Editorial: Newspaper Week puts spotlight on duty of newspapers

We must not take our eyes away from those faced with difficulties. A journalist’s charge involves hearing the small voices of the world and reporting them faithfully. This is what the members of our profession hold in mind as we pursue our work.

Still, we cannot help but question ourselves in connection with the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant: Can we stand tall and declare that we have faithfully fulfilled our mission as newspaper reporters?

A year and seven months have passed since the “safety myth” of nuclear energy was shattered. The people of Japan have grown to distrust the information offered by the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). It must be expected that the public has also looked hard at the information transmitted by the media.

Tomorrow marks the start of Newspaper Week in Japan. On this occasion we would like to reflect on our reporting in the past and return to the original spirit of our profession.

Even today, 160,000 people in Fukushima Prefecture remain evacuees. The decontamination work advances very slowly and temporary sites to hold the contaminated debris have yet to be determined. Various kinds of “divisions” are affecting the local communities.

Even within family units, it seems family members hold conflicting ideas over such issues as how to rate the risks involving radiation exposure and whether they should evacuate from their homes. In terms of redrawing the evacuation zones, a measure advanced by the Japanese government, a line was made that has split the same community into a configuration in which residents would receive differing amounts of compensation.

The people of the affected areas also face fears of low-dose radiation exposure, its effects on human health still largely unknown, as well as groundless prejudice and discrimination and other repercussions. The suffering felt in Fukushima mirrors the suffering that has been felt here in Hiroshima in the past. The Chugoku Shimbun has sought to relay the real voices of the Fukushima sufferers, including those who chose to evacuate, to the extent possible, while posing questions and exploring issues. As a newspaper company based in the A-bombed city, we have been committed to painstaking efforts to convey the plight of these nuclear sufferers.

Nevertheless, we cannot declare that our efforts have been sufficient. For instance, our readers have asked for more accurate information with regard to the effects of internal radiation exposure through food consumption. We must also ensure that long-term radiation risks are being assessed and reported accurately. No matter how difficult the task, we must vigorously pursue these concerns.

Another challenge for us involves verifying the safety of restarting the nation’s nuclear power plants. While empathizing with the anxiety felt by local residents, we must maintain a stance that seeks to report on this issue in a manner that is easy to comprehend while grounded in a scientific perspective.

It has been pointed out that a major earthquake may occur along the Nankai Trough. Pursuing coverage of disaster prevention measures, to minimize the impact of such a catastrophe, has become an urgent task.

One duty of a newspaper is to help ensure the security and safety of the public. In the reporting on U.S. military bases in Japan, it is unclear if this duty has been met.

Last month, a national conference was held in Okinawa by the National Council to Promote Ethics of Mass Media. Local reporters posed questions to those working in Japanese media, asking: “Can Japan be considered a democratic nation when it forces Okinawa to accept the deployment of the Osprey?”

The safety of the tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft, a U.S. military vehicle, is a subject of concern. The voices of local residents near the Futenma Air Station, where the Osprey is being deployed, have expressed outspoken anger over its deployment. One resident said, “There have been no developments regarding the relocation of the Futenma Air Base and the handover of the other U.S. bases to Okinawa, and yet we’re forced to shoulder this new burden. We’re being treated like pawns.” The charge “There is discrimination against Okinawa” was made repeatedly by the people there and these words should be taken to heart by us all.

We have shared strong doubts over the deployment of the Osprey. But we also must question whether we have put the issue at an arm’s length out of a feeling that, in the end, this is Okinawa’s problem.

The accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station and the military bases in Okinawa. What these two issues highlight is the sense that our conscience is trivializing the suffering by perceiving them as local matters limited to these communities. We must turn our attention to the people who are crying out for help from these locations, rather than accepting what the central government and other authorities say at face value. We must be devoted to reporting the real voices in our midst. And we should carry this attitude into all the coverage we undertake.

The slogan for Newspaper Week this year is “Don’t give up—the article encouraged me to stand tall.” This slogan expresses the importance of standing united with our readers as we face the difficulties before us.

A series of articles published this year by the Chugoku Shimbun entitled “Inochi-no-Yurikago” (“Cradle of Life”), which covered changes to the Seto Inland Sea, won the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association Award (Nihon Shinbun Kyokai Award). We are determined to work harder, without complacency of any kind, and focus our lens more sharply than ever on the local communities of this nation.

(Originally published on October 14, 2012)