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TEPCO never learns

August 4, 2012
 Editorial: TEPCO must be condemned for news media restrictions




We must condemn Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) over its restrictions on news media access to footage of videoconferences it held immediately after the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The utility will show the videoconference footage to news organizations on request staring Aug. 6. However, the company has altered parts of the videos out of consideration for the privacy of employees who appear in the videos.

TEPCO has agreed to show the edited footage to the media with various conditions attached. It bans reporters from recording the footage or identifying ordinary employees who are not listed in the company's own crisis investigation report. Furthermore, the utility demands that news organization never release any of the footage or images from it that they obtain through their own sources.

The power company has even hinted it will expel journalists who refuse to comply with these rules from its offices or ban them from attending its future news conferences. Such media restrictions are absurd considering that the footage is public property, as well as the public's right to know and the freedom of the press in Japan. We strongly urge TEPCO to respond to news organizations in a flexible manner when it shows the footage.

About 150 hours of videoconference footage between TEPCO headquarters and the stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant will be released to the press, covering the roughly four days from March 11, 2011 -- the day the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis -- to March 15.

During that period, hydrogen explosions blew apart the buildings housing the plant's No. 1, 3 and 4 reactors. The No. 2 reactor's cooling function was lost and sea water was injected into the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors. Amid this critical situation, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan visited the TEPCO headquarters on the early morning of March 15, and warned the utility in no uncertain terms against withdrawing workers from the plant.

The nuclear disaster came as a shock not only to the Japanese public but also the international community. The TEPCO videoconference footage is indispensable for clarifying how the utility tried to bring the crisis under control and how far workers grasped the condition of the overheating reactors, as demanded by the international community.

Since TEPCO has received a massive infusion of public funds and been effectively placed under state control, the company is all the more accountable to the public for the crisis and its response. As such, TEPCO must release all relevant videos without restrictions for analysis by third parties. The company is set to show the footage only to the media, but researchers and ordinary citizens must be given access to the videos as well. Moreover, it should release footage from March 16 and beyond as well.

Needless to say, news organizations must report on the videos while giving maximum consideration to the privacy of individuals who appear in them. At the same time, however, it is possible for the media to identify ordinary workers who played an important role in responding to the crisis even if they are not in managerial positions. Assuming the responsibility for the consequences of this is one of the things the news media is supposed to do, TEPCO should be fully aware of news organizations' role in this regard.

We cannot help but be astounded by the manner in which TEPCO initially proposed to reveal these important videoconferences to the media and the world. Specifically, the utility had planned to allow only one reporter from each media outlet to view the video within about 30 hours over five days starting Aug. 6. TEPCO's plan certainly made it appear as if the company was deliberately trying to make it as difficult as possible for any third party to get to the bottom of the crisis. In the end, the utility extended the period to Sept. 7 at the instruction of Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano.

The Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association urged TEPCO on Aug. 3 to release the relevant videos in their entirety and do away with all press restrictions. TEPCO should humbly accept this demand.




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