Does the media always tell the whole truth? This question has haunted me for the past four years since my politics teacher told me an impressive story in high school. One of his friends was a writer who tried to write an uncovered story of the Japanese government. However, one day, he was arrested on suspicion of being a molester on the train. My teacher insisted that his friend must have been innocent and he was molded into a molester by political power. There is no evidence that proves his speculation to be true, but since then, the complexity of the Japanese media has become an issue I wanted to explore. For someone who has been thinking about Japanese media for a long time, it seems that Japanese people pay less attention to the validity and hidden stories behind the news even though they care about the content. In this paper, I would like to share my thoughts and to discuss the complexity of the Japanese media focusing on four aspects: The Great East Japan Earthquake, the Occupy Tokyo Movement, replacement in Hodo Station, and kisha clubs in Japan.
First, the dispute over the usage of the word “meltdown” shone a light on the relationship between the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese government when the huge earthquake hit the Tohoku area in 2011. At the beginning of 2016, the CEO of TEPCO, Naoki Hirose admitted the company covered-up the fact of the meltdown by not using the expression, but at the same time implied that the Japanese government told them not to. TEPCO established an independent committee to investigate these facts after the news conference, but it went no further than pointing out the possibility that the government had told them to hide the fact of the meltdown. It leaves room for doubt whether his statements were true or not. In his article on Toyo Keizai Online, Hiroyuki Okada (2016) writes that two of three people in the committee were chosen by the company itself. The article says that the former CEO, Masataka Shimizu, who had reported the cover-up, said that he did not remember which government officials told him to avoid using the word “meltdown.” It is also a fact that TEPCO spends a huge amount of money on advertising. In the Budget Committee of the upper house of the Diet in 2011, Shimizu reported that the company spent nine billion yen on advertisements, and two billion yen on social expenses. On the other hand, it is said that media relies on sixty percent of its revenue from advertising fees. We can imply that the money paid by TEPCO helps the media to remain in business to some extent. To put this into context, one could argue that the company tried to pass the responsibility off to the Japanese government, and the mass media could not report it because they benefit from the money. There is no clear evidence that proves this speculation, but it can be concluded that Tokyo Electric Power Company has a strong connection with the Japanese government and the mass media.
Secondly, the Occupy Tokyo movement is another example which shows how the Japanese media is influenced by corporate interests. The movement happened in 2011 after a huge earthquake hit Tohoku. It was a protest spurred by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Hundreds of people against the operation of nuclear power plants marched the streets in Shibuya and conducted a sit-down strike in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Although the overseas media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal covered the movement in their articles, the movement was broadcasted little by the Japanese media. John D’amica, a writer for an online newspaper called The Globalist published by Yale University, points out that the operation of a nuclear power plant is involved with globally significant corporations such as Sharp, Panasonic and Toshiba (2011). It is certain that the Japanese media is reluctant to report social issues which can obstruct profit seeking activities by these companies.
Thirdly, a commentator was replaced from a news TV program under the pressure of the Japanese government. His name is Shigeaki Koga, who had been a commentator for Hodo Station since it had started in 2011. His critical remarks often became a topic on the Internet based on his experience of having been a government official before. When Prime Minister Abe decided not to pay money to save the life of Kenji Goto, Koga insisted that Japanese people should have shown that their thoughts were different from Abe’s by using a flip card saying “I am not Abe.” However, he ended up leaving Hodo Station on March 27 in 2015, partly because of his statements against the Japanese government. Here is a part of the discourse between Koga and the main announcer, Ichiro Furutachi, during his last recording.
Koga: I am sorry to say that today is the last recording of mine because of the intention of two chairpersons; [Hiroshi] Hayakawa of TV Asahi and [Takashi] Sato of Furutachi Project. I would like to express my appreciation for all the support and encouragement even though I have been under severe bashing by the government officials including Chief Cabinet Secretary [Yoshihide] Suga.
