Anchorwoman who fled Japan during Fukushima crisis to get lost salary from NHK

by

Staff Writer

The Tokyo District Court on Monday nullified a decision by NHK to end the contract of a French anchorwoman who temporarily fled Japan during the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.

The ruling also declared that Emmanuelle Bodin’s decision to leave Japan in the face of the nation’s worst-ever nuclear crisis and prioritize her life over work did not represent professional negligence.

“Given the circumstances under which the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima No. 1 plant’s nuclear accident took place, it is absolutely impossible to criticize as irresponsible her decision to evacuate abroad to protect her life,” the ruling said.

Although lauding those who remained at work with the public broadcaster following the disasters, the court said NHK “cannot contractually obligate people to show such excessive allegiance” to the company.

Bodin’s attorneys said it is not clear how the ruling will affect similar cases, if any, that involve non-Japanese often labeled as “flyjin,” a play on the word gaijin (foreigner), who missed work because they fled the disaster.

“My pursuit of justice has finally been vindicated,” Bodin, 58, told a news conference in Tokyo.

“Today, we are reminded once again that it is the responsibility of a company, regardless of how powerful an organization it is, to take good care of its employees and treat them with fairness and compassion,” she said in Japanese.

The court ordered NHK to pay her ¥5.14 million in unpaid salary that she would have received had she been allowed to renew her contract for the following fiscal year.

Bodin, who worked as an anchor and translator for NHK radio programs for more than 20 years, fled Japan in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima crisis in accordance with an instruction issued by the French government to evacuate the country.

Prior to departing on March 15, 2011, Bodin asked her colleague, a veteran French anchorman in his 70s, to substitute for her while she was away to ensure her absence would cause no major trouble for the company.

She then called a superior in her radio news section notifying the person that she was temporarily leaving the country but would return by the end of the month and that she had arranged for her colleague to cover her shifts. The manager responded by giving approval, according to the ruling.

A week after that, NHK sent Bodin a letter notifying her that her contract would shortly be discontinued, providing no detailed explanations as to why.

The terse letter only reminded her of abstract provisions of her contract that stipulate employees can be sacked if “the circumstances demanded so” or if their work performance is deemed “so inadequate it has no sign of improvement.”

Over the course of the nearly three-year-long trial, NHK squarely contradicted Bodin’s claim, even going so far as to say that she did not call her French colleague in the first place, according to her lawyers. It also said Bodin’s call with her superior lasted just 20 to 30 seconds, and that in it she had “unilaterally” conveyed her intention to skip her anchoring duty scheduled for hours later and promptly hung up. The French colleague also testified in favor of NHK, claiming that he had received no such call from her.

However, her phone records, presented to the court by her lawyers, clearly showed she had spoken both to the colleague and her superior for more than five and two minutes, respectively, Bodin’s lawyers said.

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    Nice to see some justice for NJ in a Japanese court. Very rare.

    • Steve Jackman

      It helps if you are a journalist yourself, have a well connected spouse, receive instructions from the French government to evacuate the country, and have eight other coworkers in the same section who also left the country but were not fired by NHK. This case is by no means representative of the way the Japanese judicial system treats other non-Japanese litigants in such civil cases.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Well now – this is where it gets interesting. Because it would appear NHK has perjured themselves with those phone records. Will they be brought to justice?

    • anoninjapan

      Perjury is not a crime in Japan. It is “almost” expected.

  • thedudeabidez

    in my line of work, I have a wide range of international contacts. Two days into the Fuku-DaiIchi crisis, when it was pretty clear that a meltdown was in progress, I got in touch with several people I knew in Russia and the Ukraine who had lived through the Chernobyl accident, abd they all had exactly the same advice: you need to put some distance between you and where that accident is happening fast. If the wind changes, and things start blowing towards Tokyo, it will get bad. (Former Prime Minister Kan has since testified that he had the exact same worry.) Bodin had to make a call, and based on the confused facts available at the time, she made the right one, so let’s stop usiing this “flyjin” epithet.

    As multiple reqctors meltdown, explosions rip apart the reactor buildings and send contamination airborne, eveacuation zones widen, and TEPCO evacuates all but a small core of its staff, the notion of sitting in place and blindly believing that everything is going to be OK is the insane one. The fact that there was potentially a far more widespread risk to the Kanto is now being downplayed so the “nuclear village” can get its cash cow delivering again.

    • Yuki

      Okay but Tokyo isn’t really near the place this happened… they’re not even in the same prefecture. Everyone else in Tokyo was fine. I have friends who were in Tokyo at the time (I didn’t know them then, though) and they say it was life as usual and nobody was dying of radiation or anything.

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, hindsight is 20/20.

      • Yuki

        Reality doesn’t change based on which direction you’re looking at it from.

      • thedudeabidez

        Just because something didn’t happen doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have. A good wind could bring airborne radiation from Fukushima Daiichi down to Tokyo in 24 hours. And it did at one point, but Tokyo was lucky enough that it did not rain and bring the radiation down on the city. Mostly the winds blew out to sea, so Tokyo was spared the worst. If they hadn’t, well even Prime Minister Kan is on the record as saying that the worst-case scenario they were considering was in fact an evacuation of Tokyo.

