Reporting japanesepolitics


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Reporting japanesepolitics

  1. 1. Reporting Japanese Politics: A Foreign Journalist’s View Eric Johnston Deputy Editor, The Japan TimesDeputy Editor, The Japan Times Doshisha UniversityDoshisha University Jan. 12Jan. 12thth , 2007, 2007
  2. 2. Who is the Foreign Media in Japan?  Approximately 400 foreign journalists are registered with Japan’s Foreign Ministry. Majority are from the West.  An unknown number of foreigners around Japan write about various aspects of Japanese society and culture.  An estimated 100 Japanese who work for various foreign media on a regular basis.
  3. 3. Major Foreign Media Outlets in Japan  Wire Services: Associated Press, Reuters, AFP, Bloomberg Business News.  Television: CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS (America), BBC, Reuters TV (England), Bloomberg (U.S., business news), various European freelance film crews.  Newspapers: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, London Times, Financial Times, The Australian and Washington Post have full Tokyo bureaus. The Guardian, The Independent, San Francisco Chronicle, Singapore Straits-Times, South China Morning Post, have freelance stringers.
  4. 4. OTHER MEDIA  FREELANCERS: Mostly newspaper and magazine writers, freelancers tend to write for Japan’s English language media or for overseas publications. Most write on specialized aspects of Japanese culture (traditional visual and performing arts, architecture, music (J-pop), anime.  SPECIALIZED MEDIA: Trade journalists who cover one specific industry (autos, electronics, finance, aviation, military issues, science issues)
  5. 5. JAPAN-BASED ENGLISH LANGUAGE MEDIA  3 daily newspapers (The Japan Times, The Daily Yomiuri, the IHT-Asahi).  Three major Internet News sites (Japan Today, Japan Focus, and Mainichi Daily News).  Three major monthly magazines (Metropolis, Kansai Out, Japanzine)  Various quarterly magazines: (Kyoto Journal, Tokyo Journal)
  6. 6. English Media Coverage of Japanese Politics: Common Traits  Vast majority of news on Japanese politics comes from Kyodo, AP, AFP, and Reuters wire service reports, or translations of vernacular press.  Virtually all English language journalism on Japan originates in Tokyo, which means that for foreign reporters, editors, TV and radio producers, Tokyo = Japan. Local political trends and their effect on national politics tends not to get much coverage.
  7. 7. Covering Japanese Politics: Major Traits of Foreign Media  Few Western journalists are fluent in written or spoken Japanese. This means that English translations of speeches, comments, press conferences, media reports, and official statements are the primary sources of information on Japanese politics.  Few Japanese politicians are conversant in English, and even if they are, many prefer to, or are asked by their advisers to, conduct interviews in Japanese to avoid ``misunderstandings.’’ (Witness recent Shinzo Abe’s recent BBC interview)
  8. 8. Covering Japanese Politics: Major Traits of Foreign Media  There is a mini-industry of English-speaking ``buffers’’ who ``explain’’ various aspects of Japanese politics to the outside world, including foreign journalists. These include foreign political scientists and other Japan experts, mostly American, mostly male, and mostly over the age of 50. They also include select Japanese academics, former government officials, and bureaucrats.
  9. 9. The Four Foreign Media Views of Japanese Politics Modern, Vibrant Democracy Semi- functioning Democracy Half Democracy/Half Oligarchy  Democracy in Name Only
  10. 10. The Four Foreign Media Views of Japanese Politics: (1) Modern, Vibrant Democracy  ``Japan is a modern, vibrant democracy with higher voting rates than many other industrialized countries and relatively little voter fraud. There is no government censorship of political ideas, and politicians represent the will of the people’’  Major Proponents of this View: All foreign wire services, a few foreign TV stations
  11. 11. The Four Foreign Media Views of Japanese Politics: (2) Semi-functioning Democracy  ``Japan is a democracy in the sense that people may vote and there are political parties. However, an emphasis on consensus-building and the desire to avoid direct confrontation often means that democratic debate is shunned in favor of back-room deals that are the result of a murky, vague, and ultimately undemocratic process.’’  Major Media Promoting this View: U.S. business and economic newspapers and magazines (Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Business Week)
  12. 12. The Four Foreign Media Views of Japanese Politics: (3) Half Democracy/Half Oligarchy  ``Japan operates like a democracy on issues that are relatively simple and uncontroversial, and where there is no entrenched bureaucratic opposition. But given that most politicians are the children or grandchildren of politicians or are retired bureaucrats, Japan is certainly not a democracy where politicians of vastly different views argue their ideas. It is more like an old-boys club that governs in a paternalistic fashion.’’  Major Media Promoting this View: Some European newspapers, numerous scholarly journals, some U.S. newspaper reporters.
  13. 13. The Four Foreign Media Views of Japanese Politics: (4) Democracy in Name Only  ``Japan may look like a democracy, but it does not function like one. Spontaneous debate and disagreement is frowned upon. The emphasis is harmony and working behind the scenes to ensure there is as little controversy as possible. Decisions are made by the bureaucrats and politicians behind closed doors. The LDP has had nearly a half-century of rule and there is no real political opposition. Japan is `virtual democracy’, not a real democracy.’’  Major Media Promoting this View: Some U.S., British newspapers, TV stations, news magazines, scholarly journals, bloggers. Some Chinese and Korean language media.
