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Japanese Government Will Censor Fukushima "Illegal Information" 411

Posted by samzenpus
from the for-your-own-good dept.
dgilzz writes "The Japanese government says that the damage caused by earthquakes and by the nuclear accident are being magnified by irresponsible rumors, and the government must take action for the sake of the public good. The project team has begun to send letters of request to such organizations as telephone companies, internet providers, cable television stations, and others, demanding that they take adequate measures based on the guidelines in response to illegal information. The measures include erasing any information from internet sites that the authorities deem harmful to public order and morality."
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Japanese Government Will Censor Fukushima "Illegal Information"

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  • by trifish (826353) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @01:46PM (#35922266)

    Next time someone makes fun by shouting authentically "Fire! Fire! Run!" in a theater or some other 'suitable' place, and your relatives die there having been crushed by the panicking crowd trying to get out, maybe then you'll remember that there are certain situations where Freedom of Speech is limited, and rightfully so, precisely to prevent panic and to save lives.

    BTW, the above behavior is illegal in the EU (spreading false alarms) -- don't know about the US. This seems to be the case in Japan too.

  • Jurisdiction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daetrin (576516) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @01:52PM (#35922308)
    Putting aside the issue of censorship in general, what do they intend to do when their requests are ignored? Are they only going after Japanese media companies? If so, then there's nothing to stop people in Japan from getting information from other sources. For media hosted in Britain they could probably sue for libel, but they'd have a hard time doing anything to media hosted in the US.

    I'm also having a hard time telling from the article if they're actually concerned about real scaremongering news, of which we've certainly seen a lot of in the west, or if they're just using that as an excuse to express "scary" but accurate news.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 24, 2011 @01:52PM (#35922312)

    The fear for me is not that they will be censoring people who say stupid things like nuclear clouds will kill us all, or that there will be a massive melt down that will destroy Tokyo. It is more so in that they might start deeming criticism of the handling of the situation as inspiring fear and want that censored. I don't think that Japan will do this, but only time will tell.

  • Health threat (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ilguido (1704434) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @01:53PM (#35922314) Homepage
    According to the WHO, the biggest impact on public health of the disaster of Chernobyl was to the mental health, thanks to a lack of accurate information. I'm with the Japanese Government. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/index.html [who.int]
  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @01:53PM (#35922328) Homepage

    Next time someone makes fun by shouting authentically "Fire! Fire! Run!" in a theater or some other 'suitable' place, and your relatives die there having been crushed by the panicking crowd trying to get out, maybe then you'll remember that there are certain situations where Freedom of Speech is limited, and rightfully so, precisely to prevent panic and to save lives.

    BTW, the above behavior is illegal in the EU (spreading false alarms) -- don't know about the US. This seems to be the case in Japan too.

    True enough, but even the most idiotic, hyperbolic rant on the Internet doesn't equate to yelling "fire" in a theater. Otherwise most of the garbage that passes for "news" in the US would end up yielding criminal charges. The Japanese government (or whatever subset is responsible for this) just doesn't get the Internet. They should go back to being to not being responsible for Gundam.

  • by Essequemodeia (1030028) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @01:54PM (#35922336)
    And so the official underreporting and censorship of the magnitude of the Fukushima incident by official governmental agencies begins. Or, really, continues. And all I got was this irradiated tee-shirt.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @01:56PM (#35922346) Journal

    The problem here, to my mind, is that you have a government that has been heavily criticized both inside Japan and by outside experts and international agencies for withholding information and disseminating inaccurate information, who will now proclaim itself the arbiter of the reliability of information being transmitted by others. This likely means that such censorship will not be used to make sure only accurate information is disseminated, but rather to make sure that only information favorable to the government is being disseminated. In other words, the results will be the exact opposite of the stated aims.

    I can see the point of laws against spreading false rumors, and I assume in most cases a judge will be making that determination. In this case it distinctly sounds like the government itself will be deciding, and this was a government under fire prior to the natural disaster. It has everything to gain by making sure accurate information about its ineptitude cannot be spread.

    Beyond that, it cannot hope to accomplish what its stated goal is. Japan is one of the most wired nations on the planet, and its citizens know perfectly well how to surf and find foreign sites that will disseminate this fearful information. It's a knee jerk reaction by a faltering government.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @01:56PM (#35922348)

    You're an idiot. Yelling fire in a theater when you know that not to be the case is a completely different situation than what the Japanese authorities are trying to clamp down on. In this case the authorities have been caught spreading their own incorrect information and this move is just a way of them curtailing legitimate discussion.