        Obviously if you wait during a nuclear accident until people around you are dying, then it is too late to do anything. The smart thing is to get out before that happens. The second thing of course is that radiation levels don’t have to be enough to kill you to make you sick over time.

      • thedudeabidez

        Just because something didn’t happen doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have. A good wind could bring airborne radiation from Fukushima Daiichi down to Tokyo in 24 hours. And it did at one point, but Tokyo was lucky enough that it did not rain and bring the radiation down on the city. Mostly the winds blew out to sea, so Tokyo was spared the worst. If they hadn’t, well even Prime Minister Kan is on the record as saying that the worst-case scenario they were considering was in fact an evacuation of Tokyo.

        Obviously if you wait during a nuclear accident until people around you are dying, then it is too late to do anything. The smart thing is to get out before that happens. The second thing of course is that radiation levels don’t have to be enough to kill you to make you sick over time.

      • Sam Gilman

        No, the whole “Tokyo was in danger” story was a myth cooked up by Kan. Kan mistakenly thought at the beginning that Tokyo might need evacuating. He’s spun that into the Great Naoto Kan Saved Tokyo, whereas his style of management was actually part of the immediate problem.

        It was made clear by modelling done by the UK and US at the time that Tokyo was not in danger. The U.K. Chief Scientist was giving briefings on this. Do you not remember?

      • Starviking

        If you look at the map of contamination you can see how wrong your “Tokyo in danger” scenario is: radioisotopes deposited in relation to their distance from the plant, and petering out in a few tens of kilometers.

        Tokyo is much, much further away

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        Actually it was far from life as usual. For a long time after trains, buses, electricity and supplies of all manner of daily necessities were disrupted. Not everybody was fine, people were scared. Even here there was very significant shaking. My building didn’t stop wobbling for a very long time. Information from Tepco and the government was very slow in coming and was mostly along the lines of “Don’t worry, everything’s fine.” when it most certainly wasn’t. As you say, you weren’t here, I was.

      • Sam Gilman

        Yuki, you’re right in that Tokyo was too far away to be in any meaningful danger from Fukushima. It wasn’t, however, life as normal. There had just been a huge earthquake and tsunami up north that had killed upwards of twenty thousand people and made a quarter of a million homeless. Aftershocks were scary and continued for a while, transport was messed up for the first few days, supplies to shops were disrupted and people were mass buying certain necessities. And many people were scared of the radiation, even if it didn’t actually pose a danger. (Some people could more calmly assess the situation than others even in the same location. Your friends may have been one of the calmer group).

  • PD

    Shameful.
    I was living a working in miyako city, iwate prefecture when the earthquake and tsunami hit. Sure there was the constant worry of the nuclear power plant BUT these people were my friends, colleagues and students.

    I stayed. My company temporarily paid to put me in a hotel for 3 weeks until they were sure teaching would resume. Which it did. From the beginning of May I continued teaching even though one of my schools had been hit, that I had list friends neighbors and students.

    My family then came to visit me that summer.

    I stayed there until March this year.

    I understand people get scared. But it kinda says a lot about a person who abandoned their friends and colleagues and a country who gave them a job – worse is that even though the country was going through a crisis and she chose to abandon them (which she didn’t need to. She was in Tokyo) she still has the nerve to demand pay for a job she didn’t do.

    Sickening.
    She should be made to donate that salary to the tsunami victims who are still recovering and still rebuilding.
    Shameful. Just shameful.

    • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

      Oh, my heart bleeds!
      Like many NJ, she came to work in Japan. That does not mean that she owes some kind of special debt to the country just because they gave her a job Jaoanese people couldn’t do.
      The French government advised her to leave, at a time when we now know that despite Edano telling Japan ‘there is no melt down’, that there were in fact 3!
      You stayed? Great. What do you want? A medal for your ‘loyalty’? Because outside of your daily bubble, no one cares who you are, and where you were. Get over yourself.

      • PD

        I’m not saying by working in Japan you should be loyal to your company.

        I am saying that you stay loyal to your friends who need your help and support.
        Great, she had the choice to leave…but what about all her friends – 20 years is a long time to just be like “sorry guys, your on your own”… What I loyal friend she was.

      • Steve Jackman

        She has two daughters who she took out of the country with her. Her responsibility for the well being of her daughters trumps whatever loyalty you think she owed her friends or coworkers.

  • Mary Kennard

    What a coward.

    • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

      Nice comeback. You’re a genius.

  • Ivar

    She was not irresponsible, I guess (only stupid), since she followed official instructions from the French government, but the French government certainly was extremely irresponsible.

    With their recommendations they exposed their citizens to considerably greater reduction of average lifetime due to both accidents (traffic, airplane if leaving vs earthquake if staying) and radiation (in-flight if leaving vs worst case nuclear scenario if staying), than if they’d told people to just stay where they were unless they had business elsewhere.

  • aetius

    Shes french. What do you expect? LOL

  • aetius

    Shes french. What do you expect? LOL