JAPANESE MEDIA FAIL TO SEE THE REAL STORY BEHIND THE HEADLINES
The Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF)—a privately-financed think tank that I head in Tokyo—held a seminar on November 23 entitled The Trump Administration and Decisions for Japan. It attracted an audience of more than 800. Lively discussions lasted three and a half hours, covered by magazine and newspaper reporters with a forest of TV cameras lined up at the back of the conference hall.
After the seminar, a young working woman who said she had been seated near the press box, observed: “The clicking sound from the reporters typing their keyboards continued throughout the seminar, even during the Q&A session. But then the sound suddenly ceased at one particular moment. It was the only time the reporters didn’t take notes. It struck me as quite strange.”
The “particular moment” happened during the Q&A session, when someone from the floor raised a question about the responsibility of the Japanese media. Pointing out that irrational opinions often tend to be formed in Japan because the true nature of the issues facing the country is seldom reported to the public—including security-related bills and the threat of China—the questioner asked if this is because the Japanese media is biased.
Although the questioner hit the nail on the head, I couldn’t help chuckling to myself when I heard that all the reporters stopped typing. The young lady continued:
“I suppose this means that the people in the mass media do not record the kind of questions and criticism that we average citizens generally have about the media. In my business, I try to make sure to respond to criticism from our clients as sincerely as possible. I wonder if no such thinking exists in the consciousness of the media people.”
I was impressed by her perceptiveness. At the same time, reviewing media reports on the seminar the following day, I was freshly reminded that the Japanese mass media does have a propensity to turn to low-grade journalism, apparently unable to pursue the true substance of the news.
The discussions at the seminar were quite substantial, as many attendees testified. Three prominent guests were invited as speakers—Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda; Tadae Takubo, Deputy Director of the JINF and an expert on international affairs; and Yusuke Kawamura, Vice Chairman of the Nomura Institute of Research Ltd. I served as the moderator.
The main points of our discussion were:
–The US, still a super power, is turning into an ordinary nation;
–The dynamics of the international community are rapidly changing and America’s decline appears unavoidable;
–The US economy under the Trump administration will initially boom, but will be followed by a dramatic slowdown;
–It is now time for Japan to cope with the Chinese threat on its own; and
–The situation surrounding the Senkaku Islands is extremely tense; the public needs to be told more about what is actually going on there.
Towards the end of the seminar, Hagiuda answered a question concerning Diet deliberations. The Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary compared the opposition parties’ behavior in the Diet to “backwoods wrestling.” With all due respect to members of the opposition parties, I honestly feel they deserve at least some of such criticism.
As was to be expected, the media—including the five nationally-circulated dailies, leading news agencies Kyodo and the Jiji Press, and major TV stations Asahi and Fuji—only covered the “backwoods wrestling” comment by Hagiuda, severely criticizing him. Except for a handful of dailies in their digital editions, the media almost completely failed to refer to any of the substantive issues discussed at the seminar.
How in the world did all of the members of the media fail to report on the seminar itself—after ostensively covering it for nearly four hours? Particularly outrageous was the Asahi Shimbun, which carried an editorial the following day entitled Remarks by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Stunning; criticizing Hagiuda for “steamrolling” controversial bills (through the Diet), his “misconception of (Japan’s wartime) history,” and the “one-man diplomacy” (pursued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe). I strongly doubt if the Asahi is qualified to criticize anyone concerning any of these matters.
For instance, the daily’s editorial writer had this to say about “steamrolling” the TPP bill through the Diet: “When the ruling party assumes an aggressive attitude in the Diet, the opposition parties, being outnumbered, naturally are forced to resist through various means. Yagiuda sounds as if the whole thing is part of a ‘fixed game,’ and that any maneuvers employed by the opposition are an unnecessary ‘hindrance.’”
Let us recall what happened when security-related bills were enacted last year. The members of the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition certainly were not the only ones to resort to aggressive tactics. Members of the opposition parties, including those of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), behaved in ways that were extremely unbecoming of lawmakers, skipping deliberations at the Diet and collaborating with protesters outside the Diet building to demonstrate against the bill.
The Asahi had this to say about the incident in its editorial dated September 19, 2015: “Has the bill been sufficiently discussed during deliberations that consumed more than 200 hours in both houses? …Much of the responsibility (for the insufficient discussions) rests with the administration…Violence (at the Diet) certainly is unpardonable. However, it is not fair to pass the buck to the opposition parties alone.”
The following day, its editorial further asserted:
“What the Abe administration is displaying at this stage of the game is the blatant power of an administration that shamelessly has cast off the beliefs and principles that Japan has strived to nurture in the 70 years since the end of the war.”
A day later, on September 18, it again stated:
“Bills that increase Japan’s military profile too much run the risk of becoming obstacles to Japan’s peaceful contribution to the international community.”
Overly committed to the oppositions’ objections to the security bills, the Asahi has failed to perform its stated mission of disseminating pertinent information on world affairs to its readers. China and North Korea were just about the only countries in the world that opposed Japan’s security legislation on the grounds that it increased Japan’s military profile too much. The Asahi has become increasingly biased in its reporting, completely failing to recognize the fact that a host of nations around the world, including many in Southeast Asia, have welcomed the legislation.
A close examination of the DPJ reveals no small number of lawmakers who favor enforcement of Japan’s right to restrictively participate in collective self-defense arrangements. They are basically in agreement with the LDP and its junior coalition partner the Komeito, while disagreeing with them over the particulars of the legislation. In point of fact, Yoshihiko Noda, the former president of the DPJ now serving as secretary-general, states in his Enemies of Democracy (Shincho-sha, Tokyo; 2009): “Realistically, a situation may arise in which we need to resort to collective self-defense. Therefore, in principle I believe the right to collective self-defense should be recognized.” (p. 134)
In the upper house election held last July, the DPJ campaigned on a promise to scrap the 2015 military legislation, and were defeated. Noda, a party heavyweight who is reasonable and respectable, had maintained that his party should accept it in principle, as it only conditionally recognized Japan’s right to participate in collective self-defense arrangements. But now the party leadership is talking about forming a partnership with the Japan Communist Party with whom it can hardly be compatible in terms of philosophy and beliefs. Among other things, the Communists are bitterly opposed to the security legislation, calling it “war legislation.”
Although the Asahi has accused the LDP of having “stripped itself naked by casting off its basic beliefs and standards,” I believe that is an expression that better fits the DPJ. Asahi’s editorials have either been written with an emotionalism filled with a hatred of the present administration, or have misidentified the target of their criticism.
The editorials have criticized Hagiuda for his “misperception” of Japan’s wartime history. That is quite absurd, considering how twisted the Asahi’s version of the history has been. The Asahi would certainly be the last media organ by which one would want to be criticized for a “misperception” of anything. We must all bear in mind just how many unpardonable errors the Asahi has committed over the decades regarding a number of issues, particularly as concerns the so-called comfort women. How much have the Asahi’s fabricated stories about the “comfort women” affected public opinion negatively—not only in Japan but South Korea and China—and how much have they impaired Japan’s relations with the two countries? I am not at all convinced that the Asahi has bothered to earnestly reflect on its posture of Japan being in the wrong on anything to do with the last war.
We must all bear in mind that a democracy matures only when its media is truly committed to engaging in fair and factual reporting.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 732 in the December 8, 2016 issue of The Weekly Shincho)