FCCJ’s Number One Shimbun on how GOJ is leaning on critical foreign correspondents (incl. accusing them of being on Chinese payroll!)

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Hi Blog. Further along the lines of how the Japanese Government is pressuring overseas historians to toe a GOJ-approved ideological line, here is an example of how they’re doing the same to foreign journalists. While Gaijin Handling is not a new activity (it even happened to Dave Barry back in the day — clearly they didn’t know he was a humor columnist), under PM Abe it is becoming more paranoid and insidious, with implications that criticism of Japan must somehow be linked to Chinese influence.  In other words, criticism = shilling if not spying for the Chinese! This is a significant change in attitude, as the author points out below, and it will influence Japan PR’s ability to persuade (as opposed to threaten) the outside world. Wonder how long it’ll be before they drop by the Japan Times to lean on them too about my critical JBC columns. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

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On My Watch
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Number One Shimbun, Thursday, April 02, 2015
Confessions of a foreign correspondent after a half-decade of reporting from Tokyo to his German readers
by Carsten Germis, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Courtesy of Marcus

http://www.fccj.or.jp/number-1-shimbun/item/576-on-my-watch.html

My bags are packed, as the song goes. After more than five years as the Tokyo correspondent for the German daily, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, I will soon leave Tokyo for home.

The country I’m leaving is different from the one I arrived in back in January 2010. Although things seem the same on the surface, the social climate – that has increasingly influenced my work in the past 12 months – is slowly but noticeably changing.

There is a growing gap between the perceptions of the Japanese elites and what is reported in the foreign media, and I worry that it could become a problem for journalists working here. Of course, Japan is a democracy with freedom of the press, and access to information is possible even for correspondents with poor Japanese language skills. But the gap exists because there is a clear shift that is taking place under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – a move by the right to whitewash history. It could become a problem because Japan’s new elites have a hard time dealing with opposing views or criticism, which is very likely to continue in the foreign media.

The Nikkei recently published an essay by their correspondent in Berlin about the February visit to Japan of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He wrote: “Merkel’s visit to Japan was more conducive to criticism of Japan than friendship. With Japanese experts, she discussed her country’s policy to end nuclear power. She talked about the wartime history when she visited the Asahi and when she met with Abe. She also talked with Katsuya Okada, president of the DPJ, the largest opposition party. . . . Friendship was promoted only when she visited a factory run by a German company and shook hands with the robot Asimo.”

That seemed harsh. But, even accepting the premise . . . what is friendship? Is friendship simply agreement? Is not true friendship the ability to speak of one’s beliefs when a friend is shifting in a direction that could cause him harm? And surely Merkel’s visit was more complex than just critical.

Let me make my own stance clear. After five years, my love and affection for this country are unbroken. In fact, thanks to the many fine people I’ve met, my feelings are stronger than ever. Most of my Japanese friends and Japanese readers in Germany have told me they feel my love in my writing, especially following the events of March 11, 2011.

Unfortunately, the bureaucrats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) in Tokyo see things completely differently, and it seems some in the Japanese media feel the same way. To them I have been – like almost all my German media colleagues – a Japan basher capable of only delivering harsh criticism. It is we who have been responsible for, as the Nikkei’s man in Berlin put it, the two countries’ bilateral relations becoming “less friendly.”

Changing relations

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is politically conservative, economically liberal and market oriented. And yet, those claiming that the coverage of Abe’s historical revisionism has always been critical are right. In Germany it is inconceivable for liberal democrats to deny responsibility for what were wars of aggression. If Japan’s popularity in Germany has suffered, it is not due to the media coverage, but to Germany’s repugnance at historical revisionism.

My tenure in Japan began with very different issues. In 2010, the Democratic Party of Japan ran the government. All three administrations I covered – Hatoyama, Kan and Noda – tried to explain their policies to the foreign press, and we often heard politicians saying things like, “We know we have to do more and become better at running the country.”

Foreign journalists were often invited by then Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, for example, to exchange views. There were weekly meetings in the Kantei, the PM’s residence, and officials were willing to discuss – more or less openly – current issues. We didn’t hesitate to criticize the government’s stance on certain issues, but officials continued to try to make their positions understood.

The rollback came soon after the December 2012 elections. Despite the prime minister’s embrace of new media like Facebook, for example, there is no evidence of an appreciation for openness anywhere in his administration. Finance Minister Taro Aso has never tried to talk to foreign journalists or to provide a response to questions about the massive government debt.

In fact, there is a long list of issues that foreign correspondents want to hear officialdom address: energy policy, the risks of Abenomics, constitutional revision, opportunities for the younger generation, the depopulation of rural regions. But the willingness of government representatives to talk with the foreign press has been almost zero. Yet, at the same time, anyone who criticizes the brave new world being called for by the prime minister is called a Japan basher.

