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March 27, 2008

[SSJ: 5001] Re: Media Bias in Japan

From: Ryan Hartley
Date: 2008/03/27

Dear Steve, Aurelia, and anyone following this thread of media bias in Japan,

This discussion topic is very interesting, and many of the observations regarding pressure, self censorship, and latent nationalism, along with pure journalistic plot, time and shot choice of stories being a test of ones patience I would say that think it important to measure responses about this first against a few key
questions:
1) what is the role of the media in any society?
2) Cross-cultural sensitivity
3) Pre-present socio-cultural norms and beliefs
4) Do other media systems represent a less perfect but perhaps better model instead?

While I might personally agree on some of the views expressed in these threads, along with my professional experience working in university`s at both undergraduate and post-graduate level, and consistently being shocked, year after year, at the lack of both general knowledge about international events, details knowledge about national events, and critical skills in the evaulations of both, I do have to remind myself to pause and ask the above four questions.

Firstly, the role of the media. Since there is no clear definition of the role of the media in any country in practical terms, with each offering a different practical expression of perhaps (or not) a commonly held ideological belief about said role)....where does the definition which is used to criticise any other system and ones own come from?

Second, the media, along with many other area of Japanese life reflect a need to feel `Japanese`. That is not always in a nationalistic way, but in a vague but powerful way. The BBC, while often critical even of its own reporting, in that process creates a feeling of `British`. And as many who have been here in Japan can testify, whatever big ideas we many presumptiously come to about the way things `should be` simply can`t go very far because of the power of difference that exists. Any change will happen at the Japanese`s own pace and not any way or speed defined by others. There is here a deeply held belief in something Japanese, nothing is going to change that.
So any intervention, opinion, suggest has to work within that.

As any cursory reading of post WWII events will render, the Japanese have a brilliant way of shielding and slowing down change while supplying the illusion of change and acquiescence to outside demands. The point from this is that if the Japanese themself want a change in NHK reporting they have to request it themself. I know many are, by refusing tp pay their TV license fee`s. But I would say it means more than that in the form of not watching (to affect digitally tracked viewing figures) or simply writing letters/protesting. But those things are all within the perview of the Japanese themself.

I know there is a lot of criticism among the the Japanese themselves about NHK. At least among the university level students, interested in politics, that I teach. But if that complaining doesn`t translate into action and instead levels out at scapegoating - NHK management, politicians, LDP - then its none of our business as non-Japanese to worry about it as yet. The `gaijin` population is relativelt small, consistently shifting in population, most cannot understand the news itself, and many are not targeted by the news in any form of structured bias way. So why worry about it?

If the concern is the connection between national political decisions that translate into international action, as the support of the Iraq war situation might highlight, lets remind ourself that the two leaders of that debacle, the US and UK, have all the potential sources of informations open - many news broadcasters, highly critical commentary (eg: Bill Maher`s `Real Time`), the BBC and internet. And despite or because of these, many thousands of people protested against the Iraq War to no avail. The connections between `the people`, `the media`, `politics` and `policy` is not as clear cut as many seem to assume.

Thirdly, while I know that media criticism has been adopted as the darling topic of the new left, it seems again difficult to marriage the power of the media with real action, thought or belief. The Japanese, along with I feel American and British among others often feel let down with the national media, along with politicians and even business leaders. This is not only because of mistake on the part of the `top level` of representation. But demonstrates an intrinsic `bottom level` identity, belief structure or at its most abstract `human identity`. As many might testify from the big and multi-state America or the small but multi-national Britain - to what extent can national communication really have any meaning at such a hugh and homogenous level?

Concomitantly, to what effect does NHK have an effect in the Japanese in their daily thinking? I am not sure, but I predict not a lot because many either don`t watch it or ridicule it? Why? Perhaps it is because they have a pre-ordered local belief structure that means national media discussions are difficult to marriage onto their particular goings-on.

Fourth, and this point is quite close to my heart.
"Before we criticise others we better make sure our house in in order". Considering the absolute ineptitude of the mainstream media in the US both in critical analysis or overt bias for one political interest. Or the BBC`s `objective` (can political reporting ever be?) or perhaps veiled `liberal bias`, or perhaps confusing mix of description/slash self-critical analysis. To what extent does anyone have `the media thing` correct yet`?

The decision it seems that the Japanese state, along with the NHK, has made is that the media`s role is to extend the scope of denial outside the self and into the imperceptible. In other words, distract. Smoke and mirrors make much better policy than explain and justify. Does this lead to a more harmonius society?
Is this good for individual health and well being?
Together, in turn is this good for the international system considering Japan`s significant international position? I can`t say/

What I can say however is that after attending meetings that show movie or documentary`s of international issues, there are many especially Americans who are surprised and openly ask who they don`t know that. They say that the American media would never show this information, and for those that already know they choose to learn fro the BBC online.

I believe the media is conduit of interest and in turn mirror of a nation. If there are problems with the national media here in Japan, let the Japanese shout about it and change it. Considering that no-one can realy reach a consensus on the role of the meida, cross-cultural differences that will never be understood unless you have lived in Japan from childhood, the link between news media and individual being tenuous, and over-ridingly the huge problems that exist in all media networks of whatever country and as such there being no agreed idea of what role the media play in todays rapidly changing society - I think we should all be careful of throwing stones while standing in a greenhouse.

I am not arguing for the NHK`s dismally poor service to Nippon`s citezins (in only my own outsiders opinion of course) but no-one knows what national level representation seems to be good for now; either the media, politics or ideology.

What I would conclude is that Japan is a country which has one of the lowest crime rates of OECD countries, the highest GINI equality measures, historically the highest consistent literacy rate and despite whatever conclusions are reached afterwards, a seriously self-aware and self-critical social populous. Does this translate through NHK`s camera`s? Who cares!
People do, think and believe it already.

With gratification in using the `un-biased` media medium of the internet,

Ryan Hartley

Approved by ssjmod at March 27, 2008 05:43 PM