context of Japanese cronyism, it’s astounding that nobody at Tepco has gone to jail. Criminal proceedings against Japan’s business titans aren’t unprecedented. Executives of the optics manufacturer Olympus were arrested over a 2011 fraud scandal. Internet entrepreneur Takafumi Horie and well- known fund manager Yoshiaki Murakami got locked up for insider trading. But Tepco’s executives continue to enjoy a get-out- jail-free card, courtesy of the Tokyo establishment.

At the very least, Tepco’s senior management should be fired without pensions and face charges from prosecutors. The company should also be nationalized. (Taxpayers are bearing the costs of Tepco’s negligence anyway.)

Abe’s desire to eliminate the cronyism endemic to Japan Inc. is laudable. It would make the economy more vibrant, productive and attractive to overseas investors. He should start by bringing the most egregious offender to justice. I’m sure the Fukushima fishermen will be happy to testify. ”


Lessons of Fukushima: Reactor restarts are unwise — The Japan Times

” Kyle Cleveland, my colleague at Temple University Japan, recently published a report in the online Asia-Pacific Journal, “Mobilizing Nuclear Bias: The Fukushima Nuclear Crisis and the Politics of Uncertainty” that has drawn widespread media attention. Based on numerous interviews with government officials, military officers and nuclear energy experts, along with documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests to U.S. government agencies, Cleveland has pieced together a critical, but nuanced picture of a crisis that was closer to careening out of control than is generally acknowledged. There was a great deal of confusion in the early weeks of the crisis as different actors had different information and made varied assessments about what the information indicated.

Cleveland elucidates the yawning chasm between the minimizing and downplaying efforts of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the U.S. government’s assessments of the nuclear crisis. Because the Japanese government was reliant on Tepco for information this also created a gulf of perceptions between the two governments.

The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, arrived off the tsunami stricken coast of Tohoku on March 13, 2011, to provide rescue and relief assistance. Naval officers, according to Freedom of Information Act documents scrutinized by Cleveland, discovered the level of radiation was far worse than they anticipated. Radiation gauges on the ship measured levels of radiation at 100 nautical miles off the coast that were 30 times greater than normal. Aircrews that ventured closer to the stricken plant were found to have high levels of radiation on their shoes and clothing. Tepco’s downplaying of the crisis and misleading information is at issue in a lawsuit filed by sailors from the U.S.S Reagan, who claim that they have had significant health problems due to exposure to radiation during their rescue efforts. Had Tepco acted responsibly by clarifying the scale of the crisis, the plaintiffs assert, they would not be suffering various cancers they attribute to exposure to high doses of radiation.

The higher than expected radiation readings created a delicate diplomatic situation as the U.S. did not want to embarrass or offend its ally, but it also wanted to ensure the safety of its military and government personnel, their dependents and American civilians. Cleveland finds that there was considerable disagreement between various U.S. agencies about the severity of the risk, but in the end the Defense Department ruled that there were no adverse health consequences from the reported radiation doses.

The international media has been lashed for exaggerating the risks to Tokyo, but Cleveland believes this 20/20 hindsight is misleading. Critics often cite Jeffrey Bader’s 2012 article in Foreign Affairs, “Inside the White House During Fukushima” to assert that the U.S. government never considered the risk sufficient to justify evacuation of Tokyo. Bader served as the senior director for East Asian Affairs on the U.S. National Security Council from January 2009 until April 2011, but he would not be the first insider to put a gloss on what happened on his watch.

Bader explains that the U.S. decided to expand the exclusionary zone to 80 km, exceeding the Japanese government’s 20-km evacuation zone, because the available data indicated that this is what the U.S. government would do in a similar situation at home. Washington also authorized a voluntary departure for dependents of U.S. personnel and issued a travel advisory recommending U.S. citizens consider leaving Japan. John Holdren, the president’s science adviser, argued that U.S. Navy nuclear experts were overstating the risks, but as Cleveland explains, when science meets policy, politics prevails. Bader acknowledges that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from bases in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Yokota in western Tokyo would have stoked panic among Japanese and gravely damaged the alliance.

Based on Holder’s interpretation of worst-case scenarios developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory working with the NRC, Bader concludes that, “there was no plausible scenario in which Tokyo, Yokosuka, or Yokota could be subject to dangerous levels of airborne radiation.” Cleveland’s sources disagree. He suggests that Bader,”downplays the level of discord and debate among the radiation experts and privileges interpretations by State Department folks whose guiding concerns were the diplomatic impact of expanding evacuation/exclusionary zones, the implications of an actionable worst-case scenario and military departures. State essentially refereed the decision-making and pushed for less conservative measures to align more closely with the Japanese, with a close eye on implications for the American nuclear industry.”

In Cleveland’s view, the navy was, “more risk averse than either the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) or State, and from day one was ringing alarms that were not entirely understood, not completely validated and not well received by the NRC and State. The navy was pushing the other federal agencies to take more aggressive actions because their radiation measurements were indicating dose rates that were more significant than what was implied by the abstract modeling that guided the NRC and Holdren’s views.” Given that the U.S. government expanded the exclusionary zone in Fukushima to 80 km and developed contingency plans for a massive evacuation while shredding of documents continued for four days at the U.S. Embassy and military bases in Japan, somebody was obviously very worried.

Regarding accusations that The New York Times exaggerated the crisis, Cleveland argues, “The reporting of the NYT was warranted by the information known at the time. Their discussion of worst-case scenarios and their withering view of Tepco and the J-Gov were based on solid reporting. . . . Their views were based on interviews with insiders who provided this information and so their coverage was not unduly alarmist. . . . If anything, the NYT was a mainstream, moderate voice in line with mainstream experts and the policy decisions being debated by elite-level insiders.” Some of his insider sources tell him that the crisis was actually far worse than anyone acknowledged at the time and that information was withheld to prevent a panic.

Cleveland concludes that Japan’s nuclear reactors should not be restarted. As one American nuclear expert told him, “Without a qualitatively different regulatory system, and in light of how Japan/Tepco responded to this crisis, Japan has not earned the right to have nuclear energy. No critically minded and informed person can evaluate this disaster and look at how Japan has responded in the aftermath and have any confidence that Japan will use nuclear energy safely. And in the most seismically active country in the world, even if Japan had a robust regulatory structure and thoroughly integrated crisis protocols, nature conspires against the best-laid-plans of human institutions. And what Japan has is certainly not the best plan by any measure.” ”