Martin Fackler, former Tokyo bureau chief of the New York Times, gave a lecture high above Tokyo at Academy Hills in Roppongi last Thursday, primarily about why Japan’s quality and freedom of the press has regressed from a world ranking of 11 to 72 since 2010 (Press Freedom Index). Filling the auditorium were around 100 mostly-Japanese journalists, students and teachers interested in getting the outsider insight on why Japanese news sources are lacking. In Fackler’s opinion, the mainstream media and their reporters have been molded by Abe’s government into thinking they are getting special access to all the country’s biggest topics, when really it’s diluting the quality of their stories. Whereas in the U.S., major sources like New York Times and BBC that are unafraid to feature public opinions that may oppose the government, Fackler says Japan’s media culture has taken the importance of so-called “access journalism” too far.
“It seems like it’s all about getting the scoop in mainstream Japan media,” Fackler said. “It’s not just the atmosphere, it’s how people’s’ careers are made, by getting the scoop to the officials’ breaking access news.”
While also praising Abe’s cabinet for their savvy when it comes to promptly addressing the media, he points out that the desire for a scoop has made newspapers such as Asahi and Mainichi regress into a routine of rarely questioning or opposing officials in their writing, since doing so would cost them their special access rights.
“Abe gives out a lot of scoops and one-on-one interviews with cooperative media members, and even has dinner with them,” Fackler said. “So if you play ball, you get a lot of access. That’s why there are a lot of ‘scoops’ in the yomiurii shimbun, sankei shimbun.”
Nowadays in Japan’s newsrooms, getting ‘scoops’ is overvalued in place of more quality journalism, i.e. going out into the field and reaching out to the officials individually in order to not get a pre-canned speech that everyone accepts as true.
Fackler also pointed to press clubs as a culprit for dumbing down Japanese reporting, something that rang true with me. When I started reporting for JSRC in Summer 2015, I noticed that a lot of the foreigners in the FCCJ rarely left the workroom to write their stories. For me, this was radically different than experiences in my hometown Baltimore, where a protest by locals in the rough parts of town was often a bigger story than the original government plan they were protesting.
“All the reporters sit there and wait for the officials to bring them news,” Fackler said. “These clubs were originally intended as a way to keep a close eye on the government, but now what they’ve become is a machine to create a very passive type of journalism. It’s not just the facts that the officials parlay, it’s also the stories, narratives and how to understand it all.”
Fackler’s opening story and example of this new “passive journalism,” was his experience initially reporting on the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. Minamisoma City Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai sent out an S.O.S. for help and almost no local reporters came in person to talk to him, Fackler being one of the few who didn’t opt to run for the hills on March 13th, one day after the disaster.
“I’ll never forget the reaction, because everyone at the front desk excitedly murmured: ‘kisha ga kimashita!’ (a reporter came!). Sakurai said the reason there was so much commotion was that all the Japanese reporters had left. So while all the mainstream papers were saying ‘The government has everything under control, don’t exaggerate the risks, etc.’, those reporters were themselves running for the hills,” Fackler said. “It became a lesson to me of how the media here has a tendency to repeat the official mindset, even if they believe differently, and that there’s a pressure to not deviate from the official narrative.”
In my opinion, much of what the former correspondent listed as the deep issues with Japan’s newspapers are easily fixable, it just takes some sacrifices with losing favor in the government’s circle of media it likes. I appreciated how Mr. Fackler took notice of NHK broadcasts constantly being focused around an official or prosecutor’s good work, never a simple salaryman or artist. Newspapers are just as much to blame for Japan’s fall in press freedom as Abe and his regime, if not more because of the power I believe news articles can have in rallying people to pressure the government into doing what’s best. Instead, we see newspaper writers falling into line like they are simply mere kohai (second rank) to the government that tells them what’s important.
“I think the Abe govt. has raised the bar with dealing with press, but the problem is the big media haven’t followed. They’re still in this post-war heiwagyou case thing, where they’re so used to having stories fed to them, that when the government roughs them up a bit, they’re like dogs and roll over on their backs. I don’t think they know or have had a good fight with the government in a really long time.”
Two decades ago I was working at the United States Information Agency (USIA), an independent foreign affairs agency of the U.S. Government. We were separate from the Department of State—the counterpart to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan, and our primary task was Public Diplomacy. Some called what we did government propaganda. To be precise, the slogan stamped across the agency façade was “Telling America’s Story to the World.” At State it was all about policymaking; at USIA it was all about policy shaping. As a foreign affairs specialist, my work was more artistic than bookish. USIA didn’t need a dissertation defender but a distiller of ideas who could help win converts to the American cause.
