YAEYAMA-NIPPO BRINGS NEW PERSPECTIVE TO OKINAWA
Over the years, the people of Okinawa Prefecture have been subjected to helplessly distorted news coverage by two dominant liberal local dailies—the Ryukyu Shimpo and the Okinawa Times. As a responsible journalist, I have frequently criticized their flagrantly biased reporting. Bringing a breath of fresh air to this abnormal situation, on April 1 a small daily headquartered in Ishigaki City in the prefecture’s Yaeyama Islands made a daring entry into the main island (Okinawa) market.
The Yaeyama-nippo (circulation: 6,000) has been read across the Yaeyama Islands since 1977. Now incorporating articles from the nationally-circulated conservative Sankei Shimbun, it is a small, eight-page daily in stark contrast to the Ryukyu Shimpo and the Okinawa Times, which together account for some 73% of the Okinawan market with a combined circulation exceeding 300,000.
If this little daily succeeds in taking root, news in Okinawa will become more balanced and fairer. Its management is aiming for 5,000 subscriptions in its new market by the end of this year. Having gained more than 2,000 subscribers in the first month, the daily has obviously been given a good reception to date.
Comments Kaoru Miyara, president of the daily: “An increasing number of people on the main island tell me that they are happy to be able to read my paper in Naha, that they have long been waiting for such a daily, and that this has been a great development for them personally.”
Ms. Masako Ganaha, a native Okinawan who is engaged in a broad range of journalistic assignments both at home and abroad, explained why Okinawans welcome the Yaeyama-nippo:
She was recently in Geneva, making a report before the June 14 session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and had this to say: “Human rights and freedom of expression in Okinawa are being threatened, not by the Japanese government but by anti-US base activists and revolutionary communists from abroad, as well as Okinawa’s biased media.”
At a symposium that followed, Ms. Ganaha criticized the activists who throng to Okinawa: “Those who pretend to be the victims (with claims to international bodies like the UN about the oppression by the Japanese government) are in fact the real victimizers.”
Which of the media outlets should Okinawans trust―the two major local dailies, or the newcomer? To find the answer, stresses Ganaha, one must scrutinize how each of these dailies covered the report critical of the Japanese government that UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye delivered on June 12 at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The topic was: “The Promotion of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression in Japan.” She observed:
“In a presentation lasting some 15 minutes, Kaye spent only four brief seconds referring to Okinawa, when he said: ‘I also shared my concerns about public protest, in particular in Okinawa…’ as he talked about activists’ demonstrations in certain areas of Okinawa where there is a furious debate ongoing. In point of fact, the Yaeyama-nippo was the only daily that reported factually on Kaye’s presentation. Both the Ryukyu Shimpo and the Okinawa Times merely picked up portions of his speech to enhance their inherent criticism of the Japanese government, using the image of the UN in their favor. ”
Criticizing Japan’s “Reporters’ Club” System
Contrary to Kaye’s claim that demonstrations are restricted in Okinawa, there actually have been numerous large-scale demonstrations around US military bases there. Violence has regularly erupted in front of the main gate of the US base in Naha, which has attracted numerous activists from within and without Okinawa. Clearly, demonstrations are not restricted on the island.
After Kaye finished his presentation, Ganaha asked him if he had ever been to Okinawa.
“He replied that he had never been to Okinawa,” remarked Ganaha. “Why then did he say ‘in Okinawa, in particular’ during his presentation, sounding as though he had personally been there to observe the situation? So I followed up with another question: ‘Do you have plans to visit Okinawa in the future, then?’ To this Kaye replied: ‘No, I have no such plans.’”
The Yaeyama-nippo was the only Japanese media outlet that reported on the full scope of Kaye’s presentation, including this episode. The two major local dailies, while reporting that Kaye ‘mentioned Okinawa during his 16-minute presentation,’ neglected to note that the specific reference to Okinawa itself lasted only four seconds, or that he had never been to Okinawa.