    I take it that you haven't noticed that the information that's been provided has been wildly inaccurate and getting worse over time.

  • by rubycodez (864176) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:06PM (#35922432)
    wildly inaccurate? Seems to me TEPCO and the japanese government have been the biggest offenders as later reality proves their lies: "don't need an exclusion zone, just stay indoors and you'll be fine"

    "no fuel has melted

    "the rods in the spent fuel pool aren't uncovered"

    "containment hasn't been breached"
  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:09PM (#35922440) Homepage
    This may have been done with the best of intentions, but it is crassly stupid. People will now start to doubt official reports as to what is happening if they think that ''inconvenient truths'' might be erased.
  • Slippery Slope (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gman003 (1693318) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:10PM (#35922448)
    Now, if we judge this purely on the current situation and setting, it is logical and justifiable. There's a reason "freedom of speech" was listed in the Bill of Rights before "right to bear arms" - speech, if used improperly, can be more damaging than bullets. IF this is strictly limited to "blatantly and dangerously false information" AND strictly limited to the current crisis, it is an appropriate action for the government to take.

    However, I'm hesitant to flat-out support this due to several things. First is the ever-present "Slippery Slope" factor - if we permit this, then what is to stop them from deploying such measures inappropriately later? Second is the fact that, until it is used in action, we do not know the scope of "illegal information". It could be as restrictive as banning only "there is no meltdown IT'S ALL A CONSPIRACY" and "it's 4,000,000 times worse then Hiroshima", but it could also be as restrictive as banning anything that isn't essentially parroting the Official Government Report.
  • Re:Health threat (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rubycodez (864176) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:12PM (#35922458)
    except the Japanese government has been going along with TEPCO's lies until later truth is revealed. No melted fuel, no need for exclusion zone just stay inside you'll be fine, no breach of containment, not a Chernobyl (already the same order of magnitude of contamination released and it's still rising), etc. As an engineering physicist, I could tell weeks ahead of time that B.S. an lies were being spewed by certain tell-tales (e.g. chlorine detected reveals ongoing fission) I'm not with the Japanese government, since when has a bunch of bureaucrats been qualified to advise on safety or correct steps of action to any accident involving scientific or engineering principals? Never ever, they are just power and money grubbing parasites, in every age and every civilization.
  • by gweihir (88907) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:17PM (#35922492)

    ... except in totalitarian states. Or states that have so massively screwed up as Japan has in its oversight (or better lack of it) of Tepco that now have to face a panic as the truth begins to dawn on those ripped off. Quite possibly this could be the end of Japan as a 1st world country. They have been spiraling down for some time now.

    The real tragedy is that Tepco could not even make ends meet with reactors built and running and paid for. If you take into account the cost they have to face now and the cost for permanent storage of the regularly spent fuel, you can see how hugely expensive (in addition to the risk of incrementally poisoning the biosphere) nuclear power really is. Seems to be the most costly way to generate electricity by a very large margin. Why people still stick to it is possibly that the largest part of the cost will be to future generations. Despicable.

  • by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:21PM (#35922546) Journal

    It's getting tiresome to hear this example. The right to falsely "shout fire in a crowded theat[er]" principle is upheld in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the only legitimate restriction to free speech considered that which might incite a riot before the police could arrive.

    Have you even thought about the implications of making myself responsible for the outcome of shouting "fire!" in a crowded theatre? It means that any alert I make results in my becoming responsible both for the actions and the environment of people who respond to my alert. Consider my saying, "The government is sending troops to an illegitimate war!"

    Now imagine someone reads into that, "The government must be stopped!" (You must get out of the theatre.)

    And then, "The government must be stopped by force!" (You must get out of the theatre by force.)

    And then, "The representatives of government must be stopped by force!" (You must get out of the theatre by force against other people.)

    And then, "The representatives of government must be killed!" (You must get out of the theatre by hurting people.)

    For saying something bad is happening in government, even if I am wrong, I'm suddenly responsible for potentially influencing someone to kill some member of the government.

    Free speech must include the right to shout "fire!" in a crowded theatre.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:26PM (#35922580)

    Next time someone makes fun by shouting authentically "Fire! Fire! Run!" in a theater or some other 'suitable' place, and your relatives die there having been crushed by the panicking crowd trying to get out, maybe then you'll remember that there are certain situations where Freedom of Speech is limited, and rightfully so, precisely to prevent panic and to save lives.

    BTW, the above behavior is illegal in the EU (spreading false alarms) -- don't know about the US. This seems to be the case in Japan too.

