False Dawn

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The news media in Japan is shackled by institutional constraints: a widely criticized system of information distribution that encourages journalists to collude with official sources, discourages independent lines of enquiry and institutionalizes self-censorship. It hardly needs to be stated at the outset that this does not imply uncritical support for any idealized watchdog media outside Japan - as Laurie Anne Freeman notes, such a system does not exist. The Allied occupation — 52 initially saw the media as a conduit for its policies of breaking with the imperial wartime regime and liberalizing and revitalizing the capitalist state.

Nevertheless, there is much overlap between the prewar and postwar media. As Susan J. Purged newspaper managers and editors, led by Shoriki Matsutaro, president of the Yomiuri Shimbun, were allowed to resume their old positions. Hierarchical controls over editorial policy were encouraged to combat the growing problem of left-wing militancy. Although a legacy of the prewar period, press clubs have become even more important since During the war, they became part of a top-down system dedicated to disseminating official views.

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Freelancers, tabloid and magazine journalists and foreign reporters were excluded for decades and have only recently started to gain entry. In late September , however, all this seemed up for grabs. Reporters in Japan enjoyed that rarest of events: a genuinely open encounter with a government official. The Okada event was exceptional because Japanese cabinet ministers are normally shielded from journalists behind thick ramparts. The first line of defense is the bureaucrats who coax, nudge and steer journalists into preferred topics and away from political landmines.

The second, most controversially, are the journalists themselves. As press club members, reporters for the elite media operate in isolation, with their own set of codified rules and practices. Most foreign correspondents collide with this system at some point. In , when then Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro made his historic visit to North Korea, not one Tokyo-based reporter from the 15 European Union member nations was allowed to accompany him.

During the investigation into the murder of British hostess Lucie Blackman, foreign reporters were barred from police press conferences. Years of pressure by the Foreign Press in Japan FPIJ , the main conduit for information between official Japan and the foreign media, resulted in the production of a letter by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs MOFA in , in principle essentially guaranteeing foreign reporters the same rights to ask questions as Japanese journalists.

Though little noticed at the time, the letter was an important marker in the fight for better access. Elite sources are favored, to one degree or another, across the world. Day in, day out, Japanese reporters share a symbiotic relationship with elite bureaucrats and politicians. Questions are often shared between competing media and even with journalistic sources in a pattern that clearly works against the public interest.

Two examples should illustrate this point. In , Crown Prince Naruhito was set to embark on a trip to Mongolia. Following protocol, the Imperial Household Agency IHA invited a small number of foreign correspondents to a pre-trip press conference. For the IHA, such conferences are a way of publicizing imperial foreign tours but they also involve an element of risk. But unusually for an event often timed down to the last minute, the scripted questions ran out before the end of the press conference and an IHA official asked if there was another.

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For a journalist this was a unique opportunity to get under the rampart of the IHT defenses and ask a direct question to a member of the imperial family, so I immediately put up my hand. I wanted to hear more about the health of Princess Masako. The IHA official ignored me. The seconds ticked by and another foreign reporter, Eric Talmadge of the AP news agency, also raised his hand.

The official looked uncomfortable and glanced pleadingly at the row of Japanese reporters sitting opposite him, heads down. Finally, after the longest time one obligingly if very reluctantly put her hand up. What was instructive about this incident was that the reporter had not seen me as a professional colleague in our collective struggle to get more information from the IHA in the interests of the general public.

Instead, she considered it necessary to rescue the IHT official from possible embarrassment and save him from the troublesome interloper. The Justice Ministry had reluctantly allowed the tour, possibly under pressure from abolitionist Justice Minister Chiba Keiko, who was apparently trying to trigger debate on the death penalty. Many Japanese freelance reporters applied.

Meanwhile, elite journalists in the Justice Ministry Press Club were being briefed to prepare for the morning of Aug.

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Not surprisingly, the death penalty debate never materialized. Support for hanging in Japan remains at a record high. But it is possible to characterize this episode in a very different way: elite journalists collaborating with elite bureaucrats to stage-manage a difficult story about an uncomfortably controversial issue.

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Hatoyama also revealed an open secret: the existence of a slush fund in the Kantei that for years had reportedly been used to curry political favor among journalists and television commentators. After a fight, reporters for foreign wire services such as Bloomberg, Dow Jones and Reuters have been allowed basic access to Diet and other power centers. Freelancers have wider access. Moreover, since , it has retrenched. LDP officials have used a range of informal methods to limit exposure to reporters outside the press club system.