I wasn’t telling friends and neighbors about my work, not because it was covert, but because our billion-dollar annual appropriation had an overseas target audience, not a domestic constituency. We were funded by the American people but not for the American people. We were comprised of mostly American citizens at Agency headquarters in Washington, and predominantly Foreign Nationals (FN) and Foreign Service Officers (FSO) in the field. It was the field that mattered most to Washington. We were interested in climate change: How can we create an overseas climate for U.S. strategic economic interests?
Our way of doing things hadn’t changed much since the founding of USIA in 1953 during the Dwight Eisenhower administration. In his State of the Union message that same year, Eisenhower observed, “A serious and explicit purpose of our foreign policy [is] the encouragement of a hospitable climate for investment in foreign nations.”
A continuity thread extended from Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, my penultimate boss at USIA. The Clinton Doctrine of 1993, coming on the heels of the Cold War “win,” referred to expanding and enlarging market-driven democracies that would work with the United States for mutual benefit. USIA’s principle function was to smooth the path to that goal—to build mutual understanding, that is, to explain why doing business with the United States was more of a win for all than a win just for us. We were challenged when the Agency experienced a lot of pushback from labor unions and workers opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA would eventually pass while its much more ambitious successor that few have heard about, Trans Pacific Partnership, languished.
Anthony Lake, President Clinton’s national security advisor, came up with the one word slogan, enlargement, that defined the Clinton Doctrine: “Throughout the Cold War, we contained a global threat to market democracies: now we should seek to enlarge their reach.” The containment to enlargement rhetoric impressed. Economic competitiveness was at the heart of Clinton’s foreign policy vision, not human rights and constitutional democracy for all. As presidential historian Douglas Brinkley observed, Bill Clinton was more interested “in helping Toys ‘R’ Us and Nike to flourish in Central Europe and Asia than in dispatching Marines to quell unrest in economically inconsequential nations.” We saw this preference from Somalia to Bosnia.
My years working for Bill Clinton and the Clinton Doctrine remind me of what the Shinzo Abe administration faces today. Both politicians won elections repeatedly on perceived competence in improving economic conditions for their respective countries. Neither was elected or reelected based on foreign policy prowess but economic promises. As much as Clinton wanted his legacy to be the free trade and market democracy president, his last few months in office coincided with Al-Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. Seventeen U.S. soldiers were killed. The Clinton pledge for a growing middle class in democratizing countries who wanted to buy U.S. goods and services was halted. He wasn’t thinking about how to market Toys ‘R’ Us but how to contain a new security threat to his hoped for new world order, which Clinton’s Republican predecessor George H.W. Bush had first promulgated in 1991.
Long after USIA was abolished as an independent agency and its successor elements were absorbed into the State Department, security and counterterrorism became the resource-rich cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy, not economic competitiveness. Clinton’s marketplace idealism is a nostalgic memory overshadowed today by foreign policy snuff films on YouTube marketed like movie premieres on Twitter feeds. In 1993 we saw the bodies of mutilated U.S. peacekeeping soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, on the nightly news, not on constant Internet feeds. Even then, such images influenced foreign policy behavior, including administration reluctance to militarily intervene in Bosnia.
The lessons for Abe are manifold. President Clinton had a bold vision for the United States that did not match global realities. His optimism about the world embracing U.S.-style market democracies clouded his ability to prepare the American people for the possibility that we weren’t as admired and loved for who we were, what we stood for, or how we acted on the world stage. The end of the Cold War unleashed a lot of pent up frustration that no Starbucks opening would resolve. I can still recall Thomas Friedman presenting his “Golden Arches” theory of conflict resolution (aka McDonald’s theory), an outgrowth of the Clinton Doctrine vision and Friedman’s popular 1999 book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s,” Friedman stated in his book.
In foreign policy today—especially the open-sourced, open-marketed version we now know as modern public diplomacy, small is beautiful, nimble is necessary, and bold can be risky. The Abe Doctrine combines two slogans (a) Beautiful Japan with (b) Bold Japan. One is culture-centric, with Cool Japan pop and flash and refined visions of delicious cuisine, temples, Zen gardens and public service excellence and politeness; the other slogan is security-focused and steeped in postwar history with far darker pictures in our heads. It’s hard to reconcile the two. Beautiful Japan, peaceful Japan, whose Self-Defense Forces have never harmed a soul, needs some quiet contemplation to consider all of the issues on Abe’s plate. The policy plate is overflowing and it confounds, not just the Japanese people, who so far have been politely conciliatory in voice and protest, if not in opinion poll. Overseas and in foreign media, Japan’s global image is a head-scratcher.