What is new, and what seems unthinkable compared to five years ago, is being subjected to attacks from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – not only direct ones, but ones directed at the paper’s editorial staff in Germany. After the appearance of an article I had written that was critical of the Abe administration’s historical revisionism, the paper’s senior foreign policy editor was visited by the Japanese consul general of Frankfurt, who passed on objections from “Tokyo.” The Chinese, he complained, had used it for anti-Japanese propaganda.

It got worse. Later on in the frosty, 90-minute meeting, the editor asked the consul general for information that would prove the facts in the article wrong, but to no avail. “I am forced to begin to suspect that money is involved,” said the diplomat, insulting me, the editor and the entire paper. Pulling out a folder of my clippings, he extended condolences for my need to write pro-China propaganda, since he understood that it was probably necessary for me to get my visa application approved.

Me? A paid spy for Beijing? Not only have I never been there, but I’ve never even applied for a visa. If this is the approach of the new administration’s drive to make Japan’s goals understood, there’s a lot of work ahead. Of course, the pro-China accusations did not go over well with my editor, and I received the backing to continue with my reporting. If anything, the editing of my reports became sharper.

The heavy handedness has been increasing over the past few years. In 2012, while the DPJ was still in power, I took a junket to South Korea, interviewing former comfort women and visiting the contested island of Takeshima (Dokdo to Koreans). Of course it was PR, but it was a rare chance to see the center of the controversy for myself. I was called in by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a meal and discussion, and received a few dozen pages of information proving that the island was Japanese.

In 2013, with Abe’s administration in charge, I was called in once again after I wrote about an interview with three comfort women. This also included a lunch invitation, and once again I received information to help my understanding of the prime minister’s thoughts.

But things seem to have changed in 2014, and MoFA officials now seem to openly attack critical reporting. I was called in after a story on the effect the prime minister’s nationalism is having on trade with China. I told them that I had only quoted official statistics, and their rebuttal was that the numbers were wrong.

My departing message

Two weeks before the epic meeting between the Consul general and my editor, I had another lunch with MoFA officials, in which protests were made of my use of words like “whitewash history,” and the idea that Abe’s nationalistic direction might “isolate Japan, not only in East Asia.” The tone was frostier and, rather than trying to explain and convince, their attitude was angrier. No one was listening to my attempts to explain why German media are especially sensitive about historical revisionism.

I’ve heard of an increase in the number of lunch invitations from government officials to foreign correspondents, and the increased budgets to spread Japanese views of World War II, and the new trend to invite the bosses of foreign correspondents deemed too critical (via business class, of course). But I would suggest the proponents tread carefully, since these editors have been treated to – and become inured to – political PR of the highest caliber and clumsy efforts tend to have an opposite effect. When I officially complained about the Consul’s comments about my receiving funds from China, I was told that it was a “misunderstanding.”

So here’s my departing message: Unlike some of my colleagues, I do not see a threat in Japan to freedom of reporting. Though many critical voices are more silent than during the DPJ administration, they are there – and perhaps in larger numbers than before.

The closed-shop mentality of the Japanese political elite and the present inability of the administration leaders to risk open discussion with foreign media doesn’t really affect press freedom; there are plenty of other sources to gather information. But it does reveal how little the government understands that – in a democracy – policy must be explained to the public. And the world.

It doesn’t strike me as funny any more when colleagues tell me that the LDP doesn’t have anyone in the press affairs department who will speak English or provide information to a foreign journalist. Nor does the fact that the present prime minister, who claims to be well traveled, has declined to make the short trip to speak to us at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. In fact, I can only be saddened at how the government is not only secretive with the foreign press, but with its own citizens.

In the past five years, I’ve been up and down the Japanese archipelago, and – unlike in Tokyo – I’ve never had anyone, from Hokkaido to Kyushu, accuse me of writings that were hostile to Japan. On the contrary, I’ve been blessed with interesting stories and enjoyable people everywhere. Japan is still one of the most wealthy, open nations in the world; it’s a pleasant place to live and report from for foreign correspondents.

My hope is that foreign journalists – and even more importantly, the Japanese public – can continue to speak their minds. I believe that harmony should not come from repression or ignorance; and that a truly open and healthy democracy is a goal worthy of my home of the last five great years.

Carsten Germis was the Tokyo correspondent of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from 2010 to 2015 and a member of the Board of Directors of the FCCJ.

ENDS

19 comments on “FCCJ’s Number One Shimbun on how GOJ is leaning on critical foreign correspondents (incl. accusing them of being on Chinese payroll!)