After the commercials, the conversation continued:
Koga: I think there is a gap between the country that Mr. Abe is aiming at and that of the Japanese people. So I would like to say that we have different ideas with Mr. Abe. That is “I am not Abe” as I said before. Though I was severely criticized last time, we are not supposed to stop expressing our thoughts due to criticism. […] This is not just a criticism of Mr. Abe. In short, I would like to suggest a way of thinking to give you an opportunity to think how Japanese people live from now. Of course, you can criticize my opinion, but I hope people discuss it. This [remark] may get resentments from government officials, but I do not like people to speak ill behind me including Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga who should be watching this program, and I am open to hear their criticism directly.
Furutachi: I almost agree to your opinion, on the other hand, one point I would like to make is, while I admit there is a tameness in the mass media, for example in our program, we pointed out the uncertainty about the seismic motion of the nuclear power plant in Sendai…
Furutachi tried to convince him that his TV program is making efforts to report on critical issues that Japan as a whole has to deal with. However, Koga insisted that the director who made such remarkable videos is going to be replaced by self-controlled pressure.
Koga: At last, I would like to say this to you, Furutachi. Here is a quotation of Mahatma Gandhi. “Almost all of what you do are meaningless, but you must do them. You do them not to change the world, but not to get changed by the world.” In other words, if people get used to pressure or self-control and come to think that it is useless to do by oneself, they will change themselves without realizing and end up being ignorant of ongoing serious problems. […] What I wanted to say is, let’s say what you want, naturally. Of course, people who have different ideas can express their opinions, and Mr. Furutachi, you can also say, “it is wrong” if you think my opinion is not right. However, I would like people to stop pressuring and making a fuss about what I said by calling from the government.
What I believe Koga wanted to say here was that the Japanese government officials pressures the free speech of the Japanese media. One should be aware that if you get used to the environment where self-control is required and one cannot say what s/he wants without fear, you will end up missing really important events happening in the world. Everyone has the right to say what one thinks is right, so we must start now. This dispute between Koga and Furutachi made the news at the time, but the more time has passed, the less people remember. Though how powerful the influence of the government is unclear, there seems to be a strong relationship between the Japanese government and its media. Japanese people must pay attention to it and evaluate the validity of each news content carefully.
Some people point out that the existence of the kisha press clubs lessens the fairness in broadcasting. In The Japan Times, Kanako Takahara (2007) says that “it shuts [foreign press and Japanese magazines] out of news conferences and briefings, and can be a way of spoon-feeding the press with tightly controlled information.” A kisha club is a collection of major press companies that is able to get space in government and other industry buildings such as the Diet, local governments, Japan Stock Exchange etc. to attend press briefings and reach information as early as possible. It seems to be a good thing because the broadcasting companies that belong to the kisha club have quick and easy access to credible resources, and readers can get reliable information immediately. However, the foreign press and other Japanese magazines which do not belong to kisha clubs are not allowed to attend those news conferences and briefings. In addition, according to the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, Japan ranked 72nd, dropping its ranking from 61st in 2015. It says that “Japanese media can cover what they want freely except ‘state secrets’.” While the members of the kisha clubs have the privilege of accessing information, if a member breaks the rules, for example, by reporting on off-the-record meetings, the members cannot get involved with the club activities for a certain period of time. If someone in the club gets information which he thinks the readers should know, he may not write about it for the fear of sanction. Although kisha press clubs were originally established to pressure the government, which prohibited mass media to report Diet sessions in 1890, it does not seem to play the role it used to. Surely, it could be said that kisha club makes the contents reported by Japanese media homogeneous to some extent.
Japanese media is a product of complex factors and is sometimes suppressed by the government, economical activities and so on. The more time passes, the less people remember what happened in the past; however, the media surely has shown signs that it does not necessarily tell the whole truth. People can reach the truth only when they actively engage in various types of information. As a citizen living in the world today, we must think deeply about what the media says and try to find out the factors behind it. Be critical and think deeply, this is our responsibility.
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