Media History Exchange, 2018 Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference

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Covering Nuclear War: Hiroshima’s Local Media
Ann Sherif

Last modified: 2018-01-26

Abstract


Upon receiving the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) paid special tribute “to the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the hibakusha – and victims of nuclear test explosions around the world, whose searing testimonies and unstinting advocacy were instrumental in securing” signatories to a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. For many readers in the English-speaking world, journalist John Hersey’s Hiroshima (1946) still functions as the story of atomic bomb survivors, and hints at the consequences of the dreaded, world-changing weapons for the rest of humankind.  However, the project of validating the ethical vision of Hiroshima’s hibakusha in a post-war world that willing created thermonuclear weapons infinitely more horrific than the 1945 bombs took place largely in the Japanese local media.

 

This paper examines the ways that Hiroshima newspaper  & television station contributed to agenda setting in regional and national politics and citizen engagement. In particular, two Hiroshima media outlets (the newspaper Chûgoku Shimbun and local NHK television affiliate) seized leading roles in the projects of advocating for the medical, legal, and social needs of the hibakusha, and of corroborating their experiential authority in order to frame Hiroshima’s particular local history in universalist terms accessible to transnational networks of anti-nuclear movements.

 

What makes the Hiroshima local media worth understanding? That city’s journalists have been steadfast in their investigative and editorial focuses on nuclear issues, and thus offer a comparative case of journalistic practice in a liberal democracy that, like the U.S., has a long and complicated nuclear heritage inseparable from national identity. Japan’s shifting discourses of nuclear allergy and peace advocacy co-exist with its embrace of nuclear energy and security alliance beneath the U.S. thermonuclear “umbrella.” One mission of the Hiroshima media outlets is to provide content and context necessary for the public to participate in the debates over the military and peaceful uses of nuclear technologies.

 

This paper limits the time frame of analysis to a recent period in Hiroshima’s atomic history: 3-11-2011 Fukushima earthquake-tsunami-nuclear meltdown. Fukushima does not fit comfortably into the longer narrative of Japan’s nuclear history. However, local media in Hiroshima highlighted both the role of journalism in revitalizing destroyed communities and shared concerns with radiation-contaminated communities. Fukushima evacuees and residents looked to Hiroshima for lessons about how to approach medical aspects of radiation. Newspaper coverage about lower levels of social discrimination due to extensive “peace” education about hibakusha and radiation lead some Fukushima evacuees to move to Hiroshima or Nagasaki. In a broader context, local journalistic practice has contributed to a complex and vigorous environment of debate among informed citizens who exercise their agency and experiential authority to advocate for a ban on nuclear weapons, question the high-consumption life style that depends on nuclear energy, and seek social justice for hibakusha. In their extensive coverage of “peace” issues, the local media present a compelling narrative of local sacrifice in the interest of imperial and national goals.


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