Japan’s Earthquake, Wikileaks and Journalism


Another week another wikileaks bombshell drop on the political establishment, this time in Japan. Apparently Japan’s government has been warn by IAEA about its nuclear plants two years ago. The Australian:

Recent earthquakes “have exceeded the design basis for some nuclear plants”, he told a meeting of the Nuclear Safety and Security Group of the Group of Eight countries. Moreover, safety guides for seismic activity had been revised only three times in the past 35 years, he added.

The information was recorded in a US diplomatic cable and comes to us courtesy of WikiLeaks. So do other cables, including one two years ago in which American officials described Tomihiro Taniguchi, a senior IAEA nuclear safety official and former head of the Japanese agency responsible for nuclear plant security following earthquakes, as “a weak manager and advocate, particularly with respect to confronting Japan’s own safety practices”. A few months earlier, Japanese MP Taro Kono told US diplomats the government was covering up nuclear accidents and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry. The following year, the government reversed a court ruling that a nuclear plant in western Japan had to be closed because it could withstand an earthquake of only 6.5 magnitude.

Unfortunately, all this information, including the original cables, was released only this week [March 15 ], through The Daily Telegraph [Link] and The Guardian newspapers in Britain.

Why were these information released 4 days after the Earthquake and not earlier? Consider that the first batches of leaked US diplomatic cable were published at the end of November 2010. Why has so few Japan related cables been published, when Embassy Tokyo is the forth largest source of all leaks cables? Because, Wikileaks initial primary media partners, The Guardian, La Monde, El País, Der Spiegel and The New York Times were mainly publishing cables of interest to their primary readers. In the words of Ian Katz, the deputy editor of The Guardian, “We didn’t see much of international interest in them, which is why we haven’t run anything — or anything much. WikiLeaks is beginning to make regional packages of cables available to media partners in different countries now.” (source).

Yes, Wikileaks has beginning to seek out media partners in Japan, seemingly without success. The Japan Times reports:

Presumably hampered by the language barrier and the lack of local contacts, lawyers for the whistle-blower [Wikileaks] have contacted at least one well-known foreign journalist in Japan asking him to be their local broker. The Asahi Shimbun and The Japan Times claim not to have been approached. One unsubstantiated rumor circulating among Tokyo journalists is that the organization reached out to Japan’s most popular newspaper, the Yomiuri, perhaps unaware that its strictly hierarchical editorial structure and conservative politics might not make it the best launching pad for an anarchist-inspired project to topple power. Given the Yomiuri’s close ties with the Liberal Democratic Party, journalists there may anyway have been privy to many of the “secrets” buried inside the WikiLeaks cables. As one journalist for a rival newspaper speculates, “Because they’ve had information for so long about what the government was doing, perhaps they now have a conflict of interest.”

A former Yomiuri staffer attributes the “indifference” of the Japanese press to a simple cause: “Regrettably, basically Japanese press laziness,” says Tsutomu Yamaguchi, professor of journalism at Tokai University. But another Yomiuri veteran, speaking anonymously to The Japan Times, has a different interpretation: The senior editors at big papers have been given instruction not to court or approach WikiLeaks “because they do not approve of what Assange did.” That makes them no different, he says, from The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal or other U.S. publications that were offered access to the cables.

Could a partnership between WIkileak and a Japanese media organization made a difference on the current nuclear crisis? Possibly, but i doubt it. Cables related to politically explosive topics such as Okinawa, and Japan’s support of 2003 Iraq war would have been prioritized for publication. The nuclear crisis has happened, no cable can change that. Now, the more important question is, what else can we learn from unpublished cables that will shed light in government inadequacies? What else is the government hiding from us? What crisis can we avoid with more transparency in not just Japan’s government, but governments of every country?

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