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31 Jan, 2014 11:40

Censored: Japan radio host quits after nuclear issues banned

Censored: Japan radio host quits after nuclear issues banned

A veteran radio show host has quit his job at Japan Broadcasting Corp. after the program director told him not to discuss nuclear power for fear his comments “would affect voting behavior” in the upcoming Tokyo gubernatorial election.

Toru Nakakita, a professor of economics at Tokyo University, was the host of the Business Outlook segment on the Radio Asa Ichiban for the past two decades. On Wednesday, the director of the morning news program, told him to change the subject of his commentary after seeing an outline for the program to air the following day, The Japan Times reported.

For the Thursday morning edition, the Nakakita planned to talk about the rising operating costs of nuclear power worldwide, as well as in Japan where the cost of decommissioning nuclear plants is not clearly reflected on utilities’ balance sheets. According to The Asahi Shimbun daily, Nakakita planned to say in his original script that “damages to be paid in the wake of a nuclear plant accident are extraordinarily high.”

However, after looking at the draft of the discussion, the director of the news program allegedly told Nakakita to wait until the gubernatorial election was over, on the grounds his comments “would affect the voting behavior” of listeners, the radio host quoted the NHK director as saying. The election is Feb. 9.

While Nakakita insisted that the nuclear debate was timely “precisely because it is the campaign period,” Japan's Broadcasting Corporation claimed it wasn’t censoring the debate, but simply wanted the discussion to be balanced.

An NHK official said that since nuclear power is one of the major issues in the gubernatorial election, "we need to be especially careful about ensuring fairness," and presenting opinions from both sides is "needed to secure impartiality."

"It could have been possible to feature another expert with a different viewpoint soon before or after [Nakakita’s] appearance, but because we received his draft the day before the scheduled broadcast, and because we have limited editions of the program during the campaign period, we decided it would be difficult to air a contrasting view,” the official said.

Nakakita, who previously served as the deputy chairman of the Council for the Asian Gateway Initiative in the first Shinzo Abe cabinet, said he wasn't satisfied with the broadcaster's official explanation.

“I wonder if it’s OK to say we can talk about [contentious issues] at length only after the election," Nakakita told The Japan Times. “What if I had talked about welfare? Wouldn’t that have affected the voting behavior?"

“The media should choose various issues especially during the campaign,” he said. “If they don’t, voters will go to the polls with no information to base their judgments on. Isn’t it the mission of the news organizations to have the guts to give more information to the public?”

In December, Japan enacted a new law to increase legal penalties for leaks, despite public concerns that the state secrets law could damage press freedoms. According to conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the measure is necessary to combat the leaking of state secrets. The new law enacts stricter sentences for public servants and others with access to sensitive national information, and could lead to jail terms of up to 10 years. Journalists in Japan could face up to five years’ imprisonment if they are adjudged to have used “grossly inappropriate” methods to acquire state secrets.

Nuclear power is often a controversial topic in the Japanese media. Last week, a freelance commentator who hosts several news and music shows on radio and TV, including for NHK, revealed in his morning program on InterFM that he had been allegedly pressured by “two broadcasting stations” not to touch nuclear power issues. “I have been told by two stations (other than InterFM) not to touch on the nuclear issue until the gubernatorial election is over, even though the campaign has not officially kicked off,” Peter Barakan said during the show, without identifying the stations.

Tensions grew earlier this month when a staunch opponent of nuclear power, former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, joined the Tokyo governor’s race. The 76-year-old politician has the support of another harsh critic of nuclear power, ex-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, one of Japan's most popular leaders during his 2001-06 term. The pair are in opposition to the former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe, the candidate backed by the party of the current prime minister, who supports the restarting of Japan's many nuclear plants, which were shut down after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Some of those are currently undergoing mandatory safety checks.

"I foolishly once believed the myth that nuclear energy is clean and safe," Hosokawa told a news conference Jan. 22. "That myth has completely broken down."

"We need to turn around by 180 degrees the current energy-guzzling society dependent on nuclear power," he added, unveiling his platform.

On Jan. 14, Japan's Trade Ministry approved a revival plan for the utility operating the Fukushima nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco). The plan revolves around Tepco restarting its currently shuttered seven-reactor Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear complex, the world’s largest, to cut fossil fuel costs.