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I’d also like to add that it should be no surprise to hear that the current administration is so paranoid and defensive. After all, they are following the tome and ‘management’ culture set by the man at the top- Shinzo Abe.

    And let’s have a look at how paranoid and defensive Abe has been recently, shall we?
    1. In the run up to the snap-election last year, threw a temper tantrum on live TV news because he felt that their street interview segment was deliberately biased against him, and not fair. Leading to…
    2. The Abe administration sending a ‘memo’ explaining in that divergent narratives would be looked on disaprovingly, oh, and please be fair!
    3. Then, a university student set up a fake website criticizing ‘Abenomics’ in the style of an elementary school kid. Abe blew his top and declared that this was ‘dastardly’ and clearly co-ordinated by his professional political opponents (it doesn’t seem to have even occurred to him that the citizenry might have an opinion he didn’t force feed them).
    4. Southern All-Stars appear on Kohaku Uta-Gassen, and change the lyrics of their song to criticize Abe. Abe’s friend Momii at NHK ensures the segment is cut from re-runs and pay-per-view versions.
    5. Southern All-Stars do it again a few days later at a live concert that Abe is present at (shows an alarming lack of situational awareness on his part), leaving him ‘visibly shaken’ (poor flower).

    So really, what kind of leader is this?
    Has little understanding of the function of the constitution as a tool for the people to limit the power of the government, and ignores it at his will. In fact, he has an expressed desire to revise the constitution into a document that is a tool for the government to remove the power of the people.
    Is driven psychologically by outdated and rose-tinted views of Japanese Imperialism, and familial shame that he believes is unjustified ‘victors justice’.
    And on these issues is loud, proud, strong, and immune to criticism. But personal attacks on him as an individual seem to deeply upset him and cause him to lose his composure? How bizarre, but also, how vain. And Abe is ever so vain in action and policy.

  • Japan’s broken promises of NJ promotions and rights, plus cuts in pay and hours, employers avoiding to pay mandatory insurance etc are partly why so many of us now are either developing the Chinese market, or have relocated there. If company income derives from China equals Chinese “payroll” then, most of the world is on it, and Japan Inc is largely to blame.

    If the lot of an NJ has no human rights or benefits, then it all becomes purely about the money, and if China are paying more, then that is the direction their business will take them.

    Loyalty to the Japanese Empire will take more than a couple of lunches. And the fact remains, in journalism, especially the western press, even “friendship” means not merely being a yes man, a lap gaijin, to GOJ holocaust denial.

    Like he says at the end, it is worse in Tokyo, which I would like to hear more about-are other parts of Japan more open minded? I can only say I have experienced it in Okinawa (where older people were even talking about secession from Japan and their own state, etc).

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    GOJ’s counter-bashing or NJ journalist witch hunting is getting so tedious. Seeing from the vantage point, their chauvinistic attitude and Chinese paranoia are just plain dumb and absurd. I remembered I had a debate with one Japanese guy (pro-Abe, right-wing) about Ayako Sono’s Japarteid article in the facebook a couple of months ago. He made the series of Chinese conspiracy non-sense–like NYT is owned by Chinese (which is absolutely BS). He apparently did not like my critique of Sono’s fallacy argument, yet unable to refuse the point directly. Instead, he criticized me for “changing her language” (huh?) to humiliate her to embarrassment. He also accused me of not ‘understanding’ (Sono’s clumsy use of) Japanese language. Really funny people like this right-wing troll really believe those who argue against Japan or GOJ are in cahoots with Chinese spy or anti-Japanese. Well, maybe I will call myself JBA (Japanese Bad Ass) someday.

    I have been in Japan for plenty of years, seeing the decline of moral integrity of national government. It just keeps getting worse and worse as we turn the chapter to the Lost Decade III. Maybe, NJ journalists can write tons of articles about the absurdity of Abe administration and Nagatacho Wrecking Crew in the alternative media–instead of traditional media outlets. Or should they create their own Opt-out Movement (https://twitter.com/hashtag/optout?src=hash) to boycott Japan’s soft power?

  • j_jobseeker says:

    “I believe that harmony should not come from repression or ignorance; and that a truly open and healthy democracy is a goal worthy of my home of the last five great years.”

    Sadly, PM Abe and his ilk feel that a harmonious society is a function of a authoritative elite and, more importantly, an acquiescent citizenry. Thanks for posting this Debito. I’m spreading it to my SNS.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Abe’s at it again- he can’t take personal criticism.

