LIBERAL MEDIA SHOWS ITS ANTI-ABE BIAS IN COVERAGE OF KUROKAWA
On May 25, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared an end to Japan’s state of emergency, loosening restrictions in five remaining prefectures—Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Hokkaido. The restrictions had been in place since April 7. Abe told newsmen at his official residence in Tokyo: “Thanks to the ‘Japanese model’ of anti-virus measures, we have effectively managed to bring the virus under control.”
The countermeasures have enabled Japan to control infections directly traceable to China, as well as cure Japanese tourists who contracted the virus while visiting Europe. Additionally, roughly 700 infected passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship have been properly traced and treated.
Foreign Policy magazine in its digital edition did a rough calculation of the fatality rate attributed to COVID-19 around the world, noting that, as of May 14, the number was 5 per million people in Japan, 258 in the US, and 94 in Germany, which is credited with having expertly coped with the coronavirus crisis. Clearly, the number for Japan is several orders of magnitude smaller. This fact drove the magazine, which like most foreign media outlets initially was critical of the Japanese approach, to marvel:
“Yet with among the lowest death rates in the world, a medical system that has avoided an overloading crisis, and a declining number of cases, everything seems to be going weirdly right.”
The international community, including the World Health Organization (WHO), has commended the Abe administration for having successfully stemmed COVID-19. But strangely enough, the liberal Japanese media continues to be sternly critical of Abe’s leadership. The relentless attacks that two liberal outlets—the popular Bunshun Weekly and the mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun—have launched on Abe have been extraordinary, seemingly in lockstep with each other. A case in point is their coverage of Hiromu Kurokawa, who was forced to resign on May 21 as head of the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office.
Kurokawa’s resignation was prompted by a special feature in Bunshun’s May 28 issue, revealing that he had been playing mahjong for money late into the night during the state of emergency. It was only to be expected that Kurokawa would resign under such circumstances. He had already been involved in a controversy over an unprecedented extension of his tenure beyond the mandatory retirement age. It was especially outrageous that Kurokawa, as a top prosecutor, would indulge himself in playing mahjong, well aware that the controversial extension of his tenure made him the man in the news at the time. There had been speculation that he would be promoted to Prosecutor-General this summer.
There was also a problem with who Kurokawa’s playing partners were—two reporters of the conservative Sankei Shimbun and a former Asahi judicial reporter now with the Corporate Planning Office of the daily’s parent company. They should take the blame, too. It was only natural that the two dailies quickly apologized in their morning editions the following day.
Protection of News Sources: Iron-Clad Rule
An investigation by the Asahi found that Kurokawa had played mahjong four times with the trio between April and May, betting money each time. The Justice Ministry said Kurokawa was known to have played mahjong with the same members once or twice a month in the past three years or so. Another question came to my mind. Did Kurokawa play mahjong only with these reporters? That would have been highly unlikely. The Justice Ministry should further investigate what other reporters from what outlets also may have kept Kurokawa company. Bunshun should seriously look into this matter. I am almost certain that judicial reporters from virtually all newspapers will be found to have played mahjong with Kurokawa because that is how reporters routinely access news sources. They all must have approached him for information regarding the Prosecutors Office.
I read the expose in the latest issue of Bunshun and, far from being impressed, felt that something wasn’t quite right. For instance, the feature stated that “affiliates of the Sankei” provided Bunshun the information concerning the mahjong incident involving Sankei reporters, exercising no caution in revealing the news source. The involvement of Sankei reporters was mentioned in the heading and the top of the feature. It must have been a heavy blow to the Sankei, as one would be unable to blame readers for regarding the Sankei as an untrustworthy newspaper going forward. Some reporter—or reporters—of the daily obviously stabbed fellow reporters in the back. I am of the opinion that Bunshun ran the feature with this scenario clearly in mind.
In that protecting sources is an inviolable rule in journalism, one naturally questions the motive behind Bunshun revealing their sources in this case. Which leads to my second question: Why is such little mention made of the former Asahi reporter? He is not mentioned at all in the headline or in ads for the piece. While the two Sankei reporters are written about extensively, only near the end of the article is reference made to the former Asahi reporter, sparing only 13 lines.
