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March 21, 2008

[SSJ: 4993] Media Bias in Japan

From: Steven R. Reed
Date: 2008/03/20

Having lived in Japan for 15 years now, I begin to notice several things that I never noticed when I living in the US. In the last couple of years I began to get upset with the DPJ because they were not saying the things they needed to say to win votes. After consulting with some Japanese friends and paying closer attention I realized that the DPJ is saying the right things but you would never know by watching NHK news because NHK does not report them.

The most recent example was the most hideous. After turning down the LDP's second candidate for the BOJ, NHK reported on PM Fukuda's reaction and the kanbouchoukan's reaction, zaikai reaction, and some foreign observers saying this was worrying. What was totally missing was any statement by the DPJ or any opposition party. I am told by a non-Japanese reporter that Hatoyama made a statement to the press to the effect that "We decided that a few days with no one was better than five years with the wrong guy." The DPJ has a position on this issue that makes some sense but you will never find out what it is in the Japanese media.

The same thing happened with the temporary bill to extend ear-marked highway funding. The DPJ position was enacting temporary extensions is bad policy, ear-marked funds are bad policy, the ear-marked funds are controlled by the bureaucracy without any check from the Diet and it only takes a quick peek to see that much of it is being wasted (the only thing tokutei about that zaigen is the bureaucrats who get to waste it), and highway construction needs to be cut back in any case, especially those that are manifestly designed to win a particular LDP politician re-election. The LDP position was that this is a matter of local finance and unless the DPJ goes along with the LDP bill right now, poor local governments will loose lots of revenue. The NHK framing of the issue was almost exclusively as a matter of local finance. Muck-raking shows on the other stations reported the DPJ framings sometimes but the dominant frame throughout the media was local finance. After the shouting had died down, Koizumi came out in favor of the DPJ position and now Fukuda and Koumei have announced plans to get rid of ear-marked funds. The DPJ won the policy debate everywhere except in the media.

The lessons to be learned are three: (1) Do not depend on NHK reporting. It is not false but it is edited with LDP interests in mind. (2) One secret of the LDP's maintenance of power even after repeated and major policy failures is agenda control. (3) Someone should do a proper comparative study of media bias in Japan.

Steve Reed

Approved by ssjmod at March 21, 2008 08:09 AM