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/10/national/politics-diplomacy/popular-news-program-hit-by-ldp-demand-for-neutral-coverage-of-abenomics/

    ‘In the document, the LDP claimed Hodo Station on Nov. 24 gave the impression to viewers that Abe’s economic policies were only of benefit to large companies and rich people’.

    Ah, so now if you say that you aren’t benefitting from Abenomics, this is dissent! Sedition, I tell you!

  • Accusing German journalists of being paid by Chinese. The same Chinese that are paying their tourist money in Japan. Kind of ironic isn’t it. Oh and I don’t know if I should include this. But German’s largest daily newspaper has criticized Japan for distorting history:

    http://world.kbs.co.kr/english/news/news_In_detail.htm?lang=e&id=In&No=109900&current_page=

    KBS World-German Media Criticizes Japan’s Distortion of History

    “German media have criticized Japan’s altering of history textbooks, saying the Shinzo Abe administration is bending facts.

    The Süddeutsche Zeitung, German’s largest daily subscription newspaper, published a story on Japan’s creation of textbooks with skewed facts, accusing Abe of distorting history.

    The report also said the Abe administration had partly succeeded in making the country’s younger generations believe they should be proud of their national history, rather than critical of it.

    Another paper, Der Tagesspiegel, shed light on Japan’s history textbooks, saying that right-wing historians were again becoming influential in Japan.

    It also said Japan’s stance on territorial issues has not changed and that criticism from South Korea and China has had little effect on the administration.

    Die Tageszeitung also reported earlier this week that Japan was creating conflict with neighboring countries by downplaying its crimes during World War II.”

    Debito, Japan is also antagonizing South Korea again but not only on Dokdo/Takeshima Island but do you know about the controversy about the Gaya Confederacy and Mimana:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaya_confederacy#Mimana_controversy

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimana

    Yes, although it’s already been acknowledged that Japan could not have set up a ancient outpost during ancient time. Japan is trying to fire up the controversy again by distorting history again:

    http://www.arirang.co.kr/News/News_View.asp?nseq=178447

    http://world.kbs.co.kr/english/news/news_Po_detail.htm?lang=e&id=Po&No=109866&current_page=

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    LDP racketeers summoned CEOs of NHK and TV Asahi to the Diet over ‘fixing’ and political intervention. Indeed, Abe administration thinks they have the right to regulate free speech–if it demerits their political views.

    http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20150417-00000027-mai-pol

    I think we just need more Henry David Thoreau type to speak out against the tyranny of state intervention–or someone like ex-METI bureau Shigeaki Koga.

    http://www.ndtv.com/world-news/political-pressure-building-on-japanese-media-expert-755469

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVdaxxJqQOM

  • @ #7:

    Jim, Japan Times is not the only one that has reported on Abe’s media censorship. Arirang TV from South Korea took notice of it too:

    http://www.arirang.co.kr/News/News_View.asp?nseq=178700

    And at the end of the video, Arirang News mention about the German Journalist (the same one in Debito’s article). Also Reuters has reported back in Feb about Japanese media self-censorship increased under Abe’s administration:

    http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/02/24/us-japan-media-idUKKBN0LS0SP20150224

    This doesn’t surprised me because I did some research and how many of you are familiar with Japan’s “money politics” corruption?

    http://thediplomat.com/2014/11/money-politics-in-japan/

    I think there’s allegation that the Japanese media self-censorship could probably be connected to JPN government informal alliances with the media, read this article from 2003:

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/EH05Dh02.html

    I’ll quote this part of the article:

    “The media are unfortunately not particularly effective in stirring things up either: informal alliances between exclusive press clubs and key government ministries also hamper accountability, with journalist clubs often holding press conferences for their affiliated ministries. This has upset the European Union, which has been pressing for the 800 or so press clubs to be scrapped, calling them “restraints on the free trade in information”.”

    Jim, I can’t confirmed if the Japanese media self-censorship is connected to the Japanese government unholy alliances with the media. But I do suspect it (and I wouldn’t be surprised if my suspicion is correct) because as that Japan Times article you linked said:

    “Because it is the LDP, because it is the ruling party (making this request), the TV stations are reluctant or too fearful to say no,” Koga said. “Top executives in very large mass media companies seem to be getting closer and closer, on a personal basis, to members of the government. They seem to be suriyoru (snuggling up) to people in power,” Koga said.

    “Had it been another party that had instructed them to come and talk to them, they might have said no. But because it is the LDP and the LDP is basically the ruling government, the TV stations cannot turn down this request.

    “Because they have very close ties, they feel very proud that they are at the heart of power, that they are moving things in the country, that they are very influential.”

    This affects reporters in the field, Koga said, because it can prompt them to rein in coverage that might upset the government. “The question reporters are forced to ask themselves is: Will my corporate executives protect me or will they come down on me hard?” Koga said.”