For forty years, USIA took the path of less resistance—telling America’s story—as its slogan. Then Clinton upped the ante and said the U.S. was open for business and ready to invest in U.S.-friendly nations around the world. It all seemed so simple then, a McDonald’s restaurant just around the corner.
The Abe administration just announced a trip to Washington this spring where Abe will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. This is bold. And what will Japan’s slogan be then? I’m only certain of one thing. It will surely be timed to coincide with Washington in cherry blossom splendor.
Dr. Nancy Snow is an Abe Fellow and Visiting Professor at Keio University completing a book on Japan’s global image and reputation since 3/11. She will give a dinner talk, “Promoting Japan’s Global Image and Reputation” this Friday, February 27, at an event sponsored by the Forum for Corporate Communications (http://www.fcctokyo.com).
On December 7th, the ruling bloc of the Japanese government passed into law a Secrecy bill which many feel threatens freedom of the speech and the freedom of the press.
For those who are interested in finding more about Japan’s Designated Secrets Law, here are source materials that you may find useful. These are material distributed to the foreign press by the Cabinet Office last week before the bill became law. The Abe cabinet promised to set up an oversight committee to oversee the use of the ability to classify information a “specially designated secret” but the law itself does not mandate such restraints. The proposed oversight agency or oversight office will have no independence from the government.
When we have a complete Japanese draft of the law, we will post it. Any comments on the materials or suggestions for other reference materials that should be posted are welcome.
All of us at Japan Subculture Research Center would like to thank you for your reading the articles posted here this last year, your contributions, and your comments. Here are some of the articles we thought were the most amusing, edifying, or just fun, grouped together in general order. We had some outstanding outside contributions which made for some excellent reading–and to those contributors thank you as well. Whether you’re interested in Japanese culture or pop-culture, Japan’s nuclear problems, or yakuza and the Japanese underworld—there’s something for everyone. Enjoy!
I know–total self-promotion. What else do you think pays the costs of running this labor of love? Book sales, some donations, and whatever else I can scrounge up. All that aside, I’m hoping this will be a good read with a moral to the tale. All good stories have something to teach.
The HuffPost and Google News have started to turn the business into a con game–the con being that “exposure” will get you a real job as a journalist. Better think twice on that. If journalism is your calling, you may need to have a second job.
Yes, Ray Bradbury was a novelist but sometimes people can say greater truths in fiction than they can in an essay. I was sad to see him go and this is my small essay on what I find inspiring in his best novel, as a journalist, and as a father.
An article which appeared last year in the December 16 issue of “Kinyobi” weekly written by Minoru Tanaka, resulted in a punitive lawsuit against him. The article called the head of a group of nuclear industry related companies, Shiro Shirakawa, a “fixer.”
In Japan a “fixer” is said to be “a behind-the-scenes person who gets paid for mediating with anti-social forces or covering up scandals, or arranging profitable business deals with dubious methods.” It has a generally negative connotation.
According to Mr. Tanaka and other sources, this year, Mr. Shirakawa sued Tanaka for libel. He sued Tanaka only, not the publisher. Shirakawa demanded Tanaka 50M yen in damages and 7.5M yen of attorney fees as well as placing apology ads in morning editions of three major papers: “Asahi Shimbun”, “Mainichi Shimbun”, and “Yomiuri Shimbun.” The total amount demanded was 67M yen including the payment for the ads.
Mr. Shirakawa has been referred to as “a fixer” in many publications and Mr. Tanaka and Reporters Without Borders believe that the lawsuit is a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) and threatens press freedom in Japan. See RSF press release.
The next proceeding is scheduled on September 3 starting at 10:45 am in the Tokyo District Court room No. 615.
The article written by Minoru Tanaka asserts the following:
Mr. Shirakawa has connections with key figures of nuclear businesses, such as Hiroshi Arakawa, the former chairman of TEPCO. Mr. Shirakawa himself operates multiple nuclear-related corporations that offer security service for nuclear plants, leasing, and construction business. In the past he was reported to be suspected of asking gangsters to stop publication of materials, as well as diverting to politicians part of huge profits gained by land transactions. Furthermore, Nishimatsu Construction “gave a loan” to New Tech which is deeply connected to Mr. Shirakawa, using Mr. Shirakawa’s home and land as collateral. A year and a half later, the loan had been cleared.
After the loan was seemingly repaid, according to the registration certificate, the company New Tech received a loan of 700M yen from Shinginko Tokyo bank last October with the same collateral and paid back shortly.
Mr. Shirakawa, according to the article, is connected to Diet Member Kamei Shizuka, as well as a former high-ranking police officer, and his network of connections has allowed him to become a huge profiteer in the nuclear industry using dubious methods.
