Asano Kenichi on the Japanese mainstream media
We had a very good seminar last week at SOAS, given by Kenichi Asano, professor of journalism at Doshisha University in Kyoto. If I said that this guy is a leftwing Japanese academic, it would probably be a bit of an understatement. You can probably get a good idea of where he's coming from from the title of his talk: "The Japanese Mainstream Media's Colonialist Stance toward North Korea and its Propagandist Role in Iraq."
Anyway, he was really very good and gave an excellent, if rather depressing, overview of the state of the Japanese media. In many ways what he said brought out parallels with the situation in the US where an obedient media has (in general) played cheerleader to George Bush and the neo-conservatives in the war on terror. Here's an extract from his paper to give you a flavour:
In many ways the conundrum known as the Japanese press is encapsulated well in the example of Japan's relationship with the Democratic People's Replublic of Korea. Wherever the Japanese government goes, the Japanese news media usually follows close behind, more like a well-trained poodle on a leash than a fierce watchdog at the gate of a strong, independent press.As Asano pointed out, as well as its equivalents of Fox and CNN, Japan also its own neo-conservatives in the form of people like far-right politicians like Shinzo Abe (deputy secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party). And to make matters even worse, in the last few years even the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which had always portrayed itself as Japan's 'liberal' daily has swerved drastically to the right. So that the 'neo-cons' and Asahi were united in playing the whole North Korean kidnapping thing for all it was worth, with the newspaper apparently even criticising President Roh quite strongly when he made a link between the abductee issue and Japan's failure to come to terms with its colonial past.
Although the focus was on North Korea, Asano also took up the question of the Japanese media's coverage of the troop deployment to Samawah in Iraq. He pointed out not only that this coverage has been extremely restricted and basically acted as the propaganda arm of the Japanese government, but that the press has also gone on the attack against people who threaten the government's position. He describes the case of the three Japanese hostages who were released in Iraq last year and then berated by politicians and newspapers when they returned home as a 'media bludgeoning'.
My question to professor Asano concerned the political environment in which this sort of thing can occur. Of course we have to look back at Japan's history and understand the compromised form of democracy that has been established there since World War II, but what about the current situation? It is easy in this sort of analysis of the media just to become hopeless and believe that the press is falling into the hands of rightwing governments and their rich allies all over the world and that everyone will be brainwashed into falling in line with whatever governments want to do. But this isn't a one way process by any means - what about the left, social movements, anti-war campaigns, the unions, what about the forces that counterbalance a move to the right? In the UK and Europe in general it has not been possible for the media across the board to support the war and propagandise for it (in Germany the government itself was not able to support the Iraq war) because the anti-war movements have been so strong and the 'ideological field' (as leninology characteristically put it) has been shaped by them. In the UK you had two major broadsheet newspapers and one tabloid coming out firmly against the war and producing some very good journalism in the process.
So this is a very long way of coming around to the question that I asked Prof. Asano: what is the current state of civil society movements and the anti-war movement in particular in Japan. As might be guessed, his reply was not hugely encouraging: things are pretty awful in general and the anti-war movement has been weak. However, he's seems to be one of those irrepressibly optimistic people who thinks that the bottom is a good place to be because you can only go up. And he's planning to do his part in encouraging the development of independent media in Japan:
Every democratic society counts on a healthy, skeptical press to be a check against the excesses of government, but in Japan today, that kind of press does not exist.If you're interested, you can find Kenichi Asano's homepage here and some articles in English by him here.
Japan, however, need not look very far for a solution: One lies just accross the Sea of Japan / East Sea on the Korean Peninsula. The rise of independent media movements worldwide are changing the face of the 'one-way dialogue' that corporate news has become, and nowhere is that positive change more exemplified than in the Seoul-based news outlet known as Oh My News, said to be the largest online independent news service on the web... I am happy to say that we are thinking of creating a Japanese-translated version of Oh My News on the web and hope someday soon to publish original Japanese news stories on it as well... it is up to the Japanese public to take the matter into its own hands and start creating its own independent news media. That time, for Japan, is now.