    So something tells me the LDP may be throwing in money (aka bribing) to the boss/CEOs of mass media to make sure the LDP voices get out and nobody else that is not LDP to get a voice.

  • Here is another ironic development that could be related to the GOJ’s attempts to gain control of the local English-language press.

    On April 9, a subsidiary of Fuji Media Holdings, which controls Fuji Television, bought GPlus Media operator of some of Japan’s largest English-language media websites. Among others, this includes Japan’s largest English news site JapanToday, the nation’s largest online portal Gaijin Pot, and Tokyo Insight.

    Fuji Television has a reputation as having a cozy relationship with the LDP. It has had some of the most LDP-friendly news programming of any television media outlet, and was a favorite of Shintaro Ishihara during his days in the limelight.

    Anyway, I am not sure how much control Fuji Media will exert over these English-media sites, implicit or explicit, but I do find it worrisome in light of MOFA’s aim of encouraging a “correct understanding by international society” of the Japan’s history and territorial claims.

    Here is the press release: http://blog.gplusmedia.com/en/gplus-media-acquired-by-fuji-media-holdings-group-company/

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Bill #10,

    That’s interesting. I’ve noticed the moderators at Japan Today complaining about posters ‘bashing Abe’, as being off topic on threads about Abe/Abenomics/Japanese government issues/historical revision issues.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Remember all those stories that the erection of Korean sex-slave memorial statues in the US was leading to Japanese children to be bullied?
    Turns out that not one complaint was ever made to the police.
    The Japanese consulate has records of the incidents, and therefore is taking action, but none of the ‘victims’ can be named, identified, or contacted.
    The whole story, therefore, rests on whether we believe the Japanese consulate in Glendale that passed this ‘story’ on to the Fujisankei group.

    I’m forced to suspect that this is just another bungled attempt by inept Japanese officials of making another front on the anti-Korean sex-slave history denial campaign.

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/25/national/media-national/u-s-towns-pulled-japanese-politics/

  • Baudrillard says:

    thats classic J doublespeak, because there are NO victims, “none of the ‘victims’ can be named, identified, or contacted.”

    Uso mo houben, though they could argue its not exactly a lie, just misleading-but then, foreigners cannot understand Japanese thinking, yada yada

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    We’ve seen representatives of the Abe administration attempting to bully US academics and German journalists, and we all know they’ve been bullying the domestic press with demands for ‘fair coverage’, and repeated attacks on the Asahi newspaper.

    Well, here’s what it’s come to;

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/29/national/crime-legal/former-asahi-reporters-comfort-women-libel-suit-begins/

    It’s not only ‘acceptable’ for right-wingers to threaten journalists who write articles that they don’t agree with, send threats to the universities that they work at when they leave journalism, but also send death threats to their children who were unborn at the time the (offending) article was written!

    “I will kill his (Uemura’s) daughter without fail. I will kill her no matter how many years might take. I will kill her at any cost.”
    “Bullying her is an act of patriotism”

    Abe’s dangerous bully pulpit enables and facilitates absolute crazies to commit crimes.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    After Abe ‘summons’ NHK execs about actors pretending to be criminals in news reports, and Asahi execs for being surprised that a guest they cut due to government pressure criticized Abe on TV after learning that he was cut, it’s easy to see this is a sham.

    Abe government cheerleader NHK concludes that there was no problem;
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/28/national/nhk-inverstigation-finds-excessive-staging-fraud-documentary-program/

    Asahi has to punish people for not reacting as the government likes to being punished;
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/29/national/tv-asahi-punishes-execs-ex-ministry-officials-anti-abe-outburst-hodo-station/

  • Followup on GOJ pressure on foreign correspondents in the Asahi:
    ===============

    German journalist’s parting shot to Abe over press freedom causes stir
    Asahi Shinbun AJW: April 28, 2015
    By TORU TAMAKAWA/ Correspondent
    http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201504280075

    FRANKFURT–A correspondent for a major German newspaper said his “confessions” about coming under attack from the Japanese Foreign Ministry were written as a final message to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

    Carsten Germis, 56, who had been the Tokyo correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) daily since January 2010, left Japan in April this year.

    Before his departure, he contributed an article to the April edition of Number 1 Shimbun put out by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

    In the English-language article, the journalist described the suffocating atmosphere for reporters under the Abe administration. He also said a Foreign Ministry official complained that China took advantage of one of his articles for anti-Japan propaganda, and that money was likely involved.

    His entire contribution to Number 1 Shimbun was translated into Japanese by philosopher Tatsuru Uchida and posted on his blog. The translation caused a stir on the Internet.

