When the earthquake struck Japan on March 11th and knocked out TEPCO’s Fukushima nuclear reactor, setting off a chain reaction of disasters–TEPCO’s chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata was nowhere to be found. Where was he? He was on a tour of China with members of some of Japan’s largest media outlets–and TEPCO was footing the bill.
On March 30th, not only did TEPCO admit that the chairman had been taking Japanese mass media power brokers on the trip to China but also that TEPCO paid the majority of the travel fees for the participants. On April 7th, a reporter asked TEPCO to reveal the names of the mass media firms that had executives and/or former executives joining the chairman on his trip, but TEPCO dodged the question.
It’s well known that TEPCO pays huge advertising fees to most media outlets; it is one of the largest advertisers in Japan. It’s not as well known that the president of TEPCO, Masataka Shimizu, is also the chairman of the Japan Society for Corporate Communication Studies (JSCCS), which includes among its members former and current top executives from Asahi Beer, Toyota, and Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency. The board of directors also includes a representative of Nihon Television’s Reporting Bureau, Economic News section:
|(日本テレビ放送網(株) 報道局 経済部)
In a sense, the president of TEPCO is the chairman of what is whispered to be the equivalent of a lobby group that wields the power of advertising revenue over anyone who crosses their paths. It is ostensibly a group of scholars, executives, advertising agency bosses, mass media representatives, and businessmen who gather together to study more effective means of communications. Veteran Japanese reporters assert that the society also functions as powerful consortium of large corporations who know how to use the threat of taking away advertising dollars as a whip to keep the Japanese media muzzled.
You don’t have to be too bright to figure out that if TEPCO, Toyota, Asahi Beer and Dentsu somehow banded together and pulled advertising from your newspaper, television channel, or radio program, that it would be financially devastating. In the April edition of weekly magazine Asahi Geino, Noted journalist, Takashi Uesugi claims that on March 15th, after repeatedly lampooning and criticizing TEPCO on TBS Radio that the producer asked him to leave the show, claiming that the program was being “revamped.” TBS Radio refuses to comment on the issue at present.
Masataka Shimizu, the president of TEPCO, is still listed as the chairman of the JSCCS but on April 1st his “greetings” were taken down from the sight and replaced with the words of the vice-chairman. The current page expresses condolences to the victims of the recent disasters. There is no mention of the problems at the Fukushima reactor, only that Chairman Shimizu is now too busy dealing with the disaster to fully devote himself to his duties for the organization.
According to a mainstream Japanese media reporter, the TEPCO tours of China have been going on for over ten year. “The trips have a token amount of study, such as visiting a factory, or whatever has been scheduled to justify the event for that year. In reality, most of the day is devoted to sight-seeing. At night the TEPCO executives wine and dine the reporters, editors, or mass media representatives. And of course, the obligatory karaoke.”
It’s not surprising that much of the Japanese mainstream media has been less than critical of TEPCO up until now. It’s very hard to raise your voice loud enough to be heard from inside the pocket of your sponsor.