Gov't denies online, Twitter censorship over nuclear crisis

TOKYO —

The Japanese government on Friday denied that a government project to monitor online news reports and Twitter posts about the Fukushima nuclear crisis was an attempt to censor negative information and views.

Some Western online reports have charged that Japan had passed a law with the intent of “cleansing” the Internet of negative reports and commentary about the accident at the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi atomic plant.

Chikako Ogami, a spokeswoman at the energy agency of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), told AFP: “Our government will never censor information at all. These are erroneous news reports.”

Ogami said the agency had set aside funds in the nation’s disaster reconstruction budget for a project to monitor “inaccurate” online information that may lead to harmful rumors against residents of Fukushima.

“But we will never ask Internet providers or web masters to delete such information or pin down the senders,” Ogami said. “We will simply explain our thoughts on our own website and our own Twitter account.”

The controversy was triggered when METI’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy earlier this month opened a call for bids for its so-called Nuclear Power Safety Regulation Publicity Project.

The bid said the agency needed a contractor “to monitor blogs on nuclear power and radiation issues as well as Twitter accounts around the clock.”

The contractor would be asked to “conduct research and analysis on incorrect and inappropriate information that would lead to false rumors and to report such Internet accounts to the agency,” it said.

The contractor would then “publish correct information in question-and-answer format on the agency’s website and Twitter account, after consulting with experts and engineers if necessary,” said the call for tenders.

Asatsu DK, a major Japanese advertising company, won the contract for 70 million yen which expires at the end of March 2012.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was hit by nuclear meltdowns and explosions after it was damaged by a powerful quake and tsunami on March 11, and it has since continued to release radiation into the air, soil and sea.

The disaster has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and led to bans on farm produce, including some vegetables, mushrooms, dairy products and most recently beef after cattle ate contaminated straw.

The crisis has hit the local farm and fisheries sectors hard.

Many residents in Fukushima prefecture have reported facing painful discrimination and harmful rumors, such as claims that they spread radioactivity when they travel outside their home region.

© 2011 AFP

  • -5

    some14some

    The contractor would be asked to “conduct research and analysis on incorrect and inappropriate information that would lead to false rumors and to report such Internet accounts to the agency,” it said.

    The contractor would then “publish correct information in question-and-answer format on the agency’s website and Twitter account, after consulting with experts and engineers if necessary,” said the call for tenders.

    Core of the suspicion. It's nothing but censorship.

  • 2

    herefornow

    I'm not sure this qualifies as censorship, but it clearly demonstrates that even the J-government ackowledges it has lost control of the information flow on the Fukushima crisis and, as has been the case at almost every turn, they are playing defense/catch-up. If TEPCO and the ministry had been on top of the process from Day 1, and been completely transparent, timely and truthful in everything they communicated, there would be no need to pay almost $1.0 million to do this. But, since they have been deplorable at managing the information flow, and things keep coming up that they had not anticipated, like the recent beef problem, they have left the door wide open for negative commentary.

  • 1

    NuckinFutz

    It is suspicious but for it to be true censorship it would have to involve removing negative information or blocking the publishing of such information. Going by what this article says it looks like an effort to address negative comments with government and nuclear industry propaganda and not a measure of suppression.

    It will be left to see what is done when "accounts are reported" to the government. If METI comes knocking on my door because I post remarks about Japanese government lies, corruption, and coverups somebody is going to get a big foot up the ass!

  • 0

    Ivan Coughanoffalot

    Never believe anything until it's been officially denied.

  • 6

    smithinjapan

    "Ogami said the agency had set aside funds in the nation’s disaster reconstruction budget for a project to monitor “inaccurate” online information that may lead to harmful rumors against residents of Fukushima."

    If posts or tweets or what have you are being blocked and/or removed, or even edited, then it is censorship, but I'm not sure this qualifies. It's pretty clear they're trying to control the information flow, though, and flood any negative press with a bunch of hogwash.

    If we DO find out some posts were blocked/removed/edited I would not at all be surprised, though. What DOES amaze me is that they'll form agencies to monitor Twitter and what have you 'around the clock' for negative comments about nuclear power, but not for suicide or more pressing matters. Priorities, priorities.

  • -2

    Ayler

    Japan liked to look to China and tut about terrible food safety and censorship. Can't really do that anymore.

  • 0

    sf2k

    would be nice to pass anti-discrimination legislation.

  • 0

    chewitup

    such as claims that they spread radioactivity when they travel outside their home region.

    I am really, really, REALLY sick of this basic misunderstanding of physics! Radioactivity is not something that gets spread around like water! So stop presenting it that way!

    The fear is that they will spread radioactive ISOTOPES, and YES, on their skin, hair, clothing, and belongings they very well could if they are not careful.

    Radiocative ISOTOPES! Okay? Not radioactivity!

