Assault On Press Freedom
|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.
Roll Call of Dishonor
The televised public “confession” by the management of the nation’s second-largest media group is a disturbing throwback to thought control under the prewar policy of demanding public recantations by democratic opponents of militarist authority. Reversals of political opinion, under coercion by the secret police, were described with the term for a roll call, “tenko”. In prison when one’s name is called, a prisoner must bow in humility to the warden. The Asahi management bowed in unison to an amorphous “Japanese people”, that i s, the television audience, in apology for their disgraceful act of sullying the public image of those brave Fukushima workers.
The public is invited to a spectacle of humiliation as a warning against disobedience. The tenko gesture is not toward other prisoners but to the warden. In the Japanese power hierarchy, the bureaucracy holds power, corporate executives have wealth, and journalists exert influence. In this grim theatrical performance, influence bows deeply before power, as the wealthy look on with satisfaction but also unease since anybody could be next. Just in what century are we living? Has Japan moved one millimeter forward since the days of Manchukuo, Pearl Harbor and the River Kwai?
Media censorship and propagandist education are once again, as in the 1930s, being aimed at mass indoctrination and blind obedience to the militarist agenda. From a historical perspective on modern Japan, the goal is the militarization of society under a totalitarian system from the defense-based industries down to the youngest schoolchild.
Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-nuclear administration, thought control is constantly deployed against so-called “unfounded rumors” of radioactive contamination from the Fukushima region. If a nation can be convinced through a controlled media that mass suicide, this time by irradiation, is preferable to self-preservation, then state power has become absolute. Only Japanese society, along with a handful of introverted cults, can be capable of this degree of psychological detachment outside the bounds of sanity.
In yielding to Abe’s psychotic adoration of Japan’s fascist past, the Asahi Shimbun management made a fatal error in surrendering basic constitutional rights. Their lapse of ethical judgment will take a heavier toll on others as the years go by. Journalists and editors present the final barrier of reason, a thin line of resistance against restart of faulty nuclear reactors across Japan. One more meltdown and the entire archipelago, not just the northern half, will be uninhabitable. The order from a re-militarizing state remains nonnegotiable: March on, lemmings, to the radioactive sea.
A Black Comedy
The accusations against the Asahi group of insulting Fukushima nuclear workers would be laughable if the threat of political violence was not so palpable.
The Asahi apology over its coverage of Fukushima was preceded a month earlier, in August, by a retraction of its articles from 20 years ago on the “comfort women” issue. Shrill rightist protests in front of its office and editorials from the conservative press accused the liberal newspaper of concocting fictive claims of wartime sexual slavery.
For the rightists, the “evidence” came with the withdrawal of first-hand accounts by Seiji Yoshida who told Asahi reporters that he had worked as a wartime procurer of Korean women on Jeju Island. He later recanted his precise and detailed claims. Never mind that elderly Asian and European women have stepped out of the shadows to describe deception at recruitment or outright abduction, corporeal punishment for hesitation, and then years of denial. The final verdict, for the fanatic right, rests solely on the statement of on e man, just as it does in the case of the Fukushima exodus.
In an interview with the Sankei Shimbun in late August, Prime Minister Abe said the Asahi retraction is proof that his 2007 statement during his first term was completely correct in asserting that comfort women were never coerced into sexual service by the Japanese military. The erasing of sex slavery, and its substitution by voluntary self-sacrifice for the patriotic cause, is an example of thought control. If an event is wiped from the selective memory and redacted from text books, it never happened.
Threats to Truth Telling
In a society as reticent as Japan’s, acts of intimidation are never disclosed to the public, which therefore cannot comprehend the types of threats hurled at the Asahi staff and their families. As a former editor with The Japan Times group, let me share a few of the incidents in response to our press coverage: shots fired causing holes in the office’s exterior windows; rightists wielding a sword in a meeting with an editor; a ministry delegation haranguing a senior editor who subsequently had to be hospitalized; a nd a former managing editor discovered at the front door of his home dead with his skull smashed in. None of these incidents were ever covered in our newspaper, no police reports were filed and, tellingly, an obituary for the murdered editor was not published.
