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Restricted public disclosure invites public distrust

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has at long last made public, albeit partially, video images of in-house teleconferences held during the crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to discuss countermeasures.

The video footage is valuable data for evaluating the crisis management capabilities of the government and the utility.

But the publicized images were limited to about 150 hours of teleconferences held from March 11, 2011 ― when the crisis began ― to March 16. Such partial disclosure will only feed suspicion that the utility is covering up crucial information.

TEPCO discussed countermeasures against the crisis through the teleconference system linking its head office in Tokyo with the Fukushima Nos. 1 and 2 nuclear power plants, among other locations.

A tense atmosphere can be perceived in the disclosed images. When a hydrogen explosion occurred at the No. 1 reactor of the No. 1 plant, images are shown jiggling. At the time of an explosion at the No. 3 reactor of the same plant, multiple voices can be heard exclaiming, “Taihen desu!” (“This is terrible!”)

There is also an image of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan at TEPCO’s head office, behaving as if issuing orders while waving his arms. However, this scene has no audio because the recording capacity had run out.

A problematic point is that the utility is disclosing the images in a way that too tightly controls news gathering and reporting by the media.

Originally, TEPCO planned to allow reporters only five days to view the images and grant access to only one reporter per media company.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano directed the utility to contemplate improved measures. As a result, the viewing period was extended to about one month. Nevertheless, the recording of live images and voices from the footage is still banned. Nor is reporting of individual names allowed, except for some TEPCO executives.

The utility even threatens to exclude any media companies that refuse to comply with these terms from attending its news conferences in the future.

These regulations could infringe on the freedom of news gathering and reporting. The utility must rescind them immediately.

As a reason for the delay in disclosing the images and the restrictions set on reporting them, TEPCO asserted that it was designed “to protect the privacy of rank-and-file company employees shown in some images.”

But it is self-evident that media organizations give the utmost consideration to privacy in their reporting.

The utility is responsible for preserving all records concerning the crisis and disclosing them for the benefit of evaluation.

As TEPCO has been virtually nationalized for the reorganization of its management, the utility must remember that it is highly accountable to the people.

The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association has filed a request with the utility for free coverage, saying, “The disclosure of the images is highly significant and of great public interest.”

TEPCO recorded images of teleconferences held later than those disclosed this time and submitted them to nuclear crisis investigation panels of the Diet and the government. It should study further public disclosure.

(The Yomiuri Shimbun)
(Asia News Network)