Economist on J Media (particularly political collusion between LDP, DPJ, and Yomiuri Shinbun!)

Hi Blog. Finally, we are getting the articles coming out that should have done so long ago–and would have been done if reporters were either competent or not complicit in the media machine. What follows is an excellent article in The Economist (London) on that very media machine in Japan, and how it meddles with the political process here. (Pity it’s only confined to the web–the weekly article from Japan in the print version was a different one about Ozawa only.)

Let’s hope The Economist or someoone else someday does an entire survey on the situation. This kind of corruption runs very, very deep in Japan, and will ultimately keep our country on its future path to economic obscurity (and an untoward degree of xenophobic isolation) unless something drastically changes in the power structure. Exposing it to the light of the media spotlight is one way. Have a read. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

(PS: I will be on the road for the next couple of days, and not sure how many blog updates I’ll be able to do. FYI)

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Asia.view: Japan’s media don
Nov 14th 2007 From Economist.com
http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10127783
Courtesy of DMG

Japan’s politics
The most powerful publisher you’ve never heard of
watanabetsuneo.tiff

FOR its Tokyo bureau The Economist rents a room in the headquarters of the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s most popular newspaper that also happens to own the country’s best-known baseball team. Or is it the other way around? Either way, the building brings to mind nothing commercial or sporting, but a vast government ministry in some bygone socialist country.

The floors are linoleum and the corridors endless, with way stations every 50 metres for smokers. The fourth floor boasts a proper newsroom; otherwise, with its fusty offices and featureless hallways, the place exudes the atmosphere of a massive, shabby bureaucracy.

The building boasts canteens, a phalanx of white-coated medical staff, a dormitory and even a proper bathhouse (for men only). The group has its own army of security guards, whose main job seems to be to stop you using the lift reserved for the chairman, 81-year-old Tsuneo Watanabe. His imperious arrival is heralded by bows and salutes.

The main difference between this building and a government ministry, however, is that Mr Watanabe is more powerful than almost any government minister in Japan could ever hope to be. Privately, Yomiuri journalists tell you that they have no choice but to follow the editorial line Mr Watanabe lays down. They are nowhere near as forthcoming to their readers.

Take the political farce of the past couple of weeks. On November 2nd Ichiro Ozawa, the fiery leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had seized control of the upper house of the Diet (parliament) in summer elections, sat down with the prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Hitherto, Mr Ozawa had promised voters that he would bring down the LDP-led government, win a general election and prove the DPJ was able to govern. November 2nd, by contrast, was spent cutting deals: what would he and his party get in return for bringing the DPJ into a “grand coalition” with the LDP? Mr Fukuda, it seems, offered him the post of deputy prime minister, among other goodies.

When Mr Ozawa brought the deal back to his party’s executive the following day, it was outraged. Mr Ozawa resigned. Lacking a suitable replacement, however, the party reinstated him. Mr Ozawa sounded uncharacteristically contrite, though his old form re-emerged when he railed at journalists who had reported that it was he, not Mr Fukuda, who had made the first approach about a grand coalition. A few days later, he backtracked, explaining that “a certain person” had mediated his first contact with Mr Fukuda about it. The certain person was in fact Mr Watanabe.

Mr Watanabe’s credentials to speak on behalf of the 71-year-old Mr Fukuda and other members of the LDP’s old guard who backed the idea of a grand coalition are not in doubt. In September, after Shinzo Abe suddenly resigned as prime minister, having suffered a loss of nerve that was aggravated by Mr Ozawa’s attacks, Mr Watanabe convened the crucial meeting of party kingmakers where Mr Fukuda was persuaded to run for the LDP presidency.

Not only have the Yomiuri’s readers been kept in the dark about these events, so largely have those of the paper’s four national rivals. All that has appeared so far is just two editorials politely questioning Mr Watanabe’s involvement. A quip among Japan’s political class is that editorials are read only by their authors.

Political and cultural factors produce such opacity: the mainstream media are neither analytical nor adversarial; less charitably, they mostly serve the ruling party. But there is also a commercial dimension. The three most successful dailies (the Yomiuri, the Asahi Shimbun and the Nikkei) have a common interest in putting the two smallest nationals (the Mainichi Shimbun and the Sankei Shimbun) out of business and are not inclined to antagonise each other—indeed they even share commercial ventures.

As for the smaller two, their revenues would be in even worse shape were it not for the system of price-fixing the government allows for the newspaper industry. The powerful Mr Watanabe protects the industry in government circles, allowing the anti-competitive status quo to persist.

Consequently, newspapers provide little criticism of Mr Watanabe, or of his string-pulling to create a grand coalition, born from his belief that the affairs of state should be left in the hands of a few experienced men without the messy distractions of democratic politics—just like the old-school LDP in the old days. Indeed, Mr Ozawa cut his political teeth in that school, and Mr Watanabe and his kind have long regarded the DPJ as just an errant LDP faction.

But a grand coalition is a terrible idea. It would leave Japan without an opposition to keep the government clean, and it would deprive voters of political choice: most Japanese oppose it. The advancement of the idea has brought out the incompetence of both main parties, reducing Japanese politics to farce. Might the arrogant Mr Watanabe be humbled by the experience? That, says Minoru Morita, a venerable commentator, would be like asking the sun to rise in the west.
ENDS

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