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Criticism of Government Being Airbrushed Out News Shows Anchors Away


FOR a decade, millions of Japanese have tuned in to watch Ichiro Furutachi, the salty presenter of a popular evening news show, TV Asahi’s “Hodo Station”. But next month Mr Furutachi will be gone. He is one of three heavyweight presenters leaving prime-time shows on relatively liberal channels. It is no coincidence that all are, by Japanese standards, robust critics of the government.
Last year another anchor, Shigetada Kishii, used his news slot on TBS, a rival channel, to question the legality of bills passed to expand the nation’s military role overseas. The questioning was nothing less than what most constitutional scholars were also doing—and in private senior officials themselves acknowledge the unconstitutionality of the legislation, even as they justify it on the ground that Japan is in a risky neighbourhood and needs better security. But Mr Kishii’s on-air fulminations prompted a group of conservatives to take out newspaper advertisements accusing him of violating broadcasters’ mandated impartiality. TBS now says he will quit. The company denies this has anything to do with the adverts, but few believe that.
The third case is at NHK, the country’s giant public-service broadcaster. It has yanked one of its more popular anchors off the air. Hiroko Kuniya has helmed an investigative programme, “Close-up Gendai”, for two decades. NHK has not said why she is leaving, but colleagues blame her departure on an interview last year with Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman and closest adviser to Shinzo Abe, the prime minister.
Mr Suga is known for running a tight ship and for demanding advance notice of questions from journalists. In the interview Ms Kuniya had the temerity to probe him on the possibility that the new security legislation might embroil Japan in other countries’ wars. By the standards of spittle-flecked clashes with politicians on British or American television, the encounter was tame. But Japanese television journalists rarely play hardball with politicians. Mr Suga’s handlers were incensed.
It all shows how little tolerance the government has for criticism, says Makoto Sataka, a commentator and colleague of Mr Kishii’s. He points out that one of Mr Abe’s first moves after he returned to power in 2012 was to appoint conservative allies to NHK’s board. Katsuto Momii, the broadcaster’s new president, wasted little time in asserting that NHK’s role was to reflect government policy. What is unprecedented today, says Shigeaki Koga, a former bureaucrat turned talking head, is the growing public intimidation of journalists. On February 9th the communications minister, Sanae Takaichi, threatened to close television stations that flouted rules on political impartiality. Ms Takaichi was responding to a question about the departure of the three anchors.
Political pressure on the press is not new. The mainstream media (the five main newspapers are affiliated with the principal private television stations) are rarely analytical or adversarial, being temperamentally and commercially inclined to reflect the establishment view. Indeed the chumminess is extreme. In January Mr Abe again dined with the country’s top media executives at the offices of the Yomiuri Shimbun, the world’s biggest-circulation newspaper. Nine years ago, when Mr Abe resigned from his first term as prime minister, the paper’s kingpin, Tsuneo Watanabe, brokered the appointment of his successor, Yasuo Fukuda. Mr Watanabe then attempted to forge a coalition between ruling party and opposition. Oh, but his paper forgot to alert readers to all these goings-on. The media today, says Michael Cucek of Temple University in Tokyo, has “no concept of conflict of interest.”
It has all contributed to an alarming slide since 2011 in Japan’s standing in world rankings of media freedom. Mr Koga expects a further fall this year. He ran afoul of the government during his stint as a caustic anti-Abe commentator on “Hodo Station”. On air last year he claimed that his contract was being terminated because of pressure from the prime minister’s office. His aim, Mr Koga insists, was to rally the media against government interference. Yet TV Asahi apologised and promised tighter controls over guests. Now Mr Furutachi is quitting too. The government is playing chicken with the media, Mr Furutachi says, and winning.

February 19, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Speakers raise issues haunting Fukushima in finance panel public hearing

KORIYAMA, Fukushima Prefecture–To a central government committee meeting here on Feb. 17, hotel operator Shoko Yamazaki aired out her frustrations at the restart of nuclear power plants in Japan.
“Nuclear power plants in the nation were restarted with very little thought when the nuclear crisis in Fukushima has not even been settled,” said Yamazaki, whose hotel is in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. “Have we learned nothing from Fukushima?”
Yamazaki was one of the invited speakers who spoke of their concerns for a region still feeling the devastation caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 2011 in the hearing held by the Lower House Budget Committee.
The prefecture was chosen for the second time since the catastrophe for the special regional hearing as “March 11 will be the fifth anniversary (of the disaster), a landmark year,” said Wataru Takeshita, former reconstruction minister and head of the committee.
The opinions of four speakers recommended by both the ruling and opposition parties were heard at the hearing, which was held as part of the committee’s budget deliberation for the upcoming fiscal year.
Hiromi Watanabe, one of the public speakers, said it was urgent that the region rid itself of bad publicity from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis that unfolded in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami.
“It continues to haunt not just agriculture and tourism, but various industries as well,” said Watanabe, the head of the Fukushima Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He also urged the central government to put a stop to population decline and improve transportation in the region.
Meanwhile, Hajimu Yamana, the chairman of the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp., said, “Findings on the cause of the nuclear accident and studies on its effects on population migration can be considered research for the reconstruction of Fukushima. It will become valuable information for the entire world.”
Yoshiharu Saito, a senior member of the disaster victim support group Fukushima Fukko Kyodo Center (Fukushima reconstruction communal center), talked about the central government’s plan to lift the evacuation orders on all regions except “difficult-to-return zones” by March 2017.
“The wishes of residents who want to return home should be granted, but at the same time we hope for the central government to assist those who are unable to do so,” Saito said.

February 19, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | | Leave a comment

Fukushima nuclear crisis far from over, Kan says

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant is not over five years since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered the meltdowns.

“There is no doubt” radioactive materials have been seeping into the sea after mixing with groundwater, Kan, who has been a vocal critic of nuclear energy since the crisis started, told the National Press Club in Washington.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly said the issue of water contaminated with radioactive substances at the Fukushima plant is “under control,” including when he was making a pitch for Tokyo as host of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Kan disputes this. “The accident is still unfolding,” he said.

Kan was prime minister when the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl occurred following the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Kan, a lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Japan, also criticized Abe’s decision to raise the ratio of electricity produced by atomic energy to 20-22 percent of the nation’s total output by 2030.

“The goal is not achievable” unless Japan extends the maximum legal period of reactor operations or builds a new nuclear plant, Kan said.

Most nuclear reactors remain off line in Japan, but various operators are seeking restarts.

Kansai Electric Power Co. is set to reactivate a reactor at its Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture on Friday, in what would be the third restart since new safety standards were put in place.

January 29, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , | 1 Comment