    The problem here is that there actually _is_ a fire in the theater and the fire warning system has been turned off by unscrupulous profiteers (Tepco) and the sprinkler system (working and sufficiently redundant emergency cooling) has never been implemented to save money. Under those circumstances it becomes criminal (or at least severely malicious) to not yell "fire". The few crushed people are still better than a large number of burnt to death people.

    In reality, Japanese officials already have caused a few 10'000 cancer deaths beyond what was unavoidable. The increased allowable dosage for Children (who are hugely vulnerable to radiation) is just the last batch of randomized death sentences they are implementing.

  • by GIL_Dude (850471) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:31PM (#35922636) Homepage
    Agreed 100%. I'd add that there is one of those slippery slopes between honest difference of opinion and people spreading intentionally false or misguided (uninformed) information. Obviously even experts in the field differ between themselves on some of the details. It would be chilling to see only the "government version" of the 'truth' be available. Honestly, I don't know how someone entrusted as the 'censor' is supposed to tell the difference unless they themselves are also an expert on all things nuclear.
  • by DamonHD (794830) <d@hd.org> on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:36PM (#35922668) Homepage

    It is still exceedingly unlikely that even *one* extra cancer death will be attributable to Fukushima.

    To the best of my understanding there are habitable towns throughout the world whose background radiation levels are higher than anything yet encountered outside the Fukushima plant boundaries.

    Rgds

    Damon

  • by Trerro (711448) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:53PM (#35922800)

    I can understand them wanting to stop all the "ZOMGOURCOUNTRYISDOOMED!" reports, but this is very much not the way to do that. If anything, it makes the public MORE scared, as they assume if you're stopping reports, you're covering up the truth rather than trying to release it.

    If you want the reality known, publish the exact numbers, and make sure that creditable scientists unaffiliated with the government or TEPCO are allowed to go in there and verify your data. How much radiation is leaking, how fast is it spreading, what's the half-life, and based on these numbers, what is a reasonable safe estimate of the contamination area? How long will it take to fully shut down the reaction, and once that's done, how long before no significant additional radiation will be leaked, and therefore, how long will the existing radiation take to decay to negligable levels? Include a handy chart like the XKCD one (http://xkcd.com/radiation/), as most people have no clue what a sievert is.

    Remember the swine flu panic? Remember how badly the MSM blew the details out of proportion? Remember how fast the panic died once it was clearly explained that "epidemic" doesn't mean to the CDC what is does to the general populace... and that it was just a new strain of flu, and thus nothing to worry about if you weren't worried about normal flus? People pretty quickly realized it amounted to "if you have a weak immune system or are otherwise abnormally vulnerable, get a flu shot. If not, ignore it. You might get it, but you'll get it over it like every other flu. The CDC is monitoring it on the very low chance it mutates into something more dangerous, and is increasing flu shot reserves as a precautionary measure." Sure, it took a few weeks, but the panic died once the average person had the exact numbers.

    Airborne diseases and radiation are similar in that both are scary because you can't see them, and it's quite possible to die from them. The only way to fight that fear of the unknown is by making it known - full data, full facts, realistic risk assessment that neither over- nor understates the problem.

  • by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @02:53PM (#35922804)

    When sites claim Face-melting radiation levels and contamination of food to attack competitors in Fukushima, or to intentionally undermine Japan and its economy, it's equally as bad as shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. It may not have as immediate of effect, but in the long run the impact would be even higher.

    The fact is, unless you're within 6 or so blocks(not counting the ocean) of the Fukushima plant, there is no dangerous level of radiation. Not in the plants, not in the animals, not at all.

    Shouting "Radiation!" is no less bad than shouting "Fire!".

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @03:34PM (#35923098)

    The difference is that when I read something on the Internet about face-melting radiation levels in Fukushima, I can take another 5 minutes to verify that bit of information. If I'm in Fukushima, chances are that I'm not reading the Internet, but busy cleaning up the reactor mess.

    There are three related reasons why it is illegal to shout "Fire" in a crowded theater: it is false information, it is information that indicates an immediate threat to your life, and the reasonable individual response to the threat causes death when emulated by many people.

    The only related item in this list is that the Fukushima radiation information is false. The only reason for the government to make false information illegal is because it is tired of getting blamed for the mess.

    I really, really wish people would understand the importance of free speech and its limitations. Free speech is the foundation of nearly everything that is good about western civilization, and misunderstanding its reach and impact is the first step back to the Dark Ages.

  • Bzzzzt! Too late (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Scarletdown (886459) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @03:40PM (#35923134) Journal

    Sorry, Japan. Once the information is out there outside your jurisdiction, it's game over. No way to rein it in now.

  • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @03:42PM (#35923158)

    In reality, Japanese officials already have caused a few 10'000 cancer deaths beyond what was unavoidable. The increased allowable dosage for Children (who are hugely vulnerable to radiation) is just the last batch of randomized death sentences they are implementing.

    Lets start here, because this is the biggest flaw in your post. There are several websites where you can view the actual radiation reported in various areas. Except within a few kilometers of Fukushima Daiichi, the radiation levels fall to biologically insignificant levels.

    At this point, the nature of the disaster is that it is hugely expensive, is leaking radioactive, hard-to-clean-up water, and is rather difficult to bring to a "probably wont catch fire or explode anymore" state. But there are no deadly radioactive clouds floating around, there is no substantial increase in the radiation in milk in the US, there is no plutonium floating around in the atmosphere, and as of now the most severely irradiated individuals (some of the workers) have received a dose that is roughly equivalent to what they would normally receive in a year, anyways-- of concern, but unlikely to cause them to keel over and die.

    Further, just because we have an actual, real, substantial crisis on our hands, doesnt mean we need to lose all perspective and start comparing it to Chernobyl [newscientist.com] or (heaven forbid) Hiroshima [nytimes.com]. Its a problem, yes, and there is a lot of blame to apportion; but losing our heads and falling for all the hyperbole running around is unlikely to make matters any better.

    Im not entirely sure what the dosage received by those in the immediate vicinity of the plants was; but as the area of "concern" around the plants was evacuated pretty rapidly (within about 36 hours), I have trouble believing such emphatic statements as "Japanese officials have already caused a few 10,000 cancer deaths beyond what was avoidable"; especially when the MIT Nuclear Science [mitnse.com] blog seems to indicate that in total, if you were at the plants perimeter, you basically recieved 2-3 whole body CT scans [wordpress.com]-- this less than 3km away from the plant, when the evacuation zone is 30km. That blog seems to be one of the BEST sources of information, as it plainly presents the facts without any breathless panic or fearmongering; they state that there is some danger, where it comes from, how to protect yourself, and how to get more information-- but it doesnt state "Tens of thousands of you are likely to die of cancer" or "beware floating radioactive clouds".

    This is precisely why this information IS harmful, and if it shouldnt be censored because of the tyrannical tendencies of anyone given such a power, that does not mean that anyone should go spreading FUD and misinformation about a crisis while people are trying to deal with it.

  • by Beardydog (716221) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @04:06PM (#35923326)
    It's exactly tne type of language China uses to censor everything. Pornography harms the public order... simple documentary articles about Tienanmen harm the public order. In fact, the more provably true a piece of information is, the more likely it is to harm the public order, by triggering protests, indepndant evacuations, or general anger toward and mistrust of the government. Any law that specifies "order" as a goal is doomed to become a tool of tyranny.
  • by Dutchmaan (442553) on Sunday April 24, 2011 @07:03PM (#35924552) Homepage

    There's also information that while true, is formulated in a falsely alarmist way.

    Like, true fact coming from authoritative measurements: the Iodine-131 levels in Poland have risen some 1000-2000 times above their usual level. Conveniently omitted fact: that's still about 500-1000 times less than levels causing any measurable increase of risk of thyroid cancer.

    Well then they should be educating the public instead of censoring the information. It's a safer route to take than censorship which is a very slippery slope. When you have censorship it breeds rumor as fact a lot more readily than some idiot blogger spreading his FUD. Censorship means they're hiding something from you in an effort to control your thought process, which is a different all be it just as significant form of fear.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 24, 2011 @09:12PM (#35925468)

    Well then they should be educating the public instead of censoring the information.

    Yes, educating the public works really well. That's why 100% of Americans are now satisfied that Obama is a Christian who was born in the USA -- everyone trusts the government and believes it when it tries to explain that their favorite talk radio host is incorrect!

    When you have censorship it breeds rumor as fact a lot more readily than some idiot blogger spreading his FUD.

    You are correct, of course. Censorship doesn't work either.

    The real solution is to educate journalists, who could then educate the public without it looking like Big Brother was trying to swamp people with propaganda. Unfortunately these days journalists are promoted based on their physical attractiveness and/or ability to rant effectively. Caring about the truth is actually detrimental to a journalistic career. So good luck with that.

"You don't go out and kick a mad dog. If you have a mad dog with rabies, you take a gun and shoot him." -- Pat Robertson, TV Evangelist, about Muammar Kadhafy

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