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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:

今回の小沢騒動で一番驚いたのが、大連立を仕掛けた張本人があのナベツネだったことである。ほろ酔い機嫌で記者団に囲まれて、フロ野球に苦言を呈していたナベツネさんが政界にも影響力を持っていたことである。政界の人材不足露呈した形だが、連携した政界人が大勲位の中曽根元首相や自称キングメーカーの森元首相だったことも、政界の老害を示した。

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.

ナヘツネが現役の主筆を勤める読売新聞は世界一の発行部数を誇っているが、押し込み販売などの世間の評価は高くない。ナベツネは今でも社説の骨子を書いていると言われ、社内では独裁体制を取っている。80才代のロートルに社内を牛耳られているのは、余程読売には人材がいないようだ。今テレビで活躍しているコメンテーターに1人も読売出身者がいないのは偶然だろうか

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?

メディアの中立性が要求される今、メディア内部から批判の声が挙がらないのは異様である。

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:

取材する側と取材される側には一定の距離が必要である。それは互いの守備範囲の違いもあるが、そもそも意識が違う。どっちがどうというのではない。取材する側が本当に相手にしているのは、目の前にいる誰かではなくて、自分の後ろにいる誰かだからだ。顔がどっちを向いているのかはともかく、心は後ろを向いているべきだ。自分の後ろにいる大勢の大衆こそ、ジャーナリズムが向き合わなければならないターゲットである。

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.

[…]

ナベツネという人、読売新聞の渡辺恒雄という人が、政治家だったというのはだれもが知っていることだろうと思う。ただ彼は議員バッチを付けるわけでもなく、議員のカバン持ちをするわけでもない。新聞社という会社の中に言論人=ジャーナリストとしての立場で、しかし政治家的意識を持って取り組んできたのだ。だから現在のような政治状況を憂い、大連立と呼ばれるようなウルトラCを作り上げようというプランを押し進めようというのは、よくわかる。

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.

わかるのではあるが、しかしそれは本来のジャーナリズムの方向性ではない。ジャーナリズムとは大衆の代わりに、代表して取材していく。その情報を当然流すわけだが、最終的な判断は大衆がするべきものだ。あくまで大衆の1代表でありつづけるべきであって、意識してアジテートしたりするべきではない。ましてや、その取材対象自体をコントロールしたりするのは、完全に違う。

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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