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