DOUBLE STANDARD IN ASAHI’S OPPOSITION TO TOKYO OLYMPICS
Tokyo Olympic organizers have decided to ban spectators from all of the venues, including the main stadium, in the capital and three neighboring prefectures.
The decision, made July 8, reversed one made just two weeks before that venues would be filled to 50% of capacity, with a maximum of 10,000 spectators.
The decision came from five Olympic and Japanese government groups responsible for the Games, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government. But Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga bears the brunt of criticism over the abrupt change required to block a further spread of the Wuhan virus. Ironically, however, having paid too much attention to public opinion in setting his policies to counter the pandemic, his popularity is now suffering.
On July 6, Education Minister Kochi Hagyuda announced the results of a Fugaku supercomputer simulation determining the risks of COVID-19 droplet infection among 10,000 spectators at the 68,000-seat Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium. The results: even if the crowd included 10 people infected with the virus, less than one person out of a total 10,000 spectators would be infected. The simulation assumed social distancing, masking, and other standard precautionary measures. Less than one out of 10,000 persons equals to less than 0.01% in infection rate—just about nil. Even if the crowd were clustered together with the wind blowing in their direction, the maximum expected number of infected persons would still be only 4.7 out of 10,000—or a 0.047 infection rate.
The testing showed that there would be virtually no chance of infection among the crowd if they are spaced apart and stringently honored other precautionary measures. It would therefore be no problem for the organizers to seat 10,000 spectators with enough space between them in the spacious stadium of 68,000 seats. The government will continue with its aggressive vaccination program. Taking this into account as well in looking at the total picture, I strongly believe that the organizers should go ahead with confidence in admitting 10,000 fans into the main stadium.
On July 9, I invited prominent economic commentator Tsukasa Jonen as a guest on my “Genron” Internet weekly news show to discuss “the Olympics and the Asahi Shimbun.” Examining a host of cases in which many nations have been grappling proactively with the pandemic while staging varied sports events, we agreed that Japanese organizers are overreacting to the recent flareups of the virus and its variants by deciding to ban spectators. Jonen observed:
“England hosted the European Football Championship, attracting more than 60,000 enthused fans. Some of them were found to have been infected during the games, but as British Health Minister Sajid Javid remarked: ‘…we could see an increase of case number but…we are not seeing a corresponding increase in hospitalizations and death numbers and that is because the vaccine is working, that is what a vaccine is for…we can’t live in a world where the only thing we are thinking about is COVID and not about all other health problems, not about our economic problems, or education challenges…’ I believe citizens will understand if politicians like Javid clearly explain the government policy and determine a credible course to take. Very unfortunately, our government is lacking in that kind of posture.”
As I mentioned earlier, the decisions regarding spectators have been made through consultations among the five bodies concerned with the Games. And yet all criticism concentrates on Suga because frankly his administration has been ineffective in disseminating pertinent information. On top of that, our media have been extremely uncooperative. I am not saying so in the context of them failing to bow to the administration’s wishes. What I mean is this: because there has been a constant drumbeat of negative coverage, accurate information about the virus is not getting through to the public.
Anti-Administration, Anti-Conservative, and Anti-Japan
Public opinion is significantly shaped by the media in Japan, as is generally the case with most nations. Particularly intractable is the Asahi, which is committed to twisting virtually all stories it covers. To be anti-administration, anti-conservative, and anti-Japan remains the peculiar ethos of this mass-circulation daily.
The principal posture required of any respectable newspaper is to confine its opinions to its editorials while engaging in unbiased reporting in its news articles. Asahi editorials are primarily dedicated to attacking the administration. We can’t do anything to stop the Asahi from making such assertions in its editorials.
But while the daily has continued to call for the cancellation of the Olympics in its editorials, it has refused to quit as an “official partner” of the Games. In its sports pages, it has carries articles enthusiastically building up the Games. In another show of inconsistency, the daily is also promoting the annual summer national high school baseball championship at Koshien in Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan, slated for roughly the same time as the Olympics
Several of the reasons the Asahi has cited for its call for a cancellation of the Olympics should also apply to Koshien. If the editors of the Asahi are responsible journalists as they claim to be, the daily should be ardently advocating a cancellation of Koshien as well in its sports pages and editorials.
