The Asahi Shimbun Goes Soft on the Nuclear Village
Former high-level Japanese bureaucrat Shigeaki Koga has gained notoriety for his courageous criticisms of the chilling atmosphere that has come over the Japanese media since Shinzo Abe returned to power and proclaimed to the world in 2012 that “Japan is back.” From where? Going where? No one could tell what this ridiculous statement meant, but it now seems clear it means that Japan is heading in the direction of the recent changes observed in The Asahi Shimbun and TV Asahi. These and other media outlets have been intimidated by government officials, and by third parties doing their bidding, into toning down their coverage of policy changes that the Abe government is trying to implement—such things as revising the constitution, passing the TPP free trade agreement, and restarting nuclear power plants.
The effect of this intimidation seemed to be on display in a recent Asahi Shimbun news report that really functions as an editorial because of the way it frames the issue it covers. The Asahi used to be known for running critical reports that held TEPCO and the government to account, but now it has produced a report which, right from the headline, sets up a biased and false premise. The headline reads: Proponents, foes of nuclear energy content with preaching to the converted.
The article sets out with the seeming intent to be fair and balanced, with some mild jabs at nuclear proponents, but the balancing act itself leaves the reporting completely neutered. The writer has nothing newsworthy to say about energy policy or the problems of nuclear energy. All we have here is the unproven and misleading allegation in the headline that proponents and foes of nuclear energy are content with preaching to the converted their “versions of the truth.” There is no truth here. It’s all relative, don’t ya see?
Later in the article, the writer states, “… ” which is true enough, but it was odd to see this journalist implying that there was something unusual or wrong with this situation. Throughout the article, he completely misses the point that the two sides exist to convey their message not to “the converted” nor to “the other camp” but to the public, the vast majority of whom don’t identify with either side too strongly.
Both sides are engaged in a public information campaign, and they would only be defeating their own purposes if they invited the opposite side to their information meetings. It would be like Toyota giving Honda half of its time on television commercials. The nuclear issue is not a publicly subsidized election campaign with candidates obliged to participate in debates with opponents. Besides, debates seldom happen in Japan during political campaigns anyway, so why suggest that specific interest groups have a duty to offer the public the same?
The writer might have noted the imbalance of power that was obvious in what he wrote about the financing of the two sides’ information campaigns. The pro-nuclear side has been given $376,000 by the nuclear lobby, not a huge sum compared to what is spent in a day to deal with the Fukushima Daiichi ruins, but it is $376,000 more than what was given to the anti-nuclear lobby. There should be a very clear message evident in the very fact that one side needs to be given public funds to convince the public of its worth, while the other side is financed by volunteers and stirred into action without needing to be hired propagandists.
This disparity just makes it more absurd to suggest that the anti-nuclear lobby has some obligation to debate with the other side and work out some kind of compromise. There have been, in fact, many instances of nuclear opponents showing up at public information meetings, but as soon as their numbers grew too large or their objections too vocal, they were barred from participating. These information meetings are known as setsumeikai, or explanatory sessions. Information is designed to flow in one direction only, so the public, and anti-nuclear groups, are not meant to have any input.
In addition to these flaws in the report, the writer quotes some ridiculous illogic from the pro-nuclear side, but fails to question the absurdity of it. For example, a quote from a 1999 JCO report (JCO runs nuclear fuel facilities) on the Tokaimura criticality accident stated:
While attitudes toward nuclear energy have hardened due to the accident that resulted in two deaths, there is also an imbalance because there is ,” the report said. .
Equating other kinds of risk assumption to the risks imposed by nuclear energy is an obvious red herring (distracting and irrelevant analogy), but what is much more amusing is the suggestion that magazines should feel obliged to publish articles promoting nuclear energy. The very word “promotion” suggests a message which must be paid for in some way. There is no eager community of readers and writers who would volunteer to enthusiastically share stories about the wonders of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is not like surfing or hip-hop music. It is not a hobby that people devote their free time to. Promotion of nuclear energy can be done only by paid propagandists. The suggestion that one kind of private enterprise should voluntarily promote another kind of enterprise is evidence of the sort of narcissistic thinking that nucleocrats engage in: “we know our shit is wonderful, so why do we have to spend all this money to get people to sing our praises?”
In any case, if one is anti-nuclear, there is no compromise possible in which one would say it’s alright to have a little bit of nuclear. There is absolutely no reason to hope for anything to come from public discussions with the pro-nuclear lobby. There is this demand that they be “mature and reasonable” by coming to the table to work out a compromise, but this demand itself is an insidious tactic that aims to legitimize that which should not be allowed.
Thus, it was delusional of this journalist to write an opinion piece claiming that opponents of nuclear energy are obliged to engage in debates with the nuclear industry. If a gang of thugs moves into a town and sets up casinos, opium dens and brothels, and manages to convince a segment of the population that the economic stimulus is worth the social disruption, then the people opposed to this intrusion are under no obligation to debate the legitimacy of what has been imposed on them. For them, the whole enterprise is reprehensible, so the act of debating the right of the intruders to be there is the beginning of making their presence legitimate. And I’m not making this point as an exaggerated comparison. When people allow a radioactive waste factory (often falsely referred to as a “power plant” or an “energy center”) into their communities, they are permitting an environmental crime.
The final blow delivered by the author came in the insinuation that a nuclear opponent (not named in the article) who gave a lecture was unreliable because he ““Even an ordinary citizen like myself can understand that something fearful is occurring just by studying a little,” but these words are framed in a way that suggests he should be dismissed as an amateur. The act of asking whether he had done specialized research on radiation was a way of suggesting that ordinary citizens should just leave everything to the state-sanctioned experts, that they could never educate themselves enough to have a say in these matters. Furthermore, the same question about the lack of qualifications could be more fairly asked of the very ordinary men and women who hold political office.
The more I thought about this report, the more perplexed I became, but then it occurred to me that maybe there is something going on here that I didn’t see at first. Perhaps this is an elaborate act of inter-textual communication, an appeasement of critics and a satire of the sort of news reporting that they like. It is so bad that it could also be seen as a cry for assistance, a coded message from the Asahi Shimbun that tells the world, “Help. We are being held hostage. This is what government and right-wing pressure tactics have led us to write.”
Satoshi Otani, “Proponents, foes of nuclear energy content with preaching to the converted,” Asahi Shimbun, May 7, 2015.