Reporting a crime to the Tokyo Police is worst than futile, because it could lead to a spree of murders to maintain an official cover-up, as happened after the attempted assassination of the National Police chief in the wake of the 1995 subway gassing. The Tokyo Police, a separate command from the national police, are the capital’s political enforcement arm, which acts to eliminate those who know too much, such as our former managing editor, who had early in his career served as a Foreign Ministry translator for the US Embassy.
Enough of an insider to be perceived as a traitor by the vested interests, the veteran editor paid the ultimate price for allowing his reporters to expose top politicians, including Shinzo Abe’s father Shintaro, a former Foreign Minister, as sponsors of the Aum Shinrikyo in a covert operation to procure Soviet nuclear warheads and nerve gas. The brutal fact that 20,000 commuters were gassed and at least a dozen killed did not matter, because the only priority was protection of the political elite. The same unspoken rule applies to the Fukushima crisis.
Murder Most Foul
Just before the prime minister’s henchman Suga launched his verbal attack against the offending newspaper, a warning was delivered to the media with the “suicide” of a prime-time news producer at its television affiliate, Asahi News Network.
Assigned to the Fukushima beat of the Hodo Station evening news program, Masaki Iwagi broke major stories on official corruption in the award of contracts for sloppy decontamination work inside the radioactive exclusion zone. Just before his death on or before August 29, Iwagi was preparing to interview American sailors who are suffering radiation-related symptoms after intense exposure aboard the super carrier USS Ronald Reagan off northeast Japan during the Operation Tomodachi relief effort.
Pressure “from above” was coming down on producer Iwagi and news anchor Ichiro Furutachi for their investigative journalism on Fukushima. In off-hours discussions with colleagues, Iwaki said that he was under threat. His body was “found” by the Tokyo police inside his apartment with cause of death attributed to sleeping pills and carbon monoxide from burning charcoal briquettes.
Reformists Not Radicals
The pro-nuclear and jingoistic newspaper group Yomiuri Shimbun assails the Asahi media group as “leftist” and “radical”. To the contrary, Asahi is establishment to a fault. It works in partnership with The New York Times and distributes the International Herald Tribune, those warhorses of global finance capital that are hardly standard bearers for social justice much less political revolution.
The Asahi group is unashamedly elitist in its hiring policy, with an inordinate number of graduates from Tokyo University (Todai), the Oxford-Harvard of Japan. Due to old-boy collegiate loyalties, its editorial stance is closely aligned with the Finance Ministry (Okura-sho) and Justice (Homu-sho) because Todai has the nation’s top schools of economics and law. Reflecting the viewpoint of the technocratic elite, Asahi is high brow, constitutionalist and legalistic, which automatically puts it on collision course with lowlife politicians, corrupt political cronies in the bureaucracy and their yakuza buddies.
From a financial and legal perspective, TEPCO’s slew of problems and anti-competitive practices are rooted in the utility’s corrupt ties with major banks, stock-market manipulators, political fixers and the giant industrial combines. More than any other press group, Asahi has been unearthing the dirty dealings of one of TEPCO’s chief funders, Mizuho Bank, formerly known as the Dai-ichi Kangyo Bank (DKB). Japan Inc. has a heart of darkness called Mizuho.
The Decepticon Twins
The magnitude of Mizuho’s illicit money-lending activities is galactic, indicating either permissive regulation or complete lack of regulation among the high bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry and at the Abe-allied Bank of Japan under its chairman Haruhiko Kuroda. Blatant fraud at Mizuho has triggered class struggle inside the Finance Ministry, pitting the Todai technocrats against high-ranking political lackeys aligned with the major banks and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Mizuho biggest fraud is virtually unknown inside Japan, even though it serves as a text-book case for Harvard MBAs studying the 2008 Wall Street-Lehman crisis. Japan’s banksters to gangsters lost a cool $7 billion dollars in CDO deals (collateralized debt obligations linked to the subprime housing market) handled by the Magnetar hedge fund based in Evanston, Illinois.
The US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) are still left wondering how a Japanese bank could drop that chunk of cash and walk away whistling, when everyone else in the game is suing each other. Named after a radioactive neutron star, Magnetar is a Jewish-operated hedge fund based in a Chicago run by a succession of power brokers like Henry Crown, Sidney Korshak, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. The money simply disappeared, freed of taxes and wiped clean, and headed to who knows where. Go figure.
