/

Fight to get Tepco, state to come clean lives on

Late lawyer-journalist's right-to-know push continues

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

Freelance journalist Ryuichi Kino started attending press briefings at Tokyo Electric Power Co. shortly after the nuclear crisis erupted at its Fukushima No. 1 complex in March 2011, knowing that it was an event of world significance.

“I knew I would regret it if I missed covering an incident like this making world history,” he said.

It was not long, though, before he began to suspect the utility was not coming clean, a view shared by an old friend he bumped into at the briefings, Kazuo Hizumi, who operated an online news site while working as a lawyer.

Kino, 47, recalls Hizumi telling him, “We need to do something.”

“I myself took offense at that time at Tepco’s reluctance to properly disclose necessary information,” Kino said.

Prompted by urgent concerns that people would remain uninformed amid the massive disaster, the two worked together on a book — “News Conference on the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: What Did Tepco and the Government Conceal?” Released in January 2012, the book detailed the exchanges at press briefings in an effort to show that both the utility and the government fell short of disclosing information in the public’s interest.

Five months later, on June 12, Hizumi succumbed to cancer at the age of 49.

More than a year after his death, those close to Hizumi are continuing his struggle to press for the public’s right to know.

Kino, who has continued to attend Tepco news conferences, recently published a sequel to the duo’s first trove.

“I know what Mr. Hizumi wanted to achieve, although he was compelled to leave unfinished business,” he said.

“He must have thought he himself should continue attending the briefings to seek more detailed information. . . . I think he pushed me to write the second book,” he added.

Both books were published by Iwanami Shoten Publishers in Tokyo.

In the latest book, Kino again stresses the need for adequate disclosure of information, arguing, among other things, that people need to know detailed information about workers at the crippled Fukushima plant, including what kind of work they are involved in and what levels of radiation they have been exposed to.

“It would be impossible for us, without proper information, to examine whether Tepco has followed the right path” in dealing with the crisis, he said. “And I believe each individual must be able to determine his or her fate in the face of an unexpected event by obtaining and analyzing proper information.”

Kino became acquainted with Hizumi in the early 1990s when both worked for a free paper for Japanese living in Sydney, where Hizumi had moved after leaving his job as a reporter for a major daily in Japan.

After returning home, Hizumi became a certified lawyer while also serving as chief editor of the News for the People in Japan (NPJ), launched in 2008 by lawyers and freelance journalists to report issues that the mainstream media rarely covers.

As a lawyer, Hizumi was involved in lawsuits relating to information disclosure and journalistic issues.

Tokyo-based lawyer Kazuyuki Azusawa also worked with Hizumi on various occasions.

The two managed the NPJ site together, while representing around 25 plaintiffs with other lawyers in a lawsuit seeking disclosure of diplomatic documents on the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japan from U.S. control.

One of the plaintiffs was a former reporter at a major daily newspaper who was arrested in the 1970s for his reporting of a secret bilateral pact on the cost burden of the reversion. The reporter was ultimately convicted, raising concerns that press freedoms and the people’s right to know were being infringed upon.

“Mr. Hizumi greatly contributed to building the framework of the information disclosure lawsuit,” Azusawa, 60, said.

Recalling Hizumi’s information disclosure push, Azusawa said: “He worked for delivering proper information to those affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis, in the expectation that it would contribute to alleviating their sufferings — even if just a little bit — although he himself faced the burden of disease.

“He believed people could be their own rulers by having information,” Azusawa added.

Hoping to promote the ideals Hizumi believed in, Azusawa and like-minded lawyers and journalists have established the Hizumi Fund for Promotion of Information Distribution by collecting public donations. “We hope we can encourage those who are campaigning for expanding information disclosure,” Azusawa said.

With its first move, the fund gave a ¥300,000 award to the Access-Info Clearinghouse Japan on June 12 — the one-year anniversary of Hizumi’s death.

The clearinghouse, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization, has worked since 1980 to improve the disclosure of information and has supported those who have fought for the public’s right to know.

“We are trying to secure information that can be a common basis for public debate,” said Yukiko Miki, chairwoman of the NPO. “Mr. Hizumi, for his part, played an active role in promoting information disclosure for information-sharing among the public. In that sense, Mr. Hizumi and our organization are related to each other.”

The NPO is now focusing on obtaining nuclear disaster-related information from the government, including health surveys of residents near the stricken plant and decontamination work.

The NPJ news site, meanwhile, has continued its own reporting on various subjects, including the debates over plans to revise the Constitution and the nation’s energy policy.

Azusawa himself continues to interview key figures. “We cannot stop what Mr. Hizumi began and left behind at the risk of his life.”