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"Write articles that make good use of voices that are being suppressed"

Editorial: Newspapers should deepen coverage of quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis



One year and seven months have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis occurred on March 11, 2011. Since the outbreak of the triple disasters, newspapers and other media outlets have been called into question over how they should face the serious damage caused by the temblor and tsunami as well as the nuclear disaster and what they should convey to their readers and viewers.

Newspaper publishers should take the opportunity of Newspaper Week that began on Oct. 15 to consider how to deepen their coverage of the triple disasters.

Many questions have been raised over disaster countermeasures as recovery work progresses in disaster-hit areas. One of these questions is how funds allocated for disaster recovery efforts have been used. Reporters have patiently covered the situation of disaster-ravaged areas and checked whether the government's response to the situation is appropriate. They have also tried to deeply examine important challenges to the restoration of disaster areas. These are important roles that newspapers should carry out.

In particular, newspapers should continue to pay close attention to the situation in Fukushima Prefecture where the serious nuclear crisis has been prolonged.

The government has declared that the tsunami-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has been brought under control on the grounds that it has been brought to a stable condition called a "cold shutdown." Still, photos of the inside of one of its nuclear reactor containment vessels, which were taken recently, show that it was filled with steam.

Radiation levels inside the containment vessels remain high and the amount of water contaminated with radioactive substances has kept increasing at the power plant. There are no prospects that the crippled power station can be decommissioned and dismantled in the foreseeable future.

The situation concerning Fukushima residents' daily lives remains serious. The government has begun re-designating evacuation zones but its efforts to build infrastructure in affected areas has been delayed. Many residents' lives have drastically changed since the March 11, 2011, disasters.

Discussions were held on how journalism should cover the nuclear disaster during a national meeting of the deliberative panel on news media's ethics last month. Jun Sakuma, city news editor with the local newspaper Fukushima Minpo, reported the worries of residents near the power plant.

He pointed out there are differences in views on radiation contamination even within a family, and that there are residents of the same area who have evacuated to other areas and others who remained in their neighborhoods, while different areas in the same municipality have been designated as different evacuation zones.

"There is division in many communities in the disaster-hit area. We sometimes wonder whether we can help local residents by describing their differences in our articles," Sakuma told the meeting, highlighting the viewpoint of the local newspaper that is particularly close to local residents. The regional daily received this year's Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association Award for its coverage of the nuclear disaster because its coverage "exposed problems involving the disaster from various perspectives and verified the numerous aspects that have been behind the disaster and whether the countermeasures have been appropriate."

During discussions at the national meeting of the ethics panel, a reporter of another local daily warned that it would be inappropriate if the nuclear crisis was simply bracketed as the "Fukushima problem" and treated merely as a local issue. We must take his opinion seriously.

In May, the Mainichi Shimbun exposed that secret meetings were held between pro-nuclear experts and power company and government officials on the promotion of the nuclear fuel cycle project -- in which plutonium is extracted from spent nuclear fuel and used for fast-breeder reactors. Its reports revealed through journalists' patient coverage that nuclear experts, businesses and government officials colluded behind closed doors to draw up a tactic to lead official discussions in favor of the project.

The Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association selected as one of its official slogans the phrase, "Write articles that make good use of voices that are being suppressed," which was originally written by Yoshiharu Oiwake, a resident of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, from among numerous entries. The Mainichi Shimbun is determined to continue to confront and report what is going on in Japan and the world.



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