Monday, June 08, 2015

Abe Stifling Japanese Media? Good

A problem with taking on a media entity is that by doing so, the media becomes the story. The media loves to make this happen. This makes every media outlet a potential participant in the fight, and in the American tradition, this becomes a "First Amendment" fight. Free press gets linked immediately to free speech, and Americans will have nothing to do with restricting free speech (except hate speech as written in the finer lines right?). This does not apply to foreign countries without the historical tradition of a free press. What is going on in Japan is a curious case of attacking the media.

Usually the concern pieces with Japan are around the extremely low birth rate, the greying population and the national debt. The NY Times recently focused on what they describe as a campaign to "stifle news media". The Times takes the side of its fellow journalists. The immediate clue is that it is framing this as the government being the aggressor adn the media being the victim, which means a lot to Americans who have been programmed for over 50 years that victim means "in the right". Here's a block quote for what the government is doing

Many journalists and political experts say the Abe government is trying to engineer a fundamental shift in the balance of power between his administration and the news media, using tactics to silence criticism that go beyond anything his predecessors tried and that have frustrated many journalists. These have included more aggressive complaints to the bosses of critical journalists and commentators like Mr. Koga, and more blatant retaliation against outlets that persist in faulting the administration. At the same time, Mr. Abe has tried to win over top media executives and noted journalists with private sushi lunches.
The big brouhaha is that per journalists and political experts (pundits journalists rely on and employ), the Abe government is trying to change the media-government relationship. Complaints! Sushi lunches! Oh my God, the Abe crew is trying to shape the behavior of the very people who shape the behavior of society at large! Forget everything else, the media is just pissed that the media will not get to run the show the exact way that they want to run it.

Abe's cronies have taken a sharp approach, and this is one that President Nixon even hinted at, which is partly why he was removed. Everyone has a weakness, the problem is finding it and threatening them with it. Abe's crew has an idea:
Members of the Abe government have openly hinted at revoking the broadcasting licenses of overly critical networks under a law that requires that TV news reports not intentionally twist facts.
Later on a quote that should give some hope that these guys understand the power of modern media.

“The Abe government is showing an obsession with the media that verges on paranoia,” said Keigo Takeda, a former editor in chief at Newsweek Japan who is now a respected freelance journalist. “I have never seen this level of efforts to micromanage specific newspapers and TV programs.” 
Paranoia of the media. Micromanagement = bad when Abe wants to do it, but micromanegment = good when Team Obama does it. Revoking broadcast licenses would kill media entities. Television is the power. Look at how Berlusconi and Putin consolidated power; they bought up or confiscated television broadcasting. The brilliance to the idea of being able to revoke a license due to an intentionally twisted fact is that it goes back to who defines intentional and who defines twisted. If Abe and crew can control that decision making spot in perpetuity, then they have the media over a barrel. If anything, they should write in the position so that only by multiple decisions or votes can someone be removed and to leave a "governor's veto" type of allowance. The problem is holding power, but looking at the LDP track record, they have done a good job at that since the '50s.

An interesting qestion though is what is the geopolitical landscape like, and why might Abe and crew be making these moves and why the Times might be so antsy about them? Here's a Times paragraph, with pearls clutched firmly, about to Abe's goals.
Mr. Abe’s efforts have had a chilling effect on coverage at a time when he is pushing ahead with a conservative agenda to dismantle the nation’s postwar pacifist consensus and put forth more positive portrayals of Japan’s World War II-era behavior. Experts warn that muzzling the press makes it easier for the government to make big changes that might not enjoy broad popular support, such as rewriting the pacifist Constitution, or even restarting the nation’s stalled nuclear industry.
Abe wants to move Japan towards a bit more militaristic approach. Abe wants to push a poratrayal of Japan as not "Nazis East". The moves do not enjoy broad popular support. This is an itneresting claim as recent polling shows that a stronger military is a quickly growing concern for the Japanese. The Japanese have wanted American bases out of Japan for years now, especially Okinawa. The media wants the ability to redirect these concerns and shape how to act on them. Abe wants the ability to act on them as his government wishes. Underneath all of this is a declining America that is making allies nervous about delivering on promises. A military build up would give the Japanese a new avenue for more government spending until the yen dies, andit would offer some protection in case Uncle Sam does not come through as China maybe bites after barking so loudly.

This is an interesting tug of war, and honestly, the Times seems ot be blowing it out of proportion. It also reveals, unintentionally, how important the media is for deciding policy. Reading the Times article, we readers are suppose to sympathize with paid taling heads and reporters rather than the men (and women) elected by "the people" to direct national policy. The Times also has an American interest in this because keeping Japan firmly an American province is critical. Japan may be greying, but they are still a wealthy nation with lots of human capital. Thailand, Egypt, Greece are smaller potatoes, but America cannot afford to have slippage from the likes of Japan. This will be interesting to see play out because just how many other countries are out there thinking of making moves. The Russian playbook may not work for everyone due to lack of nukes, but a media attack may be appealing to the rest of the world.


Alexandros HoMegas said...

The Japanese are still printing money and everything seems alright to them, what is the deal with the Japanese economy? Can

el supremo said...

Abe's relations with the media are interesting - although it is a bit more complicated and the NYT story deliberately under-reports and mis-states the issue. It's not really about a fight with the Japanese media as a whole, but instead the government's counter-attacks on a liberal part of the media that has gotten in itself trouble for its open hostility to Japanese conservatives.

In fact a large part of Japan's prestige media are solidly right-wing nationalist. Anti-China & Korea, anti-immigration, pro-military, anti-war guilt, etc, and have no problems with Abe's government. The NYT doesn't mention this of course.

The back story is that for year the Japanese left media had been pushing a pacifist, internationalist message with a a heavy dose of national guilt. This has been getting less traction domestically as China has become more aggressive and Korea has become more nationalist. This leftist part of the media have been the ones complaining about US bases as well, as they would rather be pro-China and anti-US.

Last year there was a big scandal when the oldest and most prestigious left wing paper, the Asahi Shimbun (rather like the NYT of Japan), was found to have made up stories from the 90s about Korean prostitutes (the "comfort women") and falsified their interviews to make it seem like they had been kidnapped by the Japanese military when they actually had been sold into prostitution by their families. The handling of these stories had been coordinated with Korea and leftists in the Japanese bureaucracy to try to change Japanese policy. It was a big scandal in Japan and the Asahi top leadership had to make a formal apology.

Most of the journalists in the NYT story you cite are from the Asahi and its affiliates - but of course the NYT doesn't mention that.

Anonymous said...

Why Japan doesn't export their defense equipments?

el supremo said...

Japan banned arms exports in the 60's as part of their demilitarization. The current government withdrew the ban last year and has begun developing the export market, especially for submarines, missile components, and anti-sub weapons