  14. 14. Major Japanese Political Issues of Interest to the Foreign Media  The country’s swing to right, politically, over the past decade and the rise of `Japan’s Neocons.’  The failure of politicians to deal with Japan’s history in East Asia, even as they embrace George W. Bush’s America  The growing debate over what to do about Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population.  Competition with China for geopolitical influence in not only the Asia region but also in the oil-rich Middle East.
  15. 15. ISSUE #1: RIGHT TURN  Since 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, a new generation of post-war politicians has come of age. Well- traveled, highly-educated and often fluent in English or other languages, they are neo-conservatives and neo-nationalists who refuse to believe Japan did bad things in the past. They are angry that Japan has become too ``Americanized’’, even as they embrace the United States for its military might.  Causes of turn to the right include: disillusionment among Japanese in their 40s, 50s, and 60s over the current state of Japanese society, poor education on historical issues, a xenophobic national media that shuns serious debate on both the past and the future of Japan, and a social atmosphere that values groupism over independent thinking and action.
  16. 16. ISSUE #2: Fear China, Love America  There is a sense among foreign media that Japanese politicians see China as a threat and America as Japan’s only true ally. Japan’s Neocons have rushed to embrace the United States and work with it on issues ranging from the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty to the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea, to the war in Iraq.  By contrast, Japanese politicians indicate in words and deeds that they fear or suspect China will eventually conquer, militarily or economically, East Asia. By remaining close to the U.S., Japanese politicians can lash out at China. Recently, however, the political rhetoric has begun to change, as Japanese politicians who are part of the ``realist school’’ have helped the Prime Minister move towards a more friendly stance towards China.
  17. 17. ISSUE #3: Disappearing Japan  Current predictions are that the population will shrink from the present 127 million to 100 million by 2050. At the same time, the baby boom generation begins retiring in record numbers from this April. That means fewer Japanese workers.  Japanese politicians are thus faced with two basic choices, assuming that they want to ensure that current levels of economic prosperity and growth are maintained. The first choice is to create as many new laws and policies as they can to ensure younger and older workers and women are allowed to work in whatever capacity they wish. The second choice is far more controversial –bring in millions of foreign workers.
  18. 18. ISSUE #4: International Competition with China  Even as they fear China, or view it with suspicion, politicians are also faced with practical issues regarding Japan’s competition with China abroad, especially for oil, natural gas, and other mineral resources. A `Great Game’ of sorts is now taking place between China and Japan, as both governments work hard to secure the goodwill of energy-rich nations in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa so that they can eventually get petroleum and mineral rights.  At the moment, Japan can still compete with Chinese influence by offering the rest of the world money and technology (through ODA, the Asian Development Bank), and Japanese politicians, along with Japan’s major trading firms are very much involved in these international negotiations.
  19. 19. General Editorial Views on Japan and Japanese Politics  There is not, in general, a whole lot of interest in the Western media in what Japanese politicians say and do because their actions are seen as not having much influence outside Japan. Japan is seen by many foreign editors as a small, rich country that is basically a colony of the United States, but one that is losing regional power and influence to China and India. Who really cares if the Japanese become more right-wing or left- wing?  EXCEPTION: American media who do not question the importance of Japan’s relationship, militarily and economically, to the United States.
  20. 20. Japan’s Political Future? Two Possibilities  Japan as the ``Austria of Asia’’ – Like Austria, Japan will be wealthy country with a high standard of living, a moderate-to- conservative political leadership, and a content, but conservative and slightly xenophobic population. Like Austria, Japan will play a very limited role in international affairs, which will suit the majority of Japanese just fine.  Japan as the ``Switzerland of Asia (or the ``Belgium of Asia’’) –Japan will be a small but active participant in international affairs, and be respected for its role as an ``honest broker’’ between powerful states. The population will be moderate politically, remain generally open to foreigners and foreign ideas, and the economic standard of living will be high, though not perhaps as high as some other countries.
  21. 21. The Five Most Publicly Influential Western Journalists Writing about Japanese Politics Today 1) Norimitsu Ohnishi, The New York Times 2) Linda Seig, Reuters 3) Richard Lloyd-Parry, The Times of London 4) Karl van Wolferen, Freelance 5) Joseph Coleman, Associated Press
  22. 22. Five Politically Influential Experts on Japanese Politics (often quoted in media) 1) Gerald Curtis, Professor, Columbia University 2) Chalmers Johnson, Director, Japan Policy Research Institute 3) Steve Clemons, Director, New America Foundation 4) Michael Green, Former National Security Council advisor 5) Kent Calder, Professor, Princeton University
  23. 23. In Conclusion: International media interest in Japanese politics is not great, and tends to focus not on domestic political issues, but on Japan’s relations with the outside world. There is a growing sense of alarm in the foreign media over Japan’s turn to the right since 1995. Foreign journalists who have a limited knowledge of Japanese society wonder if Japan’s right-wing politicians represent the majority of Japanese, while those who have a broader and deeper knowledge of Japan believe that they do. Having traveled to 40 of Japan’s 47 prefectures during my years in Japan, I believe that the new generation of right-wing politicians do, indeed, represent the views of many Japanese outside Tokyo, and not just the older generations. I think Japanese, and thus Japanese politics, will continue to be defined by a nationalist yet pragmatic approach towards the outside world and by conservative/right-wing thought on certain social issues domestically (the role of women, public education). Yet, on other issues (health care, social welfare, the environment) Japan is likely to resemble Sweden or socialist countries in Europe in a few years, as politicians work to meet the needs of elderly voters.
  24. 24. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!