Freelancers are discouraged from using media facilities and not notified by government handlers of upcoming press events; 23 senior officials seek out established reporters and avoid or shun others; media meetings with the prime minister have been shortened. Even mild critics of the coalition, such as the Asahi group have been sidelined.

All of this has helped Abe avoid scrutiny, concludes Jimbo. Occasionally, a shaft of light peeks though.

Back in the fold

During a press conference by Abe at the United Nations in New York on September 29, , for example, journalists submitted advance questions and the prime minister read from a teleprompter. His reply was reported extensively around the world, but mostly ignored by the big media in Japan. Briefed to discuss the abduction issue, Yamatani found herself instead facing a string of questions about her alleged links to a far-right pressure group.

Again, the controversy was mostly ignored by the Japanese mainstream media, though reported in some of the weekly press. Afterwards, government ministers drastically cut their attendance at FCCJ press conferences. The latest Freedom House rankings put Japan 44th in the world; as mentioned above, RSF recently ranked Japan at 72 out of countries, that ranking was widely criticized as too harsh.

Instead, Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio blamed the messenger. This follows a pattern evident throughout many recent controversies, including the Fukushima nuclear crisis. One study found that 16 demonstrations received a total of words in the Yomiuri Shimbun.

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  • Demonstration in Meiji Park, Tokyo, 19 September A series of large anti-nuclear demonstrations in front of the National Diet building beginning on 29 March were also initially ignored by the mainstream Japanese media. Organizers relied on online social media and word of mouth to spread the word.

    The figures were of course disputed by the police, and by many of the journalists who were there. There was, however, one conspicuous absence. Hanada of Waseda University says Japanese journalism effectively surrendered haiboku in Fukushima. During the week after the Fukushima accident it seemed to many that the most accurate information was coming from outside Japan, particularly from Washington.

    Japanese experts connected to the nuclear industry filled the airwaves with false assurances about the safety of the Daiichi plant. Critics were effectively banned. Public service broadcaster NHK relied on openly pronuclear experts to explain what was happening. When it was reported in the foreign media that information on the diffusion of radiation had been withheld, local newspapers took weeks to follow up. They returned some forty days later. The presence of the Tokyo Shimbun which has marginally increased circulation since , the Asahi, Mainichi as well as the rambunctious tabloids and weeklies suggests that critical journalism is still alive and kicking in Japan — with important qualifications.

    The weeklies, barred from access to the press clubs, love to poke a stick in the eye of the powerful but they are just as likely to wield the stick against others. The highly damaging announcement pleased Asahi critics and stunned journalists at the newspaper who say they were kept in the dark beforehand. While the factual details of the Yoshida testimony were open to interpretation, there was little doubt that despairing onsite plant workers had abandoned their duties during the worst of the crisis. In U. The scholars were moved to make this clear when the liberal Mainichi newspaper reported exactly the opposite after interviewing them.

    The Yoshida controversy embroiled foreign reporters too. The answer was no. Yoshida Seiji was before our time.

    Legal obstacles

    Over the last decade, however, we have interviewed many comfort women first hand, in South Korea and elsewhere. Journalists who continued to write critically on the comfort women issue were subject to harassment and threats. The attacks on the Asahi appear to be part of a broader assault against liberal journalism — in the domestic and foreign media. The government has sent diplomats out across the world to complain to history professors and journalists.

    For the next week or so sky-watchers in the Northern Hemisphere will have the chance to see an elusive celestial pyramid known as the zodiacal light.

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    • The triangular tower of light is easiest to spot around the spring and fall equinoxes. Look for it over the eastern horizon about an hour before sunrise in the fall, and over the western horizon just after sunset in the spring. At best, the zodiacal light is no brighter than the dim plane of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, so atmospheric haze, a bright moon, or light pollution can hide the faint cone from view.

      See a picture of the Milky Way arcing over Iran. In general, the zodiacal light is easiest to see in dark, rural areas, particularly on moonless nights. September 8 saw a new moon—when the unilluminated side of the moon faces Earth—so viewing conditions should be favorable for the next few days as the waxing moon slowly returns to full brightness. Since the light appears close to dawn in the fall, the phenomenon was often mistaken in antiquity for the light of the rising sun, and it became known as the false dawn.

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