Try to Imagine the Evacuees’ Anxiety

Managing director of Fukushima Broadcasting, Fuke Yasunobu, poses some tough questions for the authorities tasked with safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of evacuees from the nuclear disaster, and for the reporters covering their plight. He points out that both parties have failed to provide people with the information they need.

Managing director of Fukushima Broadcasting, Fuke Yasunobu, poses some tough questions for the authorities tasked with safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of evacuees from the nuclear disaster, and for the reporters covering their plight. He points out that both parties have failed to provide people with the information they need.

Grim Situation in Fukushima

Fukushima Broadcasting is a local TV station covering the area of Fukushima Prefecture. Its headquarters is in the Kuwano district of Kōriyama, Fukushima’s largest city, 60 kilometers west of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). At that distance, radiation readings have been low compared with the levels recorded in cities, towns, and villages closer to the crippled reactors. Even so, radiation levels over the past month or so have been tens of times higher than the levels detected in the region around Tokyo. Many Kōriyama residents have been wearing face masks and staying indoors as much as possible, hoping to limit the amount of radiation they inhale. Although their freedom has been circumscribed, these people are of course far better off than those who until March 11 were still residing near the nuclear reactors and are now evacuees.

Viewing this situation from my perspective as a broadcaster, I have been struck by the ineptness of the response to the nuclear calamity by the government and TEPCO, and dismayed by the lack of imagination among reporters who have been attending the press conferences of the chief cabinet secretary and of TEPCO representatives.

Public Officials with Nothing to Say

In his press conference on April 11, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio announced that the government was preparing to expand the 20-kilometer-radius evacuation zone around the reactors, establishing what he called a “planned evacuation zone.” “While this will cause great hardship,” he stated, “we will be asking the residents in the zone to evacuate to other places in a planned manner.”

Naturally one would have expected him to provide more information than that. Residents should have been told, for example, where they would be relocated, how they were going to get there, and how the government was preparing to assist them. Since they were being asked to leave their homes and jobs, he probably should have offered some explanation of how they could meet their living expenses after the move. But he did not comment on any of these issues at the press conference. Perhaps the government had simply reached a decision that the evacuation zone had to be expanded and had not yet had time to make any preparations. If that was the case, however, surely the chief cabinet secretary could have been honest enough to say so. His statement should not have ended with the mere declaration that further evacuation would soon be required.

When the chief cabinet secretary concluded his remarks in this summary fashion, the reporters on hand should have pressed him for details. They should have asked where the new evacuees were to go and what arrangements were being made for their move; and they also should have inquired how the evacuees were to make a living in areas far from their homes. After all, these are matters of vital concern to the lives and livelihoods of the residents in the evacuation zone. If you imagine being in their position—or if your parents, grandparents, or siblings had been ordered to evacuate their homes—these are the sort of questions that would immediately spring to mind. Instead of asking these key questions, the media pointlessly reported after the fact about the confusion and anxiety among residents.

The Need for Empathy

Much the same must be said of the announcements made by TEPCO officials and their reception by the press corps. The public should not only have been provided information along the lines, for instance, that  Unit 3 of the power station is in such-and-such a condition, and that this-or-that technique will be used to deal with the problem. Rather, what people wanted to know was what sort of impact the work would have on residents in the immediate area and those within a certain radius of the power station. They wanted to know how effective the work will be in suppressing the release of radiation. And if answers are not forthcoming, they want the media to keep asking.  

Frankly, at this point, I have doubts about whether government and TEPCO officials, or those in the press corps, truly have the capacity to grasp the suffering of those who have been driven from their family homes by the nuclear catastrophe. My frustration has been mounting after seeing this deplorable situation continue for over a month. (Written on April 15, 2011.)

Fuke Yasunobu

Born in Kagawa Prefecture in 1949. Graduated from Kagawa University, where he majored in economics. Joined Asahi Shimbun Co. in 1974 and worked as a political reporter at its Tokyo Head Office. Experienced the 1995 Kobe earthquake while working at the newspaper’s Osaka Head Office. Served as chief editor of the Seibu Head Office. Joined Fukushima Broadcasting Co. and became its managing director in June 2009.