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Reporter lambasts Japan's domestic media for their copycat reporting

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Writing in Nikkan Gendai (Apr 8), investigative reporter Yoichiro Tateishi vents his spleen at a facet of his country's mass media that he finds particularly annoying -- its propensity to cite the foreign media on controversial or risky subjects rather than to take the initiative and report on their own. 

While a recent press conference held by various experts made remarks to the effect that "Japan's action to contain the coronavirus has garnered the world's attention," foreign media organizations have been skeptical of Japan's claims concerning the relative small number of people infected.  

In a special CNN report on the pandemic, South Korea was covered, but not Japan. In a separate news broadcast on a different day, however, the network's reporter remarked expressed his skepticism, saying "Japan has conducted fewer tests in total than the equivalent of one day in South Korea." 

Or, for example, on April 3, the U.S. Embassy sent out a Health Alert to its citizens in which it pointed out that "The Japanese Government’s decision to not test broadly makes it difficult to accurately assess the COVID-19 prevalence rate," and advised "If U.S. citizens wish to return to the United States, they should make arrangements to do so now." 

Some may view such actions as unexpected, but it is not only the United States that is regarding the current situation in Japan with mistrust. "As an international journalist," says Tateishi, "I conduct fact checking, and feel like posing questions to the Japanese government concerning the measures being taken. The Italian media has raised such questions as, 'Does Japan count asymptomatic people who've been infected?' 'Can it be that more deaths occurring among people who are not known to be infected by the virus?' This reflects their mistrust in the figures being issued by the Japanese government."

A widespread view exists among Japanese that government announcements from China are concealing something. But actually from the viewpoints of various countries, Japan is seen in the same negative light. This may be based to some degree at the deficiency in the Japanese government's powers of persuasion, but not that alone. There tends to be considerable skepticism toward how Japan's government issues information -- a point Tateishi has raised numerous times, both in his columns and at the prime minister's press conferences. 

Amid this, Japan's news reporting has become somewhat...peculiar. Take, for example, the government's announcement of a plan to mail two masks to every household, which media wags  quickly tagged with the derisive nickname "Abenomasku" -- a play on words from Abenomics. 

"I suppose some debate over this ensued locally, but the only coverage that got any traction here were reported in the form of excerpts from the overseas media," Tateishi writes. 

"This citing of foreign news is a common phenomenon in countries where freedom of the press is restrained. One typical example might be in Iran, where I was formerly posted as an NHK reporter. The contents of reports critical of the Iranian government issued by NHK were, a day later, circulated on Iran's national TV news, citing NHK. Why was this? Because the Iranian media is not permitted to criticize the government, but citations from foreign media are tolerated.

"If someone here were to write about how the foreign media has reported how 'Abenomasuku' has been treated with mockery, the government would be infuriated. 

Tateishi worries it's possible that the Japanese media will come to rely on foreign media to an even greater extent in the future. As far as suppression of freedom of the press here, the situation has begun spiraling downward, with the ultimate result an ever greater lack of trust in what the government says.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

27 Comments
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Nothing new about this.

The Chiso-Itai itai byo- Minamata scandal was broken by US media (soon to be a movie I read.)

And of course ex PM Tanaka Kakue's Lockheed scandal was reported in the US and then rereported in Japan.

In the case of Tanaka, Japanese journalists had the information , but couldn't print it so they passed it over to their foreign counterparts.

gary

14 ( +14 / -0 )

@gary

"couldn't print it"

Physically incapable of printing it (aka, doing your job)?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Bang on.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

Exactly. And the sad thing is, people believe in the abenarratives without questioning anything.

16 ( +16 / -0 )

Go to NHK's English channel on Youtube for an exercise in daily self-plagiarism and rote repetition.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The other countries cited are not one-party "democracies", nor do they operate "kisha clubs", where "journalists" are given government press releases to rewrite for publication. Those who do not toe the line are barred from attendance, and thus lose access to their primary source of content / propaganda / infomation.

18 ( +18 / -0 )

expatToday 01:34 pm JST

Go to NHK's English channel on Youtube for an exercise in daily self-plagiarism and rote repetition.

NHK doesn't broadcast the news, it broadcasts what the LDP wants people to believe is the news.

20 ( +20 / -0 )

Was surprised Abe allowed that Italian journalist to ask such a question in his press conference last week.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Japan has conducted fewer tests in total than the equivalent of one day in South Korea." 

that's just embarrassing

NHK doesn't broadcast the news, it broadcasts what the LDP wants people to believe is the news.

couldn't agree more

15 ( +15 / -0 )

The Japanese public can only be informed of this situation if educators deem it urgent enough. Obviously until now they've been content to avoid making the effort.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Hey Yoichiro Tateishi, my cable company added CNNjp in March. It’s rather useless much like the BBC news. Too many personal stories and not enough real news. Tried CNN for a few days and every time I turned it on I saw Cuomo’s brother whimpy face on there just talking talking talking.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

What I find disturbing is that Abe has been using the pandemic to attack Japan's Constitution, which he claims is the reason he can only issue limp requests for cooperation -- instead of orders that can be enforced. A real leader would forge ahead with a serious effort and let the courts determine its legality, since most of us will have died of old age by the time the Supreme Court finally hands down a ruling.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

I believe Japanese journalists often pass information to foreign journalists when they story is refused or they believe it will be refused publication in Japan. Maybe their media also do this. The Japanese media feels they can get away with, "Foreign media says ..." as it implies, "We don't say ..."

