Japanese media “afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable”
(dpa first published this piece.)
Shunsuke Yamaoka is an investigative journalist and author who founded the internet news portal Access Journal.
Yamaoka criticizes the country’s major media for acting as a cheerleader for big business and government through infamous kisha clubs.
The approval ratings of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet are hovering around 50 per cent despite its failure to escape deflation and achieve long-term economic growth, with wages stagnant and consumer spending sluggish.
That is because Japan’s major media have stifled criticism of his government, says Yamaoka.
Question : You have said Japan’s major media are not really practicing journalism. What are they doing?
Yamaoka: First of all, I believe the mission of journalists is to keep those in power in check and make the voice of the vulnerable heard. The major media, however, are not doing these at all. They are defenders of the powers that be.
I believe what Japan’s major media does is to afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable.
When I was a teenager, I somehow believed journalists were working for justice. But after I started working for a weekly magazine as a writer in my 20s, I came to know that that was not the case at all when it comes to Japan’s major media.
Question : Are Japanese people critical of the major media?
Yamaoka: I don’t think so. Many people don’t have an opportunity to learn journalism.
Question : There are only a few universities in Japan offering journalism classes. Who wants a job in journalism?
Yamaoka: Major media outlets attract university students who are looking for a good-paying job and big-name companies. So it would not be surprising that some of them will apply to both a major newspaper and a bank at the same time. Japan’s major media are well known for their very high salaries though their reporters don’t produce many news stories. I know some reporters working for a major daily earn more than 10 million yen (100,000 dollars) per year though they sometimes don’t write any articles in a month.
Question : Why are their salaries so high?
Yamaoka: It’s because they get a lot of advertising revenues. As you know, some companies put a one-page ad in a major daily. Who in the world will read it? I don’t believe such ads are effective at all, especially because we all know that the number of people who read newspapers in print has continued to drop. Companies still spend a lot of money on ads in newspapers and on TV though I believe advertising rates are much lower than they once were.
Question : Why do you think companies still spend so much money on these ads?
Yamaoka: That shows the mainstream media’s collusive relationship with big corporations. When companies spend a lot of money on ads, their message is: “Please treat us gently.” They are expecting nicer and gentler treatment from the mainstream media.
Question : As you know, Japanese newspapers have been accused of inflating circulation figures for decades. But Japanese business leaders, many of whom are advertisers, apparently tolerate this scandal. Do they have a sense of ethics?
Yamaoka: I don’t believe they care about it as long as they are treated well. They have totally different values. All they care about is quarterly profits. They are under pressure to make profits every quarter.
Question : Japan has been tarnished by corporate scandals in recent years. Authorities and the major media, however, are still silent about newspapers’ alleged circulation fraud. Why?
Yamaoka: That’s because major newspapers have a cozy relationship with those in power, as many people have said. I think newspapers such as Yomiuri and Asahi could go bankrupt immediately if the issue is pressed. Yomiuri editor-in-chief Tsuneo Watanabe, whose paper is supposed to keep authority figures in check, plays a kind of an advisor role for Abe’s administration.