    While Foreign Ministry officials have denied the allegations, Germis stands by what he wrote.

    “From 2014, the Abe administration changed their strategy completely: They attack the foreign media,” Germis told The Asahi Shimbun.

    He said he was initially hesitant about writing the article out of concerns that it would be seen as “Japan-bashing.” But he said he felt he had to write about what he experienced.

    “It would be my last message to him,” Germis said, referring to Abe.

    His article that triggered direct criticism from government officials appeared in the Aug. 14, 2014, edition of the German newspaper.

    The gist of the article was that the Abe administration was trying to revise history, and that Japan was becoming increasingly isolated while South Korea and China moved closer.

    In the Number 1 Shimbun contribution, Germis wrote that the consul general of Japan based in Frankfurt visited the FAZ head office to object to the article.

    The consul general emphasized that China was using the article as anti-Japan propaganda, and that he could not help suspect that money was somehow involved, according to Germis. The consul general went on to say that the correspondent likely wrote a pro-Chinese article because he needed a visa to visit China, the article in the Number 1 Shimbun said.

    Germis described the consul general’s remark about money as “insulting me, the editor and the entire paper.”

    “Not only have I never been (to China), but I’ve never even applied for a visa,” he wrote.

    Peter Sturm, the Asia editor of FAZ, told The Asahi Shimbun that Hideyuki Sakamoto, the consul general in Frankfurt, visited the FAZ head office on Aug. 28, 2014, and suggested that an objective of Germis’ article was to obtain a visa for China.

    According to Sturm, 56, who was Germis’ superior at the time, the last time a government official visited the paper to issue a direct protest was when a North Korean official complained about an article.

    Sturm, who described Sakamoto’s German as fluent, quoted the consul general as saying, “It appears there is a bribe from China in the background.”

    The editor said: “I confirmed that point with him a number of times. There was no way I could have misheard what he said.”

    Sakamoto had a different recollection of what transpired in the FAZ head office.

    “I never said that he received any money,” Sakamoto said in response to questions from The Asahi Shimbun. “The topic of the visa emerged when we were talking about media control in China, but I never said anything about Germis himself trying to obtain a visa. I can only conclude that (Sturm) made his comment based on assumptions.”

    In Tokyo, Takako Ito, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s International Press Division, backed Sakamoto.

    “I believe that the utmost respect must be paid to freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” Ito said. “However, when reports based on misunderstanding of the facts appear, there are occasions when we will state our case based on objective facts. It is unfortunate that misunderstandings have arisen (over Germis’ article).

    “It is not true that money was mentioned, and I have heard that the misunderstanding has been resolved through discussions between the consul general and FAZ.”

    However, Kenta Yamada, a professor of media law at Tokyo’s Senshu University, said: “The actions by high-ranking Foreign Ministry officials come under publicity because they are meant to highlight only the good points of the government, but those officials may have mistakenly believed that (their actions) were public relations.

    “There is a strong possibility that many journalists hold highly critical views of informal publicity activity by the government, so such actions may even worsen the image held of Japan.”
    ENDS
    ===============

    Feedback to the article in Asahi’s online comments:

    ===============
    Reinhard Weth · Riechheim, Thuringen, Germany
    In case it is true what Carsten Germis and the Editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) has made public – then the words of the Consul General of Japan in Frankfurt used in his discussion with the FAZ were not only an insult towards the dignity of one of the world’s most wellknown newspapers and a highly respected international journalist but also a totally unacceptable attack against the freedom of press and opinion – committed by a high ranking official of the Japanese government! It also would be totally unacceptable that the Japanese Foreign Office has declared that “it is unfortunate that misunderstandings have arisen” and that they “have heard that such differences have been resolved through discussions between the Consul General and FAZ”. We now desire to know the whole truth from both parties: the Japanese government AND the FAZ MUST let us know what REALLY happened in Frankfurt – so that such things will not reoccur again! It also is very unprofessional when actions of this kind, if committed by Japanese officials, are considered as “public relations” in the interest of Japan. No – affairs like these are more capable of damaging both the relations between Germany and Japan and the worldwide image of Japan – the country we love deeply and whose position we always desire to “protect”.
    –Reinhard R. Weth, German-Japanese Society Erfurt/Germany
    ===============
    ENDS

  • On a related note, NYT reports on how Abe’s Admin is intimidating Japanese media:
    =============================

    Effort by Japan to Stifle News Media Is Working
    By MARTIN FACKLER, The New York Times, APRIL 26, 2015, courtesy of JF

    TOKYO — It was an unexpected act of protest that shook Japan’s carefully managed media world: Shigeaki Koga, a regular television commentator and fierce critic of the political establishment, abruptly departed from the scripted conversation during a live TV news program to announce that this would be his last day on the show because, as he put it, network executives had succumbed to political pressure for his removal.

