On Wednesday, March 11th, Japan will commemorate the 9th anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident, the worst atomic disaster after Chernobyl, caused by a tsunami and collectively resulting in 18,500 dead and missing, 160,000 evacuees and a continuous release of massive amounts of radioactive materials until today. Since the accident, the media have consistently encountered pressure and censorship attempts when trying to investigate the topic.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Japanese authorities to ensure that the media can freely report on the Fukushima-related topics and requests a full access for all journalists, including foreign correspondents and freelancers, to the contaminated sites and to all raw data available.
“It is essential for the public to access independent information on the accurate radiation levels,” says Cédric Alviani, RSF’s East Asia bureau head. “The government is currently encouraging the remaining evacuees to settle back to the contaminated areas, but it must be fully transparent on the health hazard residents would be exposed to.”
Many Japanese journalists denounce heavy self-censorship in the media, which they attribute to the government and nuclear lobby’s efforts at concealing information seen as giving a “negative image” of Japan and hindering the preparation of the 2020 Olympic Games, set in Tokyo this summer.
A senior TV reporter who formerly worked for a major news program and wishes to remain anonymous recalls “intense pressure from the government and advertisers” to discourage his team from reporting on the long-term effects of the radioactive substances released by the plant. “We even heard of phone calls from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet asking our management to move some journalists they disliked to another department.”
In 2014, the board of daily newspaper The Asahi Shimbun even had to make a public apology for having published an article pointing out that 90% of the nuclear plant’s employees were offsite during the accident, drawing the government’s ire. The authors, award winning journalists Hideaki Kimura and Tomomi Miyazaki, were transferred to a non-writing section and later forced to resign.
Martin Fackler, who served as the New York Times Tokyo bureau chief from 2009 to 2015, considers that the authorities “clearly lack transparency” and believes that the Asahi Shimbun’s retraction case “successfully deterred other big media from investigating Fukushima-related stories.”
Japan ranked 67th out of 180 in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index.