Japan: Pulling the Strings

Politics in Japan is not without its drama, as events of the last week [ja] amply demonstrate.

The ruckus started on Friday, when Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) met with Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) President Ozawa Ichiro to discuss ways to resolve differences over Diet proceedings, deadlocked since the recent Upper House elections. The temptation to find common cause in a difficult political situation led party leaders to propose the formation of an LDP/DJP “grand coalition“, an idea which Ozawa's party — and, as it turns out, a majority of the general publicwould have none of. The plan was thus scrapped, prompting Ozawa, in the spirit of his nickname and to the great consternation of the party faithful, to offer his resignation, taking the opportunity in the process to trash his own party. Turmoil followed, some contemplating the end of an era, but eventually Ozawa was back in the seat again, eating his words, and talk of a grand coalition returned to the backrooms [ja].

Ozawa the “Destroyer”
Ozawa the “Destroyer” (photo by nofrills)

Ozawa vs. Yomiuri/Nabetsune

Not quite as widely covered (at least in English) as the aftermath of the coalition negotiations was the story of the mediator in the deal-to-be, Yomiuri Shimbun editor-in-chief Watanabe Tsuneo (a.k.a Nabetsune), head of the newspaper with the largest circulation in the world and recipient of this year's Media Person of the Year Award. While he celebrated his award, some bloggers wondered about what Japan's largest media baron was doing facilitating a backroom deal [ja] between the country's two largest political parties. Was it just a coincidence that coverage differed so much between major newspapers?

Blogger pgn62934 reflects on the need for neutrality in news coverage:


In all the noise this time about Ozawa, what surprised me the most was the fact that the main culprit, the one who set up the grand coalition, was Nabetsune. Surrounded by journalists feeling intoxicated, complaining about pro baseball — this same Nabetsune also had an influence on the world of politics. While the story exposes a shortfall in human resources in the political community, the fact that he worked together with former Prime Ministers Nakasone of the supreme order of the chrysanthemum, and the self proclaimed king-maker Mori, also indicates the problems caused by the elderly in the world of politics.


Yomiuri Shimbun, the newspaper company where Nabetsune currently serves as chief editor, takes pride in having the largest circulation in the world, but an evaluation coming from a world in which sales are forced through is not that impressive. Even now they say that Nabetsune is still writing the skeleton of the editorials, and within the company he acts like it is a dictatorship. If an 80-year-old geezer rules the roost within the company, then there must really be no human resources at Yomiuri. Is it just a coincidence that there is not even a single active commentator on TV today who started at Yomiuri?


Now, at a time when neutrality is being demanded of the media, it is bizarre that critical voices are not being raised from within the media.

Blogger JJ8KGZ, meanwhile, complains about the one-sided coverage of Yomiuri Shimbun:

一番嫌いな新聞は読売新聞。 今回の事で国民に、読者に謝罪しなければならない事があるんじゃないのかな〜。 ナベツネさんはもうそろそろ引っ込んで欲しいな。元共産党員の辣腕ジャーナリストが何であんな強欲爺さんになっちゃったんだろ? ニッポン放送も今回の件で御用メディア振りを大いに発揮してくれた。読売テレビの解説員の辛坊治郎の顔はもう見たくもない。フジテレビもあれだけ民主党を非難しておいて、小沢氏が抗議したら翌日の「トクダネ」で、解説者が見苦しい言い訳をしていた。30分番組の内の15分がコマーシャルっていうのもフジテレビの特徴。今度ストップウォッチを手にして図ってみてください。

Yomiuri is the newspaper I hate the most. Shouldn't there be an apology made in this case to Japanese citizens and to [Yomiuri] readers? I wish Mr. Nabetsune would retire one of these days. Why has this shrewd journalist formerly of the Communist Party become such a greedy old man? Nippon Broadcasting System has pulled off a great act in this incident waiting on him as if they were his faithful media. I'm sick of seeing the face of the Yomiuri television commentator Shinbou Jirou (辛坊治郎). Fuji television also did nothing but criticize the Democratic Party, and whenever Ozawa protested something, the next day in their “special scoop”, the commentators would made terrible remarks about it. Out of 30 minutes of program, 15 minutes are commercials, that's also a characteristic of Fuji television. Measure it with a stopwatch next time and see.

Blogger Blue Journal, finally, discusses more generally the place of media in society:


A certain degree of distance is required between the people who cover the news and those who are covered in the news. While there is a difference in territory [between the two], there is also from the beginning a difference in awareness. It's not a matter of which one is good or bad. Because those who cover the news are not actually dealing with the people right in front of their eyes, they are dealing with the people who are behind them. Regardless of which way they are facing, their heart must be directed behind them. Behind them is the crowd of ordinary people, and this is the target that journalism must come face-to-face with.

ボクがどうして取材特権のようなものを持ち、新車に早く触れることができ、メーカーのクルマを乗っていられるのか? それはボクの後ろにいる人たちを代表しているからに他ならない。そもそも何の国家資格があるわけでもなく、免許を持っているわけでもない。

Why do I have this special privilege of being able to cover [the news], of getting my hands early on the brand new car, of getting to ride in the car of the car manufacturer? The reason is that I am representing the people behind me, and nothing else. It's not that I even have some national qualification or some kind of license.



This guy Nabetsune, Watanabe Tsuneo of Yomiuri Shimbun, that he was a politician is something that I think everybody knows. However, he does not wear the badge of an assembly member, and he does not have an assembly member's bag either. He got to where he is as a voice of opinion — i.e. a journalist — within a newspaper company, while also having the sense of a politician. So the fact that he is gloomy about the current political situation, and that he would try to attempt to forge ahead with a plan to put together Ultra C, or what has been called the grand coalition, I can really understand this.


I understand [what he is doing], but it is not the fundamental orientation of journalism. To do journalism is to take the place of ordinary persons and, representing them, cover the news. That information is of course conveyed, but the ultimate judgment is something that should be made by the people. [The journalist] should consistently act as the representative of the people, but should not consciously agitate things. To try to control what it is that you are covering is something much more, this is something completely different.


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