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  • Kambayashi Column: Self-censoring media abets incompetent politicians.

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on May 4th, 2009

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    Hi Blog. In concert with yesterday’s blog posting on politicians hijacking events for their own ends, here’s Takehiko Kambayashi on how the media lets them hijack their airwaves and printing presses without sufficient critique, letting the incompetent drift to the top. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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    Self-censoring media abets incompetent politicians.
    THE DIPLOMAT
    By Takehiko Kambayashi 30-Apr-2009

    http://www.the-diplomat.com/article.aspx?aeid=13420
    Courtesy of the author.

    Media outlets here have been heralding an apparent jump in the approval ratings of Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Cabinet, with a recent poll by major daily The Sankei Shimbun and the Fuji News Network suggesting that 28.2 percent of Japanese approve of the government’s performance, up from 20.8 percent in late March. But what the media doesn’t want to talk about is the 60 percent of those surveyed who still disapprove of the Cabinet.

    Aso continues to struggle to win over the rest of the Japanese public because of his lack of leadership and because of his predilection for embarrassing himself. But this begs the question: why was such a weak and controversial politician able to climb to the top of the political heap in the first place?

    Putting his foot in his mouth is hardly a recent problem for Aso. As a candidate in the 2001 Liberal Democratic Party presidential elections, for example, he suggested to reporters at the Foreign Correspondent Club in Tokyo that the best country would be one “where the richest Jewish people would want to live.”

    He later apologized. But he hardly needed to, because the Japanese media ignored this blatant example of bigotry from the then-economics minister of the world’s second largest economy – a man who went on to serve as the country’s top diplomat under two prime ministers. Fortunately for Aso, the media in Japan censors itself even when politicians err blatantly.

    A prime example of this kid-glove approach with Aso came in July 2006, when prominent journalist Ryuichi Teshima, a former Washington bureau chief for state broadcaster NHK, praised Aso for his “steadiness” as foreign minister in a “time of crisis,” following an attempted North Korean missile launch earlier that month.

    Nonsense. A string of gaffes convincingly demonstrate Aso’s tin ear for diplomacy and international affairs, not least when dealing with Japan’s supposed allies. For instance, Aso has argued that U.S. diplomats in the Middle East can’t solve the region’s problems because of their “blue eyes and blond hair.” He said the Japanese would be more likely to be trusted because they have “yellow faces.” Yet this stunning display of ignorance elicited barely a murmur from the mainstream Japanese media. And sadly, this is hardly an isolated case. Every news outlet scrambles to follow LDP politicians around, and the LDP in turn loves the attention its lawmakers get. This is especially true during elections for the party leadership, when its candidates often get a free ride in newspapers and on television, with the pervasive coverage serving to boost the LDP’s popularity even though the vast majority of the public do not even have a say in choosing the party’s leader.

    Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a case in point. He took office in 2006 with great fanfare and approval ratings that hovered around 65 percent. But his treatment during the LDP leadership contest was telling. During an “NHK Special” aired before the race, reporter Akiko Iwata bragged about her interview with Abe, saying as she sat on his couch that such media access was almost impossible to get. Yet Iwata, who ostensibly became a journalist because she wanted to work for “social justice,” proceeded to lob softball questions for the entire interview.

    Why doesn’t the media do its job? One reason is that it is common knowledge that, in the quirky world of Japanese journalism, when a politician is awarded an influential post, the reporter covering that politician earns a promotion.

    Yasushi Kawasaki, himself a former political reporter for NHK, told me that many political reporters become politicians of a sort themselves, seeking to bolster their backroom influence. Major news organizations are “in collusion with those in power.”

    Kawasaki is a refreshingly honest voice on the cozy relationship between the Japanese media and politicians. Unfortunately, it is also a very lonely voice.
    ENDS

    5 Responses to “Kambayashi Column: Self-censoring media abets incompetent politicians.”

    1. Al Says:

      Interesting article. Just hope the people who need to be reading it are – Japanese people.

    2. James N Says:

      What are the chances that a brand new cable news station being established in Japan that had zero connections to any political party or other news organizations whereby making the reporting from that outlet inherently independent of bias?

    3. DR Says:

      “Letting the incompetent drift to the top,” is called “The Peter Principle” in the business world, if my memory serves me correctly. Might I suggest that in the realm of Japanese politics we name it “The Taro Principle?”

    4. AWK Says:

      It seems in communistic Japan is the same way like with judges and prosecutors who gets promoted by sentencing someone. What the country! Besides, I spoke with nice Japanese guy whom I met first time. He was more aware of his own country mess. He asked me whether I like meat? I answered positive. He then told me to be careful about Japanese meat products which are often mislabeled. I was shocked hearing this advice from Japanese older, very nice man. I also spoke with Japanese lady who told me she will never eat Chinese products. Well, my point is that media here are very strong and controlled by GoJ. They can brain wash everyone very easy, but there are still people who are oriented what is going on in their own country. They don`t distinguish bad done by China or Japan, they seems to see these problems as problems regardless of the country done this. If there were more oriented people and see who really make more of crimes in Japan we wouldn`t be seen as criminals even though GoJ propaganda

    5. James Says:

      Well, from what I see, despite the criticism I have at the GOJ, I see no reason to believe that Japanese people would be especially evil, shortsighted, or anything else. I can vouch for it that centuries ago at least Europe fared little better.
      For me, it’s interesting to study. The more I see the Japanese structure at work, the more I get the impression that what I see is the result of what happens when you have all the basic human virtues and vices, but unchecked by a framework of principles that basically say that there are some things you simply do not do, and that it’s vital to strike a balance between different kinds of good and evil at the same time. A good press is one of those checks and balances.
      An old Chinese proverb says: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” All too often, all around the world, this is interpreted to mean that others should light the candle. But I digress.
      Here, hopefully I do see a candle. Sometimes I find a few more, not just in and about Japan, but everywhere, and in every circumstance.
      Maybe we can do something to light some more candles. For now, I cherish this one.

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