    “I have suffered intense bashing by the prime minister’s office,” Mr. Koga told his visibly flabbergasted host late last month, saying he had been removed as commentator because of critical statements he had made about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Later in the program, Mr. Koga held up a sign that read “I am not Abe,” a play on the slogan of solidarity for journalists slain in January at a French satirical newspaper.

    Japan Ruling Party Panel Summons Media Bosses Over News Shows APRIL 15, 2015
    Japanese Media Self-Censorship Grows in Shinzo Abe’s Reign FEB. 24, 2015

    The outburst created a public firestorm, and not only because of the spectacle of Mr. Koga, a dour-faced former top government official, seemingly throwing away his career as a television commentator in front of millions of viewers. His angry show of defiance also focused national attention on the right-leaning government’s increased strong-arming of the news media to reduce critical coverage.

    Many journalists and political experts say the Abe government is trying to engineer a fundamental shift in the balance of power between his administration and the news media, using tactics to silence criticism that go beyond anything his predecessors tried and that have frustrated many journalists. These have included more aggressive complaints to the bosses of critical journalists and commentators like Mr. Koga, and more blatant retaliation against outlets that persist in faulting the administration. At the same time, Mr. Abe has tried to win over top media executives and noted journalists with private sushi lunches.

    The prime minister, who arrived in the United States on Sunday for a weeklong visit, has also appointed a new chairman to the national public broadcaster, NHK, who has declared that the network will not deviate too far from the government’s views. Members of the Abe government have openly hinted at revoking the broadcasting licenses of overly critical networks under a law that requires that TV news reports not intentionally twist facts.

    Mr. Abe’s efforts have had a chilling effect on coverage at a time when he is pushing ahead with a conservative agenda to dismantle the nation’s postwar pacifist consensus and put forth more positive portrayals of Japan’s World War II-era behavior. Experts warn that muzzling the press makes it easier for the government to make big changes that might not enjoy broad popular support, such as rewriting the pacifist Constitution, or even restarting the nation’s stalled nuclear industry.

    “The Abe government is showing an obsession with the media that verges on paranoia,” said Keigo Takeda, a former editor in chief at Newsweek Japan who is now a respected freelance journalist. “I have never seen this level of efforts to micromanage specific newspapers and TV programs.”

    While government officials deny that they are trying to curtail free speech, many journalists, commentators and media experts say the government campaign has already tempered coverage of the Abe government. They say that even once feisty outlets like Hodo Station, the news program that had used Mr. Koga as a commentator, are now censoring their own coverage or removing critical voices to avoid drawing official ire.

    Some criticism has also fallen on news outlets for rolling over without a fight, particularly since some of these tactics are considered routine in other democracies, like the United States. Many major news organizations have been accused of self-censorship, bringing renewed attention on what experts here say is a weak tradition among the Japanese press of serving as a watchdog on power.

    The governing party is acting “like a bully who says, ‘Hey, I don’t like what you said, so meet me behind the gym,’ ” said Yukio Edano, a senior opposition lawmaker. “And the ones who meekly obey also lack self-respect as press organizations.”

    This is a point conceded by many Japanese journalists, who say they have no choice but to get along with a prime minister who appears set to remain in power for several years in the absence of credible opposition. Other journalists say they do not want to suffer the fate of The Asahi Shimbun, a liberal newspaper that came under fierce criticism last fall and seemed to capitulate by cutting back on critical, investigative coverage of sensitive issues like the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.

    Scholars describe a mood of fear spreading beyond the news media into the broader society, including in education where the Abe government is pressing textbook publishers to adhere more closely to the official line on topics like the 1937 Nanjing massacre and the use of so-called comfort women in wartime military brothels.

    “These unprecedented attacks on The Asahi and other media are creating a closed conformity in which the whole society is becoming afraid to say something different,” said Tatsuro Hanada, a professor of media studies at Waseda University in Tokyo. “Abe is adeptly using this for his own political ends.”

    Mr. Koga’s accusations offer a rare glimpse of how a formerly hard-hitting news program appears to have toned down its coverage.

    While never a favorite of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, Hodo Station felt the pressure rise after a show in late January in which Mr. Koga criticized Mr. Abe’s handling of a hostage crisis in Syria that resulted in the deaths of the two Japanese captives. Mr. Koga and employees of the network that airs Hodo Station, TV Asahi, who asked not to be identified because they were still working there, said that before the program was even over, the network’s political reporters were getting angry calls and emails from political secretaries in the prime minister’s office.

