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Japanese Government to Monitor Online Discussions About Fukushima

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Asahi Japan Watch
Aug 26, 2011

While the government defends its new monitoring program of online postings concerning the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to stem the spread of “inaccurate” information, critics say it harkens back to Big Brother.

The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy said tweets on Twitter and postings to blogs will be monitored for groundless and inaccurate information that could inflame and mislead the public.

The agency said it is trying to “track down inaccurate information and to provide correct ones instead.”

But critics are skeptical about the agency’s motive, especially because the government has been under fire for failing to provide an accurate picture of what has been occurring at the plant and the spread of radioactive contamination.

The cost for the project was earmarked in an extra government budget to finance the rebuilding of northeastern Japan ravaged by the March 11 disaster.

The agency announced details of the monitoring project in late June when it solicited bids.

An advertising company in Tokyo won the contract, which is estimated at 70 million yen ($913,000).

The project started this month and will likely continue until March.

The agency said the Internet is overrun by discussions that are often unsubstantiated. One example, it said, is a posting that recommended mouthwash containing iodine as a safeguard against possible exposure to radiation.

Upon identifying erroneous information, the agency will carry at its website “correct information” in a Q&A format after consulting with experts.

The agency will not demand that the original texts and postings be deleted. It will also not ask for the posters’ identity.

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

But the agency’s new project drew fire on the Internet immediately after it was announced.

Some blasted it as suppression of free speech. Others criticized the government for trying to weed out information that it deems unfavorable, at the same time it appears ill-equipped to send out information properly and in a timely manner.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations denounced the project in a statement on July 29, arguing it threatens to infringe on freedom of speech.

“The government will likely restrict free discussions by unilaterally criticizing what it regards as ‘inaccurate’ and imperil freedom of expression,” said the statement released under the president’s name.

Kazuo Hizumi, a lawyer who compiled the statement, raised doubts about the legitimacy of government surveillance.

“Many people look to online information because they do not trust what the government says,” he said. “Providing accurate information is what the government is supposed to do in the first place; not spending money on a project to interfere with circulation of information.”

An official at the agency in charge of the undertaking acknowledged that the government had problems in regards to handling the information.

But the official said that many people appear to misunderstand the project.

“We are listening to public opinion and trying to sending out reliable information by showing grounds for it and making it easier for people to comprehend,” the official said.

Shinya Ichinohe, associate professor of law on information at Keiwa College, said that the public outcry over the project is understandable, given how the government has handled information pertaining to the Fukushima crisis.

But keeping track of online texts and postings alone will not likely dampen discussion on the Internet.

“If the government gets an idea of how the public obtains information and tries to improve the way it sends out reports based on its findings, the undertaking will be rather positive,” Ichinohe said.

This article was posted: Friday, August 26, 2011 at 3:49 am

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