I have often blogged about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March of 2011. The current Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has made nuclear power a major part of his economic development plan for Japan. Despite public opposition, he is working to restart the idled fleet of Japan's nuclear power reactors. He is also promoting the manufacture and export of nuclear technology to other countries. Japan passed a law after Fukushima that appears to be aimed at suppressing media coverage of those who oppose Abe's plan and try of offer evidence against his claims about the benefits of nuclear power and nuclear technology exports.
In the past, the Japanese media often spoke truth to power. Now the national media appears to be losing its passion for challenging powerful interests. Although the new law is vague, the Japanese government has succeeded in sending a message to the media. If they criticize the government position with respect to Fukushima, the nuclear industry and/or the government nuclear regulatory agencies, they risk losing access to high level officials in corporations and government. This has led to the practice of "self-censorship" where media organizations voluntarily stay away from sensitive subjects such as the nuclear contamination caused by Fukushima, corporate corruption and failure of government regulatory agencies.
PM Abe appointed Katsuto Momii to be chairman of NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, the national public broadcasting organization and the largest media organization in Japan. It operates two terrestrial TV stations, two satellite TV stations and three radio stations. After his appointment, Momii said "We cannot say left when the government says right." An Abe aide sent a letter to media organizations late last year that demanded "fair" campaign coverage. Many in the media saw the letter as a threat to their government access if they were too critical. Prior media self-censorship usually involved the Imperial Family.
A former NHK producer and current professor of media studies at Musashi University says that "Criticism of the government has dropped sharply." A producer of a major nightly television news show was reassigned to a new position because she would not follow internal warnings about not criticizing the Abe government. Shigeaki Koga, a guest commentator on the same news show, will be dropped in March because he criticized the way that the Abe government dealt with the killing of two Japanese hostages of ISIS. The network producing the news show denied that they had made any decisions with respect to anchors or guests on the show.
A government representative said that the airing of the segment criticizing how the hostage crisis was handled showed that there was press freedom in Japan. However, just this month, three thousand people including journalists, scholars and other people involved in the Japanese media, signed a statement of concern over press freedom. As Koga, the guest commentator on the news show, put it, "We’ve reached the stage where even without the government doing anything, mass media produce articles that cozy up to authorities or refrain from criticism. The public is not getting the right information to make decisions.”
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