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Vents his spleen?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Anyone who has lived here a while quickly realizes   that the media etc here is far from being FREE, in fact is highly controlled & manipulated all the time, has been like this forever, Japan is not really all the different from what we see in China sadly!

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The constraints on "open" investigative reporting by mainstream media here is why Japan is currently placed 67th in the World press freedom index.

If not for the diligence of alernative investigative news media like Shukan Kinyobi, Facta, WaseKuro etc there would be a minimal open voice in an already compromised news reporting system.

Without doubt the biggest factor why mainstream media kow-tows to the govt & Japan Inc et al, is advertising revenue. Denstu controls advertising in Japan which means it controls commercial media. Upset right leaning, LDP-in-the-pocket Dentsu and you risk financial strangulation.

So as the article suggests one way around this for journalists is to 3rd party the news and present it as "In the US it is said that...." or to such liking. But even such techniques are subject to pressure and rarely do we ever get a true presentation of conflicted stories.

Abe's "Specially Designated Secrets Act" of 2014 has made it even more difficult to report without fear or favor.

Who would risk their career ( or freedom) to write an expose under such an act.

"...Jeffrey Kingston, professor at Temple University, is troubled by the lack of transparency this law will condone. “There is no independent oversight body, meaning that officials have a carte blanche to cover their tracks,” he comments. “[The bureaucrats] will designate too much information as ‘special secrets’ so that their decisions won’t be scrutinized or second guessed until they are dead. What we know from various scandals is that bureaucrats have often decided against the public interest and now have a way to hide their misdeeds.”.."

So mainstream media is essentially silenced or reports on simply what scraps the Kisha Klub mandarins have thrown to the awaiting journos.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Vents his spleen?

Curiously, Chinese have almost the same expression -- 发脾气 (fa pi qi) -- to mean having a tantrum. The spleen was believed to be the organ controlling temperament.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

U.S. Embassy in Tokyo: "If U.S. citizens wish to return to the United States, they should make arrangements to do so now."  Yeah, head back to a country where 2,000 people a day are dying from the virus!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Amusing to see criticism of Japanese news media in Japan Today a "newspaper" that has no reporters or working journalists on its staff, a "newspaper" that appears to buy in all of its content from outside sources or summarize what has already appeared in otherwise readily available form elsewhere.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

a "newspaper" that appears to buy in all of its content from outside sources 

Henny@I don't see you complaining about the price. The debates that go on in the comments section are the freest of any English-language online publication. Oh, and please tell me where else you have read Kuchikomi stories, either in print or on the web.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I asked 3 different doctors about being tested for covid-19 weeks ago and they didn’t have a clue - that explains the low numbers of cases in Japan I reckon.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Been reading the English language edition of Japan Times for a few years now, and the lack of investigative reporting is definitely noticeable. Perhaps it is a cultural thing? No one wants to be the digit that sticks out away from the others. Children are raised not to be different from the norm.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The Japan Times is only printed in Japanese.

All government news is released to the press clubs and all print the same article.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

There is little history of investigative journalism here in the mainstream press, whose job it is to keep good relations with those who stroll the corridors of power and industry, and present a view that upholds the status quo that supports those at the top of the pyramid. Publications that step out of line are threatened by Dentsu with blacklisting, and seeing their advertising revenue evaporate. Investigative reporting has always been the province of the daily papers and the weekly magazines whose revenue stream is less vulnerable to threats.

A major reason that criticism of Japan appearing in Japanese papers originates overseas is that reporters and their papers can get by with quoting what the foreign press is saying while ducking responsibility, and thus avoid allegations of being 反日 from the rightwing press and the fascist/nationalists - whereas original reportage showing initiative rather than recycling is going to land them in trouble. There is no 5th estate in Japanese society, and journalists are not in business to keep politicians and corporations honest.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Iglenn, TheJapan Times is an English language newspaper, the English language newspaper in Japan, and it has no Japanese main newspaper. Perhaps you have been reading the Yomiuri News, in English?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Let's call this situation with its definition : censorship.

Investigative news are existing but only on topics that may not threat the politicians.

Hence never heard of NHK mentioning the amazing difference stats about Covid betwee Japan and other countries. Even Germany.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

NHK doesn't broadcast the news, it broadcasts what the LDP wants people to believe is the news.

This is one reason why it is immoral to pay for NHK. The people are essentially being forced to finance a propaganda channel. Even the USSR didn't go around demanding people pay to keep Pravda alive.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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