Japanese Earthquake Aftermath: TEPCO, the Media, and Transparency

Joseph Lee

Perhaps the single most important check on the truth telling of BP after the Gulf Oil spill last year was the live web-cam installed that showed the constant flow of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. It was easy to see, simple to understand, and we all know the camera doesn’t lie. We can all make judgments based on what we saw.

Four days after the disaster in Japan, we are starting to see the break-down in trust amongst the Japanese public, media, and government. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power), which owns the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor, has been frantically trying to throw everything it can, including sea water, at the reactors to cool them down. At the same time, TEPCO has hardly been a model citizen in terms of transparency. The frustration came to a head in a morning news conference in which the darkest side of Japan was revealed.

Journalists (if we can call them that) started making political statements and yelled at the corporate spokespeople, insulting them with questions that basically accused them of lying. “Are you apologizing now because a line was crossed!?” “Why are you apologizing now and not before?”

The Prime Minister didn’t do much to get his image up, either. He appeared again in front of cameras, to boast that they had formed a joint command center with TEPCO, so that they can coordinate things better. I would think that people are more interested in what the government is doing to prevent a meltdown, and what contingencies he has in place in the event that the worst-case scenario occurs. He also needs to tell the people how those in shelters will be getting blankets, food, medicine, and other materials, especially as the weather forecasts call for a chilly couple of days, including snow in many of the impacted areas.

Those in the Western world are amazed at how well the Japanese citizenry has behaved in light of the disaster. The calmness, the kindness to each other, and the lack of panic—these are all the traits that make the people special.

But that doesn’t diminish the need for transparency, leadership, accurate reporting, and responsible journalism.

How hard would it be to put a web-cam on Fukushima Dai-ichi’s reactors, or to live stream the videos that they already have? How hard would it be for them to share all the important live data that the experts use for making decisions?

The problem with “smart” government and company officials is that they think the public is stupid and that people will panic. That’s the official line of the Chinese Government, and has no place in a nation like Japan. It is exactly at times like this that information needs to flow freely. Rumors fly not because there’s too much transparency. Rumors arise because people no longer trust the official line.

Joseph Lee is an adjunct professor at the Graziadio School of Business and Management and Peter Drucker & Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management, where he teaches a course on management consulting. Read his blog at http://joe-lee.com/blog1/.

Author of the article
Joseph Lee, Adjunct Professor
Joseph Lee, Adjunct Professor
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