  • -3

    BlueWitch

    NuckinFutzJul. 30, 2011 - 07:32AM JST

    It is suspicious but for it to be true censorship it would have to involve removing negative information or blocking the publishing of such information. Going by what this article says it looks like an effort to address negative comments with government and nuclear industry propaganda and not a measure of suppression. ** It will be left to see what is done when "accounts are reported" to the government. If METI comes knocking on my door because I post remarks about Japanese government lies, corruption, and coverups somebody is going to get a big foot up the ass!**

    @NuckinFutz

    You wouldn't be the ONLY one, I spend a great deal of time posting AGAINST the Corrupted/Draconian Japanese government on the Internet, so I wouldn't be surprised if I get arrested or something. That's what dirty people do, persecute and silence those who spread the TRUTH!!

  • -4

    BlueWitch

    smithinjapanJul. 30, 2011 - 09:14AM JST

    "Ogami said the agency had set aside funds in the nation’s disaster reconstruction budget for a project to monitor “inaccurate” online information that may lead to harmful rumors against residents of Fukushima."

    If posts or tweets or what have you are being blocked and/or removed, or even edited, then it is censorship, but I'm not sure this qualifies. It's pretty clear they're trying to control the information flow, though, and flood any negative press with a bunch of hogwash. ** If we DO find out some posts were blocked/removed/edited I would not at all be surprised, though. What DOES amaze me is that they'll form agencies to monitor Twitter and what have you 'around the clock' for negative comments about nuclear power, but not for suicide or more pressing matters. Priorities, priorities.**

    Exactly, not for MORE pressing matters like Child Abduction, Suicides, Child Abuse, suspended sentences given to Rapists, Children left to DIE inside boiling cars every SUMMER or left to FREEZE to death every WINTER...etc.

    But NO!! Clearing and CLEANING the name and image of Japan is far more IMPORTANT!!!!
    ROTFL~~~

  • -1

    Michael Craig

    Nor should governments censor comic books, either!

  • 3

    YongYang

    There is no censorship on the internet of the ongoing nuclear catastrophe. You can watch the live feed, you can watch all and everything if it's not copyrighted, even then the NHK docos are there if you search. The information already out is there, accessible and not stopped; the information coming out, that's a different matter.

  • 0

    BurakuminDes

    All the stuff about the nuclear disaster, cesium-contaminated meat, vegetables and tea being sold on the market, kids testing positive to elevated levels of radioactive elements is just "rumours". Nothing to see here. You tell 'em, J-Govt!

  • -1

    Osakadaz

    from what I understood, the problem was more than what is reported here.The METI website had somehow used tags in such a way that internet searches for "radiation" and "removal of contaminated materials" etc would bump up it's own propaganda PDF for "the A-Z of nuclear power" on its website.

    And this statement seems a lot watered down from the original.

  • -1

    TakahiroDomingo

    once the information hit the public domain (tweets, blogs, whatever), it would be almost impossible to control. the problem was that the information, i.e. the "truth", was being withheld by TEPCO and probably by some j-gov people, too.

  • -1

    Asagao

    Where are Anonymous when we need them? They should hack TEPCO and government departments and release all relevant material to the people of Japan.

  • -2

    chuckbello

    I think it's very late for the Japanese government to control the information about Fukushima. I am pretty sure that the average person in Japan does not believe Tepco or the Japanese government explanations about this crisis. Most of my J friends get their info from independent bloggers. Why waste your time and look for info about radiation on the government media mouthpiece: MEITI, NHK or the Nuclear Agency.

  • -2

    TimeiClic

    Of course it is censorship. AGAIN an example of slippery behaviour from the Japanese. They get caught out, they start twisting and writhing their way out of it. We have seen this THOUSANDS of times before and we will see it forever and ever again.

  • -1

    melguy

    @chewitup. You're correct, but radioisotopes release radioactivity, so to most people they're equivalent.

  • 0

    marcelito

    No it couldn't be... Censorship only happens in the big bad countries like China and North Korea right? Japan is a beacon of democracy in Asia isn't it?

  • -3

    BlueWitch

    hahahha @ marcelito

  • -7

    Skeptical Hippo

    It's impossible for the Japanese government to censor anything that goes out on the Internet through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and forums.

    Get real people!

    less movies, more reality...

  • -4

    TimeiClic

    @Skeptical Hippo; no. It is censorship, through spin-doctoring. They scan the data of what is being said, sit there and think of angles to play against it in a bid to win back favour. That is all the Japanese do.

  • -1

    Foxie

    Well, if you Twitters want to know what happens, just test it out on Twitter and let us non-Twitters know.

  • -7

    Skeptical Hippo

    no. It is censorship, through spin-doctoring. They scan the data of what is being said, sit there and think of angles to play against it in a bid to win back favour. That is all the Japanese do.

