It has been a constant practice in the past 6 years for the Japanese media to change the wording of an already released article or its title or its illustrating photo if it annoys the authorities, sometimes the whole article becoming suppressed. That permanent tight censorship has been very effective in minimizing the facts about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in the mind of the general Japanese population.
I cannot count the number of times that I have copied an article on a word document for safekeeping, so as to repost it on my blog later, to later find that it had been altered or that it had been removed.
Facts are disappearing from the media
When we are outside of Fukushima, or of Japan, it is difficult for us to realize to what extent it has become difficult to speak of radio-contamination and the risk of exposure.
To illustrate this, we are reporting on the case of a photo replacement in the Mainichi Shimbun. This took place only in the Japanese edition. The original photo seems to have remained in the English edition.
On October 21, the Mainichi Shimbun reported the reopening of a part of the JR East line under the title: “JR East partially reopens line halted since 2011 nuclear disaster“. In this article, the Mainichi published a photo of a train leaving the newly opened Tomioka station. (If it is impossible to open the article, here is the web archive).
Above is the original picture (used also in the Japanese 1st version) with the caption : “A train leaves Tomioka Station in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, after services on the JR Joban Line were resumed between Tomioka and Tatsuta on Oct. 21, 2017. (Mainichi)”.
As you can see, the picture cleary tries to attract the attention of the readers to the black bags containing contaminated waste. In fact, the Japanese caption mentions also: “In the foreground, a temporary storage site of bags containing decontamination waste”. You can see other pictures here by the same photographer.
The photo above received a large number of complaints and protests. People basically complained: “why stain the joyful event with such a picture?”.
Here is the link to the togetter (in Japanese) through which you can see in what kind of language these people protesting against the first picture express themselves. They are pointing out crudely “the malicious intention” of the Mainichi Shimbun to devalue the event and the reconstruction of Fukushima.
The result is that the Mainichi Newspaper replaced the original photo with the one below.
You can see the Japanese article with the replaced picture here. (If it is impossible to open the article, here is the web archive).
A resident of Fukushima prefecture commented as below in his Facebook:
“In Fukushima, private protests (translator’s note: especially on the Internet), forced a TV programme to change the title of a documentary. The same people made the Mainichi Newspaper change the article (translator’s note : change the photo). The original photo was exposed to the pressure of the pro- “reconstruction/rehabilitation of Fukushima” people, saying “don’t hinder the delightful event (with such a picture)”. This seems to indicate the end of the journalism.
The two pictures both represent the same reality. Even a picture cannot be spared of interference or censorship.
I wanted to let you know the fact. The most important function of journalism — to find facts, even painful for certain people, and to use them to solve problems — is disappearing. We are going through such an era.
These people (exercising the pressure) are the same as those who are upset and angry because “the media are only reporting on the voluntary evacuees and not on Fukushima residents”.
On August 2, 2017, the Mainichi Shimbun reported the incident of the modification of a TV documentary title (in Japanese) to which the author above is referring. The title of the documentary, “The reality after 63 years of the Bikini accident: the expected future of Fukushima” which was supposed to go on air, was exposed to criticism saying that the sub-title suggests that the same kinds of health hazards are expected to occur in Fukushima prefecture. Succumbing to pressure TV Asahi decided to eliminate the subtitle, “the expected future of Fukushima,” (translator’s note: to erase the implied connection to the health problems of the Bikini nuclear test). (If the link is broken, please see this web archive).
What is worrying here is that these censorship pressures are not from governmental authorities, but from citizens. Now, the majority of people living in or outside of Fukushima don’t believe in the reality of radiation-related health hazards. They react aggressively against anything which reminds them of such health risks. Imagine that when you speak up or when you write about radiation risks you become the object of bullying. You have to have an iron nerve to continue, especially if you have your own family members to protect from social bullying. The fact that the authorities don’t recognize such health risks favors this antagonism.
This phenomenon is not particular to Japan. It is NOT to be explained by cultural characteristics. It happens everywhere in the world. We saw it happen in Tchernobyl, in the US and in France. People deny the radiation effects or comparisons with those of Bikini Atoll or Marshall Islands because it makes the place or people feel or look bad and speaking of it becomes taboo, even though there is a factual base behind it. (It is probably worse now because of social media — comments are extremely emotional, violent and destructive toward others).
As we can see from the above incidents, facts are disappearing from all kinds of media. The media and government are censoring the facts and the public are censoring themselves and each other. Lets be aware of it.
If you appreciate the photo in the English edition and the first Japanese edition of the Mainichi Shimbun with black bags in the foreground, please write encouraging comments to the Mainichi Shimbun.