It is unclear how concerned the Asahi truly is about a further spread of the virus and its variants during these athletic events. If it is opposed to the Games allegedly out of fear of a big crowd of Olympic spectators causing the virus to spread, then the daily should also oppose Koshien. Up to an estimated 47,000 fans are expected to daily throng the stadium August 9-25. It simply doesn’t make sense that the Asahi has yet to demand outright that Koshien be either cancelled or staged without fans.
Unconvincing government countermeasures against Tokyo’s extreme heat are yet another factor the Asahi cites in calling for a cancellation of the Games. If so, staging Koshien must be called off by all means in that summer heat in Hyogo is just as hellish as in Tokyo.
The multitude of problems associated with Koshien have been richly documented by investigative journalist/author Ryusho Kadota. During Koshien, baseball players in their mid-teens battle in heated contests for the coveted national title each summer when the heat is its severest. The Asahi, key sponsor since 1915 when the tournament was inaugurated, has profited from turning the hard-fought battles into moving stories. But Koshien has also frustrated no small number of promising young baseball players who were forced to give up baseball due to shoulder, elbow, or knee injuries. I believe it is about time the daily fundamentally reviewed its business of profiting from Koshien. The dreams of many promising young players have been crushed through ruined health due largely to a very overcrowded schedule in the extreme heat of summer.
Hypocrisy Behind Efforts to Increase Circulation
But the Asahi obviously is not reflecting or repenting, turning a critical eye instead toward the Tokyo Olympics and the Suga administration rather than toward itself. The hypocrisy of using a double standard desperately aiming to increase the number of copies sold undoubtedly is central to its business strategy. The daily still has a significant influence in Japanese society but Jonen predicts a bleak future for the Asahi, declaring:
“It will become another Mainichi Shimbun.”
The Mainichi, another national daily, has seen a sharp drop in its circulation over the years, experiencing severe financial difficulties despite having recently sold its headquarters building in Osaka. It is clear that the daily is desperately pushing a leftist line, catering even more to the left-leaning readers who have constituted its solid base readership for many years. The Asahi will follow in the Mainichi’s footsteps, Jonen asserts.
The Asahi’s official daily circulation according to the Auditor’s Bureau of Circulation stood at 4,947,000 in 2020—a drop of more than 2,500,000 from 2014. The decrease points to the seriousness of its financial difficulties as it shows it losing some 400,000 copies a year, or more than 1,000 copies a day. Because approximately 30% of the total circulation are copies delivered directly by the Asahi to its distributors for direct sales to non-subscribers, its credible subscription-based circulation is estimated to be around 3,460,00 copies—already below the 3.5 million mark. The number may further drop below 3 million by the end of 2021, according to Jonen.
Due to its business difficulties, the Asahi made a decision to slash its employees’ salaries by \1,650,000 (US$150,000) across the board in 2019. The daily further solicited voluntary retirement but fell into the red in the interim consolidated financial statements of September 2020. On April 1 Masataka Watanabe resigned as president to take responsibility. But business has not improved under Shiro Nakamura, who took over from Watanabe. In May, a deficit of \44.2 billion (US$420 million) was announced as its final financial results for the fiscal year ending March 2021. Saddled simultaneously with a rapid drop in circulation and a sharp rise in deficit, the Asahi is indeed between the devil and the deep blue sea.
“The Asahi is trying to make up the deficit with its net assets. With an estimated \350 billion (US$33.18 billion) left in net assets, it may eventually run through them and be crushed by debt. In terms of streamlining operations, the company could detach its newspaper operations and concentrate solely on its more lucrative real estate business. That would be a useful means of corporate survival for the Asahi. But I know it can hardly implement so drastic a change, as it is committed to doggedly safeguarding its newspaper business. So the only way for them to survive would be to follow in the footsteps of the Mainichi—the ‘Mainichization’ of the Asahi, as I call it.”
Spurred on presumably by the general decline of the print medium in Japan, the Asahi is single-mindedly stepping up its campaign to sell more copies by pushing leftist ideas, twisting the facts, and defaming Japan. It is not surprising that a growing number of Japanese are getting genuinely fed up with the Asahi.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 959 in the July 22, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)