Recent revelations in the media over politicians' brazen abuses of funding have originated mostly from the weekly magazines. Which ought to be regarded as an anomaly, considering that major newspapers and TV networks are far more numerous and have much greater news-gathering resources.
So why aren't the mainstream media performing their task as public watchdogs? The answer, asks Shukan Post (Nov 14), is that they don't feel compelled to do so. It's a situation created by the shameful nexus of political power, money and the media, with the latter on the receiving end of tasty treats to elicit their cooperation.
As an example, Shukan Post refers to a private dining room at the Akasaka Hanten, a posh Chinese restaurant where, on the evening of October 10, reporters belonging to the "kisha club" covering the prime minister's office gathered around Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for an informal, off-the-record dinner. The magazine counts 23 intimate encounters between Abe and the top people at major newspapers, TV networks and publishing companies so far this year.
The dispensation of discretionary funds is left entirely to the chief cabinet secretary, currently Yoshihide Suga, whose own activities, however, are said to be no match for Abe's. Suga does his entertaining of media people at the dining bar in Tokyo's swank Hotel Okura. He justifies these tete-a-tetes as a "forum for exchange of opinions."
"We are invited to drink, but Suga himself never touches a drop," confides a political reporter. "He asks our opinions on a variety of topics, and his usual responses to whatever we say are remarks like, 'Naruhodo, kento shimasho' (I see. We'll give it some thought). As far as I know, Suga always picks up the tab. I've never heard of a journalist being made to pay."
Most of the people Suga treats are said to be editorial writers at major newspapers, but through these contacts the LDP's influence is said to trickle down through the entire news organization.
Another source of the influence buying are party hacks in the LDP, who focus their efforts at managing editors of the pages covering politics.
"Party members holding seats in the Diet can issue their own receipts," says a party insider. "By spreading the money around assiduously, they can dissuade newspapers from running critical articles, or run stories about the opposition with a negative slant. As a way of showing appreciation for the favorable media treatment, they might shift the second venue to an establishment with hostesses. These people are not obliged to specify on the receipt who they took out, so the details of the outlays don't get made public."
About 60% of the LDP's income in 2014 (15,783,660,000 yen) derives from "political support funds," which are obtained from tax revenues.
"Someone from the party's data department phoned me and said, 'It's been a while since we've gone out. How about a drink this evening?'" a reporter for the political pages of a major newspaper tells Shukan Post. "He'd reserved a private room at a restaurant in the city. At first he just made small talk, but then he got down to brass tacks, asking me, 'There's something going on in your news department, isn't there?' As it were, he was pumping me for information about the Tokyo Metropolitan Police looking into an LDP Diet member involved in a major fraud case.
"I didn't know about it, and told him so, but when he picked up the check, he said to me, 'If you hear anything, let me know, all right?'"
For assistance in supplying information for a Diet questioning session, a reporter received a deluxe assortment of seasonal fruit from a Diet member's home district, delivered to his home.
"The thing about sending fruit, if a recipient tries to refuse it, I can urge him by saying, 'Since it will spoil in any case, please accept it," says the Diet member's secretary. "Anyway, it's all legal and proper, paid for from the political activities fund, where it's entered on books as 'a gift.'"© Japan Today