The headline in Nikkan Gendai (April 14) read, "Abe government going so far as to pressure foreign media."
The revelations originated from an article by a German journalist in the "Number 1 Shimbun," the monthly house publication written by, and circulated among, members of the venerable Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.
In that publication's current issue, which appeared the first week in April, the soon to be departing Tokyo Japan correspondent for the German daily, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Carsten Germis, conveyed his concerns over government pressure on foreign journalists.
"The country I’m leaving is different from the one I arrived in back in January 2010," he remarked.
It seems that after Germis published an article that was critical of Japan's attempts at historical revision, a diplomat from the Japanese consul general in Frankfurt visited an editor at his newspaper to convey objections from Tokyo. The Chinese, the diplomat complained, had used the article as fodder for anti-Japanese propaganda.
"It got worse," wrote Germis. "Later on in the frosty, 90-minute meeting, the editor asked the consul general for information that would prove the facts in the article wrong, but to no avail."
The Japanese diplomat, who was not named, allegedly went so far as to insinuate that "money was involved," and that Germis was writing pro-China propaganda in order to obtain a visa to work in China -- a country where Germis insisted he has never set foot.
"Two weeks before the epic meeting between the Consul general and my editor," wrote Germis, "I had another lunch with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, in which protests were made of my use of words like 'whitewash history,' and the idea that Abe’s nationalistic direction might 'isolate Japan, not only in East Asia.' The tone was frostier and, rather than trying to explain and convince, their attitude was angrier.
"I would suggest the proponents tread carefully, since these editors have been treated to – and become inured to – political PR of the highest caliber and clumsy efforts tend to have an opposite effect. When I officially complained about the consul’s comments about my receiving funds from China, I was told that it was a 'misunderstanding.'"
Germis' full article can be viewed online here.
"This piece of news came as an unprecedented shock," former diplomat Naoto Amagi tells Nikkan Gendai. "Isn't this a case of the German people standing up to the Abe government's crude methods? In the future, I expect that similar kinds of talk will surface in other parts of the world. It will become a huge international problem. The Japanese media, which has failed to report on this, is also washed up.
"These efforts can do nothing but bring shame on Japan."
A day after the Nikkan Gendai article appeared, the Tokyo Shimbun ran a similar story, in which it asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a comment. Kyoko Ito, a spokesperson, essentially denied the claims Germis made in his article.
"We strictly respect freedom of expression by the media," said Ito. "If errors in fact or misinterpretations appear, there may also be cases in which we will issue a claim. We have confirmed that the consul general, when he issued the protest, made no remarks alluding to the matter of visas or money."
Sophia University professor of political science Koichi Nakano told the newspaper that "I've been told that staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been advising journalists that 'Nakano cannot be trusted.' The ministry's way of doing things is negative. It's the nature of reporters to want to hear the opposite thing, and when a government attempts innuendoes like this, it only raises the sense of mistrust."
Nakano also makes the point that in the recent case of the issue of comfort women in a U.S. textbook -- as opposed to scholars debating a given issue -- intervention by a government is a no-no. "Unless this is understood, Japan risks damaging its international image," he says.
Tomomi Yamaguchi, associate professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Montana, remarked to Tokyo Shimbun, "I've never heard of a diplomat paying a call [on the media] to deliver a protest over differences in political interpretations. Maybe this was a different thing altogether."© Japan Today