Another 800-kilogram gorilla that goes unnoticed inside the tatami-mat room is called Uchisaiwaicho, a sliver of downtown Tokyo between Shimbashi and Yurakucho JR stations. There, on an afternoon stroll, a visitor will find a spotlessly manicured pocket park, with a new row of underground bars and the annex of the Dai-ichi Hotel. You pinch yourself, knowing this scene cannot be real. St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-la, Kempinski, sure, but the low-rise annex of the Dai-ichi? What parallel universe are we in? Uchisaiwaicho is the most expensive office property in the world.
Stunned, you look across the street to the familiar relay towers of NTT, the national phone company, and then realize: Here is not here anymore. The humongous headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power is gone! A tap on the smart phone reveals nothing, because the maps say it’s still here. Dazed, you see a gray stone facade and a row of tiny letters. As you walk toward it, guards step forward to wave you away from the headquarters of Mizuho Bank.
The sleight of hand makes sense somehow. TEPCO, in need of fast cash to pay off members of the Diet and bureaucrats at the Economy Ministry, does a property trade with its banker of choice, Mizuho, which gets the high-value land as collateral. The exchange of sheets of paper stamped with corporate seals rescues the book value of both corporate entities, and book value is the only thing that matters in Japanese business. Any dip in asset value could cause another credit-rating hit and billions in losses on the Nikkei exchange as investors pull out. Thus, collusion.
For executives with the two-headed Decepticon known as TEPCO-Mizuho, the only good publicity is no publicity, and so busy-body Asahi Shimbun must be brought to heel.
Considering what Mizuho has been getting away with, Asahi has shown doggedness, if not brilliance, in the pursuit of those crooks in suits. The media blood hounds for the Okura-sho were instrumental in the 1997 takedown of Mizuho’s predecessor Dai-ichi Kangyo Bank, the hub of the DKB group to which the Dai-ichi hotel belonged. Asahi exposed DKB lending to yakuza loan-sharking fronts and payoffs to sokaiya, extortionists who paralyze annual shareholders meetings.
In the wake of the 1992 burst of Japan’s economic bubble, the Tokyo prosecutor’s office actually did what it’s supposed to do: Clear out the stinking dregs from the financial sewers. The chairman of DKB, Kuniji Miyazaki, was found “suicided” with a rope around his neck before he could testify in court. Relying on little help from yakuza friends and the Tokyo police, the sado-masochistic ritual is known as “assisted suicide”.
In the Japanese psychology, death should always be deeply personal, the sad outcome of emotional despondency or a feeling of inadequacy. Killing someone over money seems just too cold and impersonal, even though most “suicides” in Japan are the outcome of a financial arrangement turned sour. Political power in Japan navigates along a river of money where bodies of the suicided float downstream and disappear over the rapids.
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi is now best-remembered for his daughter Yuko who was recently appointed by Shinzo Abe as the first female minister of economy and industry. It was the Cabinet of Obuchi Sr. who ingeniously saved Dai-ichi Kangyo from liquidation by merging it with the Yasuda group’s Fuji Bank. In the merger, Fuji Ginko was then stripped clean of its assets and top management positions by the wolves of DKB, repackaged as Mizuho Bank. Like father, like daughter, and so danger lurks in the darkness once again .
The Missing Billions
Then late last summer, in 2013, Mizuho was again caught in bed with the yakuza, this time a mob-run leasing (loan shark) company called Orient Corporation. The Financial Services Agency (FSA), the Finance Ministry’s watchdog over non-bank lenders, led the crackdown, and the Asahi group scooped the pack with a breaking-news series on Mizuho’s links to organized crime.
In the footsteps of Obuchi, Shinzo Abe launched a rescue of Mizuho by having the high bureaucrats at Finance muzzle the FSA. Meanwhile, the bank management transferred the entire staff of 50-plus employees involved with the Orient loans to provincial back offices and the case fizzled.
Briefly, all too briefly, before it was suppressed, the FSA leaked a bombshell that the source of the money was an undisclosed account and that, coincidentally, Mizuho was entrusted with the donations for the 311 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. By interference, billions of yen in public donations were turned over to the yakuza instead of the victims of the 311 triple crisis, a point confirmed by this writer in queries of Fukushima residents who received not one yen.