    What a load of BS!

    You honestly believe the Jay government is reading all that's out there? LOL Even if they did, what's wrong with that?

  • -2

    Mark_McCracken

    This program is not censorship.

  • -9

    Skeptical Hippo

    Come to think of it, I actually quite line the idea that the government is reading tweets of its citizens. It shows they care about what the Japanese (and foreigners?) have to say about it all. Much more efficient than those dumb polls where they only ask 600 peeps.

    Keep it up J-Gov't

  • -3

    Disillusioned

    They can deny it all they like, but it is true! They have deliberately censoring the amount of news getting out about the severity of Fukushima. It is just another J-Gov whitewash.

    If you really want to know how bad things are in Fukushima have a look at a few of these reports from Fairwinds. Be warned! The truth is rather disturbing!

    http://vimeo.com/26651670

  • -10

    Skeptical Hippo

    @Disillusioned:

    Just watched your clip and the article with it. The truth? LOL

    All that was on the news weeks ago. No conspiracy theory here. Just you not catching it on tv.

    Are you even in Japan?

    Note: This article is about allegations against the J-Gov't that they censor negative information and views on the Internet (total BS) and not about the J-Gov't manipulating the amount of news getting out about the severity of Fukushima. Two totally different things.... Off-topic? Yes!

  • 0

    Spidapig24

    Skeptical Hippo

    Note: This article is about allegations against the J-Gov't that they censor negative information and views on the Internet (total BS) and not about the J-Gov't manipulating the amount of news getting out about the severity of Fukushima. Two totally different things.... Off-topic? Yes!

    You do realise that by manipulating the information that is release this is a type of censorship. Just as monitoring or removing negative press is censorship. They are actually the same thing.

  • -7

    Skeptical Hippo

    You do realise ...

    Do you realize you're an alarmist/sensationalist?

  • 0

    Spidapig24

    Skeptical Hippo

    You do realise ... Do you realize you're an alarmist/sensationalist?

    Sorry didnt realise that the words "you do realise" caused alarm or where sensational. Wow learnt something new today Thank you.

  • -8

    Skeptical Hippo

    Actually, it's what behind those words in addition to your fear-mongering agenda you got going over here

    but you already knew that....

    • Moderator

      Readers, please focus your comments on what is in the story and not at each other.

  • -8

    Skeptical Hippo

    Gov't denies online, Twitter censorship over nuclear crisis

    Yes, that's all there is to it really.

    Oh wait...

    Some Western online reports have charged that Japan blah blah blah

    I see... Nuff said

  • 0

    gogogo

    Where did these "reports" come from? Seems some idiot is confusion China and Japan.

    But if this was all just BS why did the government put so much effort into saying it wasn't true?

  • 3

    as_the_crow_flies

    You do realise that by manipulating the information that is release this is a type of censorship. Just as monitoring or removing negative press is censorship. They are actually the same thing.

    Agreed, Spidapig. They are two sides of the same coin. First - limit timely information. What were the estimated radiation total releases into the air in the first week of the crisis? The second? The third? What was the composition of those releases (which isotopes and how much of each?) Curiously, SPEEDI readings were not available for key times and dates. Same for the sea. Same for the ground water. Same for tapwater. Same for beef, milk, eggs, each kind of food, veg ... Where has the government clearly presented this data in an easy to understand source, regularly updated, covering all prefectures? It's not. It's been deliberately delayed, presented with multple units and measurements, irrelevant comparisons made (e.g internal radiation from ingested food compared with dental x-rays). And where are the independent international bodies to monitor and release the information? Are they being allowed access to the relevant places e.g. within 20 or 30 km of the plant on land, sea or in the air? Hmm ...

    In this way the government hopes to delay and muddy any discussion with confusion, incomplete information, and reduce anyone who criticises to the status of rumour-monger. If you have a monopoly on the truth, then anyone who argues anything different is a rumour monger.

    The other side of this coin is therefore managing people's perceptions by trying to discredit anyone who doesn't spout the official, "no long term risk to health" line. Many Japanese scientists, including former nuclear engineers who've spoken out against TEPCO's appalling practices in the past, have been subject to exactly this kind of discrediting for years. This move to scour Twitter and blogs is just an extension of that. It's just a lot bigger and a lot messier now, just like the radiation spewing steadily into the environment, so TEPCO's in full damage control mode. To TEPCO, their public image has higher priority than public health, so they wish to present the issue as one of fears and rumours, rather than address it as a public health and environmental health issue.

  • 0

    gonemad

    Well, calm down. With a budget of 70 million per year they can't do anything which could be called censorship. Therefore I believe what Ogami-san said about the intentions of the program.

  • -1

    herefornow

    Well, calm down. With a budget of 70 million per year they can't do anything which could be called censorship

    gonemad -- I think you need to check your math. JPY 70.0 million is roughly the equivalent of say ten full-time people at JPY 7.0 million a year. Respectfully, ten people doing nothing but following blogs and posting ones can do quite a bit.