RSF (Reporters Sans Frontières) or RWB (Reporters Without Borders) reaffirmed its support for Minoru Tanaka and condemned the judicial harassment against him. “It is clear from the exorbitant amount of damages demanded by the plaintiff that the lawsuit’s aim is to silence Minoru Tanaka by crushing him morally and financially.” RSF’s statement says.
The History of Shukan Kinyoubi/週刊金曜日 Weekly
The Shukan Kinyoubi began publication in 1993. It has taken the stance of criticizing the powers that be and taking on the authorities. It is left of center. Therefore long before the Fukushima accident, the publishers have taken a firm stance against the nuclear industry and the so-called “nuclear village.” The nuclear village aka The nuclear mafia refers to the intertwined nuclear industrial complex made up of power companies, politicians, bureaucrats, gangsters and fixers.
Its publisher, Mr. Hajime Kitamura, spoke at the press conference last Friday. Among the 29 staff members of the publication, half of them are involved in editing, and most of the content of the publication are provided by outside contributors who write for the magazine. “We expected Shirakawa to sue the magazine for writing a story about him.” However, to the surprise of the publisher, he just sued the writer, Mr. Tanaka, and not the magazine.
“This is completely unforgivable” Kitamura said, “because when an individual writer is sued, they have to hire a lawyer, pay the lawyer fees themselves, and since they have to prepare for a trial and the legal proceedings, they lose the precious time they could spend doing their job. This is clearly a vicious law suit, and a SLAPP case, if the magazine was sued, of course we have our own lawyers that we could use.”
Shukan Kinyoubi （週刊金曜日） has been sued three previous times, once by the consumer finance company Takefuji, and won the case. In Japan’s civil code, it is possible to sue an individual journalist. Hiro Ugaya, was the first case of a journalist sued individually, not for the article he wrote, but for the comments he gave in a article on a company called Oricon, about 3 years ago. There is no union of journalists or newspapers in Japan, and there is no insurance to protect the reporters neither, unlike in Germany, for example. In Germany, it is not possible to sue a reporter for the content of his/her article, because somebody in the newspaper is already designated to be responsible judicially.
“If this kind of thing continues to spread, individual writers will all refrain from writing anything being problematic. And it will be a huge minus for magazines like our own, which take on the authorities and the powers leading this country.”
Hajime Kitamura, publisher of Shukan Kinyoubi (Friday Weekly)
After 3.11, some of the magazines have been very critical of the nuclear industry. They ran stories in which they called the people of the industry “war criminals,” and they haven’t been sued, because the Japanese mainstream media, up to now, has been criticizing the surface of the nuclear invested interests, but Tanaka’s article is more in depth, and gets behind the scene, and seemingly names the people who have made profits from their unsavory ties to the nuclear-industrial complex.
Mr. Hajime Kitamura, the publisher of Shukan Kinyoubi, used to write in the national news department of the Mainichi Newspaper. He said that the major newspapers in Japan now tend to avoid problematic topics. “If there are some risks of being sued in court, then they won’t touch the story. I’m not saying that the reporters on the ground level are bad, but the reality is that the people in upper management are basically telling the reporters not to write anything that can get the newspaper sued, and that stops and frustrates the young reporters from writing about certain topics.”
According to Minoru Tanaka, currently, Nihon Television is the most pro-nuclear broadcaster and Fuji TV is also doing similar pro nuclear broadcasting. Shirakawa’s older brother used to be a Fuji TV board member, he stated.
Japanese politicians’ ties with the nuclear industry
Minoru Tanaka said that Mr. Yoshito Sengoku, the number two in the (JDP) Japan Democratic party’s political strategy, went to Fukui prefecture and gathered together all the DPJ politicians. He told them that they needed to support the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors, and at a press conference, he said that “stopping Japan’s nuclear generators would be an act of suicide.” Mr. Sengoku used to be a member of Japan’s Socialist party but he became close to Japan’s nuclear industry.
Minoru Tanaka said that there is an entire nuclear tribe of politicians feeding off the nuclear industry, it is not just limited to the LDP, also includes the Koumeito, (also known as the Clean Government Party, a political league, which is supported by the religion group, Sokagakkai), and the DPJ as well.
The state of Japanese journalism
“Up until the 1980’s, I felt that the reporters on the ground level were really making efforts to get controversial stories into print. Rather than becoming weak in dealing with the political powers, I think they became weak in dealing with the public powers and the authorities. And part of the reason for this is that reporting became more a business model than about communicating facts,” says Mr. Kitamura.
