2016: False Dawn

Asia-Pacific Journal Japan Focus, Volume 14 | Issue 20 | Number 2
October 15, 2016
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus

False Dawn: The Decline of Watchdog Journalism in Japan

David McNeill

"Shukan Bunshun is one answer to the charge that aggressive, confrontational journalism does not exist in Japan. For over a year, the nation’s biggest-selling weekly magazine (about 420,000 audited copies) has scored a string of scoops. In January 2016, it harpooned economy minister Amari Akira over bribery claims, forcing him to quit. The following month, it exposed an extramarital affair by Miyazaki Kensuke, a politician who had been campaigning for maternity leave during his wife’s pregnancy. The same month it revealed illegal betting by Kasahara Shoki, a former pitcher with the Yomiuri Giants baseball team.
The magazine’s editor-in-chief Shintani Manabu came to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in May 2016 to reveal his magic formula, which was disarmingly simple. “The reason why we get scoops is that we go after them,” he said. That drive, he implied, is rare among his contemporaries. “I proposed to a television colleague doing some research on (communications minister) Takaichi Sanae, he said. Takaichi had sparked a furor in February by “reminding” TV companies that flouting rules on political impartiality could result in the withdrawal of their broadcasting licenses. The TV companies declined, said Shintani: “So we did it ourselves and titled the piece: ‘Why we hate Minister Takaichi.’”

The role of journalism as guardian of the public interest against abuses of power has long been seen as perhaps its key function in liberal democracies. According to this view, an independent media should facilitate pluralist debate and the free flow of information about the political and economic interests that dominate our lives. A conflicting view – one prevalent in wartime Japan and in contemporary China – is that the media should primarily be an instrument of state power. The reality in many developed capitalist economies is that the media’s role is circumscribed by monopolies, political and commercial pressure and other formal and informal restrictions. Japan’s media, which was reformed after World War II to bring it closer to the “watchdog” model, is no exception. Critics have long noted another distinctive layer of formalized control over the free distribution of information in Japan: press clubs. ....."

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