  • 0

    miamum

    If only the government were as interested in cleaning up Fukushima as they seem to be in cleaning up the internet.

    They know they cant remove twitter and blog postings, so propoganda against it is the next best option. I have seen next to nothing on the net about Fukushima residents being able to spread radiation in either English or Japanese. Seen an awful lot of criticism of the government and TEPCO though - so who are they really trying to protect?

  • 1

    Osakadaz

    Just like the chief of the Meteorological Society of Japan ordered the radiation plume forecasts to to be censored to 'prevent panic' http://blog.alexanderhiggins.com/2011/05/01/japan-weather-chief-recommended-fukushima-nuclear-radiation-forecast-censored-ordinary-people-panic-21880/ Tepco has a 20 billion yen advertising budget and shares in big media outlets。These are just some of the TV shows Tepco is a major sponsor of, let alone universities and other institutions.http://logsoku.com/thread/hato.2ch.net/lifeline/1303026334/ That is a lot of Masu Komi might in a nation that is glued to the TV. Japan tried to keep a lid on the whole issue of Plutonium until freelance journos pushed it out onto the main stage..it was never mentioned in the mainstream media until then. Tepco also took the heads of big media outlets to China for a "meeting" and paid most of their expenses. So the issue of censorship is threefold, when you have Power Utilities like Tepco buying the media and getting caught trying to skew opinion by packing meetings with staff etc, and then the government being very choosy about what information it wants to release.

  • 2

    the_STIG

    The Japan Federation of Bar Associations have a different view of this:

    http://www.nichibenren.or.jp/activity/document/statement/year/2011/11...

    Summary translation: Under the government's project, "Tweets and blogs on nuclear power and radiation issues are monitored around the clock and inaccurate information will be promptly corrected and citizens are guided to correct information". However, some information on nuclear power and health effects of radiation have not reached scientific consensus and definition of "accurate information" is not clear. Government's criticism on "inaccurate" information will intimidate senders of information and is likely to violate freedom of speech under Article 21 of the Constitution. Guiding citizens to information that government finds accurate, would restrict flow of information with different contents and limit the citizens' rights to know, interfering them in shaping opinions on nuclear power. We are deeply concerned it is a significant problem that would shake the very foundation of democracy. Apparently the government's disclosure of information on nuclear accident is not sufficient. The government didn't disclose SPEEDI right after the accident and has still not revealed what happened to RPV in the accident. The government covered up for quite some time the fact of meltdown and does not present sufficient grounds for their benchmarks relating to radiation levels and health impacts. Furthermore, incident by Kyushu Electric Power Company with fake e-mails in support of nuclear power, revealed that information on nuclear power has been unfairly manipulated. According to today's press report, Nuclear Safety Agency asked Chubu Electric Power Company to make local residents pose pre-arranged questions in favor of nuclear power at a government-sponsored symposium in August, 2007. Under such circumstances citizens including those who were not familiar with internet, have turned to tweets and blogs by experts and journalists for accurate information and exchange information that benefits each other. The govenment should disclose to citizens wider range of, detailed information based on sufficient grounds. Not doing so and restricting information flow among citizens constitute state's control of information. The fact that there has been already manipulating of information going on as stated above, indicates seriousness of this problem. Japan Federation of Bar Association requests immediate termination of the project. Kenji Utsunomiya Chairman Japan Federation of Bar Associations July 29, 2010 (This text is free to use under Creative Commons rules, but the author the_STIG prefer to be informed first.)

  • 0

    horrified

    Why the heck is my hard-earned tax money being spent on this?

  • 0

    Osakadaz

    I recommend this video.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I42g843fngw The govt. avoided all talk of plutonium..fudged numbers...but now the truth is coming out. Hell look at the protective gear Edano is wearing in areas that bear "little immediate danger to health"...a picture IS worth a thousand useless words.

  • 0

    Ayler

    fair enough. Japanese can hold their heads high with pride and say their food safety is as good as China's if not better.

  • 0

    Paul Arenson

    I would like to post the above info to Facebook (am involved with countering gov attempts at suppression). Thanks

  • 1

    Johannes Weber

    I guess the problem is not if the government's agents post things in threads or tweet stuff as long as they identify themselves as pawns of TEPCO and the government. However, due to the usual anonymity of the web, these guys could post as many different people trying to fake support from many people. I think that is the point that really sucks. If I stand in for the things I post with my real name - and I do - people can google me and cause me trouble, if they feel offended. So these are honest posts. If someone in disguise tries to manipulate public opinion - an easy feat on the web - then this is a real danger to the freedom of the people. The best thing is not to believe anything written, where You do not have ways to check who posted it.

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