Incidentally, the two dailies completely ignored Ganaha’s presentation or her remarks at the symposium. What they pointed out instead was Kaye’s criticism of the Japanese government for its “undue restrictions on public protest and dissent in Okinawa.”
Against such a backdrop, it was quite ridiculous of the Okinawa Times to run an extensive article about Kaye datelined Geneva, quoting him as criticizing the Japanese “reporters’ club” system among other things:
“The problem with the Japanese government is that, taking advantage of this system, it provides information only to its favorite media outlets selectively, excluding independent media,” the daily quoted Kaye as pointing out.
The “reporters’ club” system originally was devised by major Japanese newspapers and television stations. Although open to non-Japanese journalists and magazine reporters nowadays, these clubs were once quite exclusive, deciding which media outlets could or could not join them to access news sources. They excluded foreign media outlets along with Japanese magazines.
If anything, Mr. Kaye should have directed his criticism of the system at the Japanese media—certainly not the Japanese government. He barked up the wrong tree obviously because of his failure to come to grips with the history and mechanism of the system.
I do not believe the Okinawa Times cited Kaye’s remarks out of pure ignorance. Being members of the Japanese media, the daily’s editors should naturally have some knowledge of the club system. Could they have purposely run Kaye’s assertions because they constitute a criticism of the Japanese government?
The daily’s June 14 editorial was appalling. Noting that the Japanese government issued a rebuttal to Kaye’s claims, it wrote: “The government action is reminiscent of the protest the Japanese government made against the Lytton Report (on the Manchuria Incident, also known as the Mukden Incident, of 1932.”
Pressure from Two Rivals
As regards the Manchuria Incident, the League of Nations formed a five-member commission headed by Victor Bulwer-Lytton of Britain that spent eight months in Manchuria and Japan to evaluate the incident. In September 1932, the commission published its findings. Although generally viewed as critical of Japan, the report actually acknowledged Japan’s position vis-à-vis Manchuria to a surprising degree.
Did the daily’s editorial writer liken Kaye’s four-second report on Okinawa to the Lytton Report in an attempt to endow the former with some authority? Or was it just a lack of education—or a bias— on his part? Be what it may, this kind of editorial is hardly credible.
Ms. Ganaha is asking the pertinent question: Which is fairer and more just—the Yaeyama-nippo which strives to present the whole picture, or the Okinawa Times which reports only on what suits its editorial policy?
Unquestionably, the Yaeyama-nippo is more just. But the bad news is the daily will face many obstacles as it tries to win new subscribers. In addition to a lack of deliverymen and newsagents, plus the absence of obituary columns that are considered indispensable features for Okinawans, tacit pressure from the two rival dailies stands in its way, according to Miyara, who explained:
“Our newsagents received a notice from the Okinawa Times, banning them from distributing our daily. Such a ban, although illegal, hits us real hard. This being clearly a violation of anti-trust laws, we reported it to the Fair Trade Commission, which began investigating our complaint. The Times then recalled the notice in a great hurry.”
While persistently calling the attention of the international community to what it claims as sinister pressure from the Japanese government on the “suppressed” people of Okinawa, the Okinawa Times itself is unlawfully exerting pressure on a small daily just under its nose. Isn’t this deception itself?
Miyara also raised the possibility of its two powerful rivals somehow exerting pressure to block advertising leaflets—a precious source of revenue for all newspapers—from being inserted in the daily copies of his paper. He pointed out:
“It may have been due to our lack of proper marketing effort, but it is both strange and disappointing that we have not managed to sell one single advertising leaflet since April 1 when we came to the main island.”
The outcome of the fierce “media war” now developing in Okinawa has important bearings on the future direction of Japan as a democracy. At a time when Okinawa badly needs a newspaper committed to reporting on all aspects of the news based on facts, I wish to lodge a stern protest against the Okinawa Times for its continuing biased reporting and infringement on the principles of fair competition.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column #759 in the June29, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)