Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan Being "Passed Up" by Foreign Media
KITAMURA Fumio / Professor at Shukutoku University

November 27, 2002
European and U.S. media have begun making a visible exit from Tokyo. Within the span of a year, prestigious papers such as America's Christian Science Monitor, the U.K.'s Independent and Italy's Corriere Della Sera have closed their Tokyo bureaus.

In the mid-1980s, as Japan became intoxicated by the speculative Bubble Economy, Tokyo grew into one of the top news centers of the world. Foreign countries sent in their cream of the crop correspondents en masse to the "Land Where the Sun Never Sets." Around that time a phenomenon called "Revisionism" or "Japan Bashing" emerged in Europe and the United States, and critical reporting on Japan by foreign journalists undeniably served as the ignition. However, as Japan delved deeper into the 'Lost Decade,' foreign interest in Japan faded rapidly. Instead of being "bashed," Japan became a subject of ridicule as an insignificant country to be "passed" up. Foreign media's exit from Tokyo could well be described as a product of such "Japan Passing."

What constitutes news for mass media? The definition is a difficult one. According to Walter Lippmann's classic book "Public Opinion," a phenomenon becomes news only after it has materialized in visible form as a subject of public interest. To this day, the definition more or less serves as the criteria for news judgement. It is difficult to make news out of phenomena that do not take on visible form.

Out of course as it may be, Japan is still the world's second largest economic power, and exerts a considerable influence on the global economy. Accordingly, Tokyo-based correspondents make a painstaking effort to convey Japan's importance in filing their articles or broadcasting their programs. However, information concerning a country "where no visible change takes place" does not whet the appetite of editors back in the head office, and whatever effort put in by Tokyo correspondents tend to go to waste. Foreign reporters are unanimous in their complaint that "unless promises of reform made by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi take concrete form, the work of Tokyo correspondents will prove futile."

It is a great loss to Japan to have information on itself ignored or neglected. As shown by abundant experience gained from Japan-U.S. economic friction in the past, distrust and malice towards the other country that arise within national feelings throw off track government negotiations which require level-headed debate. For the most part, such antagonistic moods are caused by lack of information on the other country coupled with mutual misunderstandings.

Getting the other party to understand your country constitutes the first step in conducting international negotiations. The more information transmitted from Japan, the better. There is no question the foreign media plays an almost decisive role in terms of the quantity of information. We cannot have them "passing" up Japan.

What is equally or even more important than the quantity of information is the transmission of information with highly credible news value. For this, we must raise the transparency and visibility of information on Japan to levels that meet the news standards of the foreign media. In reality, however, most important decisions in Japan are still made in exclusive back rooms.

In the profound words of an American reporter who has been an observer of Japan for over 30 years, "in Japan, new oozes out." The same reporter complains that "visible news is at a minimum," and declares that "much of the political and economic news reported by the Japanese media cannot be used by the U.S. media due to the opaque sourcing and the ambivalent content of their quoted comments."

Effective transmission of information from Japan is inseparably tied to the consistent efforts of the Japanese themselves in raising the transparency and fairness of Japanese society.

The writer is a Professor at Shukutoku University and former London Bureau Chief and Senior Editor of the Yomiuri Newspaper. He contributed this comment to “Sei-En,” the bulletin of the Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

北村 文夫 / 淑徳大学教授

2002年 11月 27日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan Being "Passed Up" by Foreign Media