    They said the tactic seemed to succeed in turning network reporters against Hodo Station, which has a separate production staff. The reporters and their editors demanded that the program show them its scripts beforehand to ensure that coverage was “balanced,” something Hodo Station’s producer resisted. The government stepped up the pressure against the show again in February, when a top official in the Abe government, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, used an off-record briefing with journalists to speak scathingly of the “completely mistaken” comments about the hostage incident by a “television commentator.”

    According to a transcript of the Feb. 24 briefing, Mr. Suga warned that the network might have broken the law by airing the comments. “If it were me, I’d tell them that they violated the broadcast law,” Mr. Suga said, laughing, according to the transcript.

    Mr. Koga and others said the transcript had made its way to TV Asahi’s chairman, Hiroshi Hayakawa. “This was a warning to TV Asahi to get rid of me,” Mr. Koga said. “Suga knew this memo would be seen by all major news outlets, and be shown to Chairman Hayakawa.”

    Mr. Koga said that that was exactly what happened. In February, after three and a half years of appearing at least once a month as a commentator on Hodo Station, he found out that he would no longer be back on the show. At about the same time, another critical commentator and a producer who had refused to give in to the political pressure were also removed from the show.

    Mr. Koga said that move led to his outburst on March 27, his final appearance as commentator.

    The network refused interview requests. Its chairman, Mr. Hayakawa, denied in a news conference that political pressure had played a role in what he called a routine decision to change the lineup of commentators. Mr. Suga has told reporters that Mr. Koga’s charges of political pressure were “baseless.”

    Still, the governing party is keeping up the pressure, summoning TV Asahi executives two weeks ago to explain how Mr. Koga was allowed to make his accusations on live television. The party explained the summons by saying that those accusations may themselves have violated the broadcast law.

    “Some don’t like his method, but Mr. Koga did draw public attention to the Abe government’s pressure on the media,” said Takashi Uesugi, a media critic and one-time researcher at The New York Times who runs an independent online news program. “This was an inconvenient truth for both the government and the self-censoring journalists.”

    =======================
    A version of this article appears in print on April 27, 2015, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: In Japan, Bid to Stifle Criticism Is Working.
    ENDS

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Hi all,

    As many of you probably know, PM Abe made his speech at joint Congress Session at the US Capitol in Washington DC on April 29 (on 30th in JST). He didn’t disappoint us in his speech (well, his thick accent didn’t bother him and his audience at all). Epideictic form of rhetoric is pretty much useful to please his American audience(GOP-led Congress), such as laying on thick with his gratitude to those who contributed to successful diplomatic friendship (e.g., mentioning the names of Mike Mansfield, Walter Mondale, Tom Foley, and Caroline Kennedy). He also brought the spectacle of prosperity, peace, and national security to emphasize bi-lateral relationship as a key to successful economic development in Asia/Pacific region, which led to his ‘pro-active’ call for joining in Trans-Pacific Partnerships agreement. His epideictic rhetoric also covered his tribute and condolence to the sacrifice of US soldiers in WWII–despite conflict of interest in his selective memories of wartime, about America’s chief role in leading the world for the proliferation of peace, economic prosperity and international security.

    As an ambitious, reform-minded CEO of ‘ABEARSON Inc.,’ or a humbled ‘gaijin’ handler, Abe defanged himself like Dr. Kitaoka. He stayed focused on the podium to achieve his main goals in his speech. They are to 1)re-confirm friendship to wash away the criticism over diplomatic intervention in historical dispute; 2) emphasize Japan’s pro-active role in aligning with US-led initiative to create a pan-Pacific economic bloc to counter China; and 3)please GOP-led Congress to share his ethos for ideological underpinning of free market/free trade for jump-start of national economy.

    He has no idea how many of those on both sides are actually supporting TPP. It’s quite low–much lower than FTA/GATT when Bill Clinton was president in 1994. In both US and Japan, reform and globalization are two key lexicons national politicians and business/economic conglomerates use for the creation of national narrative. This is nothing new. Taste ‘globalicious’ to them, but it’s yuck to so many ordinary people whose lives have little or no connection with those in top 5%. His words of economic prosperity and national security are derived from his landmark Abenomics speech in June 2013. But he certainly has no idea how his words of reform are grounded from cultural logic of global social order that empowers corporations–not collective common–for exploitation of labor and (un)equal distribution of capital and wealth.

    For more, see Abe’s speech at

    http://www.c-span.org/video/?325576-2/japanese-prime-minister-shinzo-abe-addresses-joint-meeting-congress

    and Japan’s involvement in TPP at

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/whats-trans-pacific-partnership-u-s-japan/

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