So I asked myself: Which of the two would media outlets find more appealing as a story—the former reporter from the liberal mass-circulation Asahi or the two reporters from the conservative Sankei? Definitely, the former, I think. (Mind you, I have absolutely no intention of slighting the Sankei, which I have long subscribed to as a favorite newspaper.) If I were a Bunshun editor-in-chief, I wouldn’t have hesitated for a second to choose a catchier heading like: “Asahi Reporter and Head of Tokyo High Prosecutors Office Caught Playing Mahjong for Money.” Why instead did Bunshun deliberately make the presence of the former Asahi reporter less conspicuous?
Surmised Fumito Ishibashi, the Sankei’s former political editor who appeared on my regular Friday night “Genron” Internet TV news show as a guest on May 22:
“What drove Bunshun to write up the feature exposing Kurokawa playing mahjong for money, I presume, was a desire to forge ahead with a campaign to show that Kurokawa, rumored to be very close to Abe, also enjoyed close and cozy ties with the Sankei reporters, who in turn are very close to the prime minister.”
That would indeed appear to be the case. The unscrupulousness of the weekly is clearly discernible in the following description of Kurokawa:
“(Kurokawa) is predominantly described as a person ‘whose tenure the Prime Minister’s Office extended in January in an unprecedented move to keep him as head of the Tokyo High Prosecutors Office while waiting to be promoted to Prosecutor-General no matter what’ (as testified by a judicial reporter).”
This alleged “description” makes me curious. Specifically who ‘predominantly described’ Kurokawa as such? Also, what was the basis of the assertion on the part of this unnamed “judicial reporter”?
What Abe’s “Heartfelt Thanks” Means
Two days before Bunshun confronted Kurokawa with questions regarding his mahjong gambling, on Friday May 15 to be specific, Abe explained his relationship with Kurokawa directly to me in my Internet TV news show.
The prime minister explained that he had never once met Kurokawa in person and that the plan for an extension of Kurokawa’s tenure was requested jointly by the Prosecutors Office and the Ministry of Justice and was automatically approved by the cabinet as a time-honored practice.
Because Abe himself stressed that he had had no personal contact with the top Tokyo prosecutor, it is highly questionable that he would have wanted Kurokawa promoted to Prosecutor-General “no matter what.” In point of fact, the media outlets which initially claimed Abe himself requested, and granted, the promotion, began attributing the alleged request to a more vague “the Prime Minister’s Office.”
If Bunshun still claims that there was pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, they have the responsibility—together with the unnamed judicial reporter and the Asahi which ran a series of articles criticizing the government over the “Kurokawa” incident—to specify who in the Prime Minister’s Office—when and for what reason—wanted to push through the extension of Kurokawa’s tenure.
Following his afore-mentioned May 25 statement that the “Japanese model” of anti-coronavirus measures has effectively fought off the epidemic, Abe stated: “Credit goes to all people across Japan who earnestly cooperated with the government in a concerted effort to combat the virus. During the state of national emergency, the people of Japan exercised remarkable self-restraint, tenaciously putting up with difficult inconveniences. I wish to express my thanks from the bottom of my heart.”
Prior to declaring the national emergency, Abe discussed with Yasutoshi Nishimura, Economic Minister charged with coronavirus countermeasures, if the government should ask people to reduce contact by 80% without the mandatory power to order them to do so under existing law. Abe told Nishimura the government should proceed with the plan, stressing: “Let’s ask people to cooperate, because I firmly believe Japanese will live up to our expectations.”
Japan has managed to cope effectively with the epidemic without resorting to coercive measures but by “asking” everyone to cooperate, from average citizens who exercised remarkable self-restraint by staying home day in day out to medical personnel who risked their lives treating the infected, to proprietors who withstood enormous losses from voluntarily suspending their thriving businesses. It was to this selfless dedication of people that Abe tipped his hat to extend his “heartfelt thanks.”
This is what the “Japanese model” is all about. If, in their intense dislike of Abe and his policies, the media and his other opponents should fail to appreciate how precious people’s trust in—and cooperation with—the government in crisis is as the foundation of the “Japanese model,” it will be a sorry loss to Japan.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 903 in the June 4, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)