7 Août 2012
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, has at last given the media access to hours of company videoconference footage recorded in the opening days of the nuclear disaster in March 2011. However, this access comes with onerous restrictions devised, or so the utility says, to protect the privacy of individual employees mentioned in the videos.
The some 150 hours of footage covers videoconferences between TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo and the Fukushima No. 1 plant from March 11 -- the day the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the crisis -- to March 15. And though the videoconference content is vital to our understanding of how the nuclear disaster unfolded, TEPCO officials in the company of lawyer Hideaki Terashima informed reporters at a briefing that 1,665 audio segments and 29 video segments had been "masked" to keep the names of non-executives and their jobs off the record. The edits, TEPCO continued, were based on Article 13 of the Constitution, guaranteeing "respect for the individual."
On top of the clipped content, reporters who came to see the videos -- stored on a computer in an audio-visual room inside TEPCO headquarters -- were forced to sign a pledge not to record or photograph any portion of the videoconferences, and not to "slander" specific TEPCO employees. Once the document was signed, the reporters -- up to a maximum of two from each news organization -- were allowed into the AV room.
TEPCO is holding up the defense of privacy codified in the Personal Information Protection Act as its reason for these restrictions on this most essential information. It can rather be said that this is nothing but a textbook sham to help the utility cover up a scandal of the gravest degree.
The videoconference footage that TEPCO has so cavalierly snipped and clipped and altered behind a wall of high-powered legal representation is of the greatest importance; a key to sorting out what the company was doing as three of its reactors melted down and radioactive fallout blanketed the countryside in the worst global nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
TEPCO is not a government organization with the concomitant requirements for transparency. The videoconferences, however, are the kind of content that must be revealed not just to the news media but to the people at large. The company must also admit that the restrictions it has placed on journalists, whose duty it is to examine and disseminate the information to the people of Japan, are both reprehensible and absurd. (By Hiroshi Dai, "Open Newspaper" Committee, and Ken Aoshima, City News Department)
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has started showing to media groups and journalists 150 hours of teleconference footage recorded during the first days of the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. It is deplorable that Tepco did not volunteer to show the footage earlier. At first it refused to disclose it, citing the need to protect the privacy of Tepco employees and subcontract workers. It only agreed to disclose the footage after trade and industry minister Yukio Edano prodded the company to do so.
Although it agreed to release the footage, Tepco attached various conditions to showing the footage, including restrictions on the activities of journalists. Tepco's attitude will deepen mistrust over its activities. It will convey the message that Tepco is not taking serious its responsibility for a disaster that made large areas of Fukushima Prefecture uninhabitable and uprooted the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Given the scale of the disaster, the video footage should never have been regarded as Tepco's private property. It is indispensable in revealing the truth of the unprecedented nuclear disaster. The video footage may provide answers to crucial questions such as whether Tepco planned a full pullout from the plant. It also covers exchanges between the prime minister's office and Tepco over the pumping of sea water into the No. 1 reactor and the release of radiation into the atmosphere. At the very least, media access to this material must be guaranteed, and the government should take steps to ensure the video footage becomes part of the public record.
The footage was recorded for four days from March 11, 2011, when the nuclear disaster began. It mainly covers teleconferences between Tepco headquarters and Tepco officials at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Strangely, only about 50 hours of the footage includes audio. Among the silent portions is the footage of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan's March 15 visit to Tepco headquarters, during which he reportedly had heated exchanges with Tepco officials over their handling of the disaster.
The restrictions Tepco placed on reporters who view the video included a ban on making their own recordings of the Tepco footage and a ban on disclosing the names of Tepco officials and workers seen on the footage, except those whose names were disclosed by Tepco's own investigation. Moreover, Tepco has censored the video by blurring its employees' images and disguising their voices. Tepco even prohibits media organizations from disclosing video footage they have collected on their own.
In view of the critical importance of the footage to understanding how the disaster unfolded, Tepco should remove the restrictions. If Tepco refuses, steps should be taken to force them to do so.