Aims At Social Militarization
By Yoichi Shimatsu
Exclusive to Rense
Press freedom is the first casualty in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign to revive the prewar model of a militarized society. In flagrant violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which specifically prohibits censorship, Cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga demanded a public apology from the Asahi Shimbun for “dishonoring” the workers at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant run by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
On the same day, September 12, the management of the Asahi media group issued a front-page confession of guilt and retracted a series of articles based on the testimony to an investigation panel by the deceased plant manager Masao Yoshida. In a groveling concession to the government and its rightist supporters, Japan’s second-largest circulation newspaper admitted grievous error and removed the responsible editor.
The controversy is based on the interpretation of a ambiguous verb in the Yoshida transcript. The Asahi reported 650 workers, or 90 percent of the workforce, “defied” Yoshida’s orders by fleeing the explosion of Reactor 3 to the safety of Fukushima No.2 plant, 10 kilometers to the south on March 15, 2011.
Countering the Asahi, conservative editorials from the Yomiuri and Sankei newspapers focused narrowly on Yoshida’s statement that the workers “misunderstood” rather than disobeyed TEPCO’s instruction to stay at their jobs during the meltdown of MOX (mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium) fuel rods inside Reactor 3. The on-site manager, later in his testimony to the inquiry panel, admitted that he could understand why some workers “retreated” from the damaged plant, implying that he did not issue a clear order to remain at their&nb sp;posts.
Missing from this dispute, focused on the events of March 15, is any discussion of the TEPCO evacuation order during the meltdown at Reactor 2 three days earlier. The GE work team, secretly refitting the Hitachi-built Reactor 4 for conversion to MOX fuel, was ordered to evacuate to the second Fukushima plant. According to then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, his office had told TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo to order its workers to remain at their jobs and continue quelling the meltdowns on March 12. After several hours of delay, the order was given to the workers by Yoshida, a fact apparently not mentioned in his testimony to the independent investigation committee. This earlier episode is key to comprehending what happened when the MOX fuel exploded.
Therefore prior to March 15, the standing order was for workers to stay at their posts until and unless the management issued an evacuation notice. The workers knew very well not to abandon the damaged plant on their own volition, which they did nonetheless quite consciously.
As the subject of intense scrutiny by the investigating committee, Yoshida had a clear interest in defending his decisions and, therefore, cannot be considered impartial. Asahi’s reporting team under executive editor Nobuyuki Sugiuri therefore interpreted Yoshida’s statements in this broader context of events, which has been confirmed in leaks from workers, managers and government officials.
The root problem in this affair stems from the massive cover-up and disinformation campaign by TEPCO and its supervisory Economy Ministry, which leaves their every claim open to dispute or interpretation. In those desperate hours, when TEPCO’s corporate president was inaccessible in a hospital, communication with the prime minister and the press were suspended. Given the vacuum at the top, testimony from its managers cannot be deemed reliable but must be checked against other accounts, which Asahi pursued with editorial integrity.
The conservative Yomiuri and Sankei, therefore, do not dispute the fact that 650 workers “retreated” from their job sites on March 15, but only assert that these delinquent employees did not disobey a direct order from their boss Yoshida. Though they fled, for whatever reasons, the workers did not violate their employer’s work rules. The twisted logic behind this hair-splitting argument is a matter of principle for far-right politicians.
At stake is the media myth of the brave 200 workers, later pared down to the magnificent 50 workers, who risked their lives for their company and their country, chose near-certain death over dishonor, and miraculously survived the ordeal. Theirs is a shining example as thrilling as the 300 Spartans for future generations of Japanese soldiers, industrial workers and schoolchildren in the coming wars against China, Korea and the worst enemy of all, the United States of America.
What is honor? Duty, discipline, self-sacrifice and mute acceptance of death, those precious qualities of character that it takes to “be Japanese”. The greatest glory lies the quiet expression of gratitude toward your superiors for the cherished opportunity to cast away one’s life in the cause of imperialism. This propagandist perversion of patriotism, in a nutshell, is Abe’s notion of responsible citizenship.
By contrast, the real-world account is of men and women who woke up to the suicidal outcome of their doomed mission, realizing a bit late that daily wages cannot compensate for this brief and fragile existence, and therefore elected to save their own lives rather than obey management wishes. The cogent decision to escape that arose from a deep distrust in leaders, frankly, does not make for good propaganda.
The true story of the Fukushima 650 is, thus, not based on any misunderstanding. The escaping workers were fully aware of an incompetent and self-serving corporate management that was willing to throw them into the radioactive cauldron without proper protective suits, adequate equipment or even a guidebook of emergency instructions. Instead each worker was given a rigged dosimeter that underestimated the health risk.
The grand fairy tale, by which Shinzo Abe like a modern-day Nero orchestrates the total destruction of Japan, is, in the cold light of reality, nothing more than psychotic gibberish. Now that Asahi failed its professional obligation to oppose censorship, other journalists must step in to fill the gap and continue the battle for truth against a demented dictatorship.
A Constitution Disregarded
As the spokesman for the current government, particularly the Prime Minster’s office, Suga far overstepped his jurisdictional authority since TEPCO is a listed corporation in the private sector and not a state entity. The blatant infringement of press freedom on behalf of a corporate interest has no justification under Japanese law. The Asahi article is neither defamation or libel against TEPCO workers nor has it caused material damage to any party. The Asahi reporting team had every right to assess the Yoshida testimony for whatever it may be worth.
The coordinated rightist threats and government pressure against the Asahi media group are a crime of censorship and a scurrilous attack on the very principle of press freedom. Under the recently enacted national security law, editors and journalists are liable to arrest and imprisonment for gathering whistle blower leaks and other unapproved source material, which could include tweets from disgruntled TEPCO workers or even the Yoshida file before its public release.
The Asahi reporting team led by its since disgraced editor Sugiura is undoubtedly guilty under the new state-secrets act, yet under the Constitution of Japan is categorically protected from state interference or political reprisal. Since the Constitution is still the nation’s highest law, the Government of Japan is the guilty party, and Shinzo Abe should be removed and investigated for the abuse of power and as a prime suspect in related crimes, including state-sponsored terrorism and the murder of at least one news producer.