At the time of his election campaign, a cash-strapped Shinzo Abe received an unreported windfall of cash for his second electoral bid for the premiership, which rescued the nuclear industry from immediate closure. Connecting the dots comes up with a zigzag trail: 311 donations - Mizuho - Orient - yakuza - Abe - TEPCO. The nuclear industry was saved by the heartfelt contributions, billions of dollars of which came from overseas donors, embezzled from the victims of earthquake, tsunami and radioactivity. In Japan, nobody dares to link those dots, for it would surely end in yet more suicides.
The People’s Choice
The one man who could comprehend the byzantine dealings of the corrupted political class has been eliminated. Tadahiro Matsushita was minister for financial services and elder of the Shin-Kokuminto (New People’s Party) under the Democratic Party coalition. He was the political heavyweight who prompted the FSA crackdown on Mizuho.
Before the fragmentation of the LDP, according to Diet insiders, Matsushita was one of three Liberal Democrat politicians who “handled the money.” His record of accounts of political payoffs was potentially lethal for the comeback to power of Shinzo Abe.
In September 2012, Matsushita was found hanged by the neck in his Tokyo apartment. Soon thereafter, this writer visited his home constituency in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture. Matsushita and New People’s Party were adamant opponents of the restart of nuclear power plants, including the one just down the road from his campaign office Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai nuclear station. Equipped with twin Mitsubishi pressurized steam reactors, Kyushu Power Sendai is the first (after the suspension of Ohi) nuclear station slated to go online, probably in January.
Local folk in Kagoshima asserted vigorously that a Kagoshima man like Matsushita would never commit suicide in faraway Tokyo, traditional fortress of the much despised Edo shogunate. Kagoshima, after all, is the proud homeland of Saigo Takamori, the icon of courageous suicide on one’s native soil, who is immortalized in the Tom Cruise film “The Last Samura”. The campaign staff of his successor during a special by-election gave me a copy of Matsushita’s last message, which is just too cheerful in its call for electoral victories, to be a final note of farewell.
And so we add another name onto the trail of blood that leads to Abe’s door.
TEPCO as Tokyo’s Power
Asahi’s final “crime” was its investigative journalism into the unreported donation of the Tokushukai hospital group to the pro-nuclear gubernatorial candidate Naoki Inose, the chosen successor of the retired rightist Gov. Shintaro Ishihara. Inose received 50 million yen, or nearly half a million dollars, under the table. The Asahi scoop forced Inose’s resignation, along with the disclosure that the bribe was necessary to swing the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, a major shareholder in Tokyo Electric, to put up a TEPCO-owned hospital for sa le at discount to Tokushukai.
On Sept. 3, Asahi Shimbun was awarded the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association prize for excellence in journalism, largely for its role in toppling the pro-nuclear governor of Tokyo. Nine days later, payback came when Prime Minister Abe’s henchmen forced the retraction of the Yoshida articles, removal of a top Asahi editor, abject apologies from a terrorized management team, and suspension of any truthful reporting on Fukushima.
No Evading the Duel
Wartime Japan under the control of Abe’s war-criminal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi and his fascist ilk directly resulted in the greatest disaster in national history with the firebombing of every city except Kyoto, abandonment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers to die horribly in the jungles and steppes of Asia, the psychological crushing of a generation of youths who were misled into fanatic belief in an invincible divine mission, senseless mass suicides of women and children in Okinawa, and futile one-way missions of youngidealistic men into the fangs of antiaircraft fire.
After that horror and misery, this maniac of a prime minister believes in all sincerity that Japan will rise again to win a glorious victory in the last chapter of World War II. Having never experienced the suffering of his countrymen, the spoiled brat or “botchan” was raised in a privileged milieu above the law. The now grown-up madman at the helm belongs not in a prison but inside a straight jacket in a lunatic asylum.
With the assault against Asahi Shimbun, Abe has declared war against press freedom in Japan, and no editor or reporter will be safe whenever truth is told. The prospect remains, despite his deadly threats, that honest journalism will out-duel Shinzo Abe and shall certainly be there at his downfall and the destruction of fascist illusions. The fate of dictators is writ on the snowy stone path at Sakuradamon Gate, where an all-powerful prime minister of the shogun met the blades of justice. Against all odds, truth will strike down injustice, unflinchingly with no thought of compromise and no quarter.
Yoichi Shimatsu, former general editor of The Japan Times Weekly, conducts science journalism inside the Fukushima exclusion zone.
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