He also said that, until the 1980’s, if journalists were writing about a big advertiser like TEPCO, and people at the top said “don’t complicate things,” there was opposition to that kind of interference in reporting, but this resistance has continued to weaken. He added, “When middle management loses its nerves, there is a sort of self-restraint imposed within the newspapers not to handle articles that criticize corporations.” However, it depends on which media, which television etc. He said that he still believes that the Mainichi and Chunichi/Tokyo Newspaper are doing solid investigative journalism.
TEPCO has an advertising budget of about twenty-three or four billion yen ($230 to 240 million) a year. A lot of that was to keep the media under control. For example, the rubble problem was featured in a two pages color advertisement in the Asahi shinbun. That probably cost forty to fifty million yen, according to Mr. Hajime Kitamura. “Usually the newspapers should refuse that kind of advertisement from a company, but they become tempted and attracted by the advertising money.”
The “Yoshiwara Bento” and the honey traps for the journalists
According to Mr. Kitamura, TEPCO entertained clients at Soapland, the sexual service parlors in Japan. The term of “YoshiwaraBento” (Yoshiwara being the Edo period’s red light district and Bento, being the word for “lunch box”) is a crude term to explain the practice that certain Japanese businessmen have to take their clients to a fancy club, for dinner and drinks and then take them to Soapland. The power companies and allegedly even The Nuclear Safety Agency and other associations involved in the nuclear industry have a long a history of wining and dining people in the media to make sure that the myth of nuclear safety is properly communicated to the public.
According to Hajime Kitamura, there are two ways they deal with the media: once a month, the association of electric power providers gives a press conference with the general press. They use “honey traps” or get the reporters involved with other scandals to make sure that they stay under control. The other thing they do is to use DENTSU, Japan’s largest advertising agency, to indirectly threaten the publishers by saying “if you want TEPCO’s advertising, can’t you do something about this article?”
The mainstream media does not support individual victims of SLAPP
“I do not think that this is a lawsuit about the facts, because almost the entire content is based on public publically available information. The attack made by Shirakawa is on the term ‘fixer.’ It is a very vague attack. I believe that Shirakawa has launched this lawsuit to make me suffer as much economic damages as he can,” Minoru Tanaka stated at the conference.
There are a growing number of people supporting Tanaka today, because it is not only his problem, but the problem of freedom of press in Japan. Many reporters think that there should be some kind of laws put in place to limit or suppress these kinds of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Right now, large corporations and religious groups are able to make these frivolous lawsuits at will with no constraints. He added that one of the reasons that the support for him is not widening at a rapid pace is because of the existence of the press club or the Japanese Kisha Kurabu system. “The major media outlets that are part of the press club system do not welcome freelance or individual writers because they want to monopolize information for themselves. They are not very supportive of individual journalists,” Minoru Tanaka elaborated.
*The editors at Japansubculture Research Center in an effort to avoid giant lawsuits would like to reiterate that the statements and opinions in this article are those of third parties and do not represent the opinions or assertions of this slightly meek and poorly funded project.
This month, I know two good journalists who lost their jobs when their prospective publications folded. Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily was one of them. It was making 6 million dollars a year but still not enough to stay in operation. In this same month, I got two requests to intern at the Japan Subculture Research Center. I’d love to have more writers but I have no budget to pay them. Well, maybe a cup of coffee or dinner. Whenever someone young (and I’m not young) asks me about pursuing a career in journalism, I don’t know what to say.
The big lie that journalists and most young Americans are told today is that working for free will eventually net them a job. The unpaid intern has become a wonderful source of exploitable labor. With people so desperate to get their foot in the door, many people are willing to work their ass off in the hope that someday they will actually get paid for their labor. Recently, a federal judge has dismissed that class action lawsuit filed last Spring by a group of unpaid bloggers suing the Huffington Post for pay, falling on the side of the Huffington Post. Of course, the class action suit was unlikely to succeed because the bloggers had all agreed to forfeit pay for “exposure.”
This business model of using unpaid journos and ripping off stories from the mainstream press will probably work for a few more years, until there are no paid journalists left to do the actual reporting. It’s partially a myth that bloggers are parasites on the mainstream media, and blogs do handle stories the mainstream media shuns, but if you look closely at the Huffington Post, a large amount of their material is still repackaging original reporting from the old established press. Citizen journalism is laudatory but investigative journalism is time consuming and expensive, and if no one pays for it–it will wither and die.
It’s enough to make a journalist a little depressed. However, it’s also inspirational material for retooling an old song, Smuggler’s Bluesby Glenn Frey.
You may have to be a veteran journalist to appreciate this but I’d like to take a moment to dedicate this to those who remain.