#3: The media situation and Japanese democracy.
Written by Michiyo Terasaki, Crossing Borders National Coordinator for Japan.
The Press freedom index for Japan has been declining since Prime minister Abe gained power, according to Reporters without Borders, who also pointed out how the current government manipulates the media; “Many journalists, both local and foreign, are harassed by government officials, who do not hide their hostility towards the media.” . It is very difficult for journalists to be guardians of democracy in Japan.
There are five major newspapers and broadcasting stations and one public broadcasting station in Japan. As Japan is a relatively safe and peaceful country, one gets the impression that these news stations tend to report the same news, with the same angle, so that one could not necessarily tell the difference between them.
However, during the school scandals, things became different, and the media reported on the scandals in very different ways.
The media showed themselves to be divided into right or left-wing groups, where the right wing tended to follow what Abe expected the media to report, whilst the left-wing fought against this. Those different angles made me and other Japanese people confused; it was very hard to interpret what was actually going on. But the interesting thing is, human beings can instinctively understand who is telling lies, despite this situation of confusion. On March 2017, a survey by a media group revealed that more than 60% of people believed that Abe was not held accountable enough, when they saw that the government never demonstrated the desire to respond to suspicions, and instead kept saying that no official documented record existed, as it had already been disposed of. This incompatibility ended up leading to distrust.
Although Abe’s approval rate did not go down immediately, due to a lack of effective opposition, as well as the fact that people usually tend to forget the news quickly; left wing media kept investigating new facts, and a convincing explanation by the government never came. Finally, after Abe’s party suffered a historic loss in the Tokyo Assembly elections in July 2017, his approval rate dropped down to around 30%.
When I saw this series of events, I realized that democracy within Japanese media was still alive. However, at the same time, I was not convinced that Japanese citizens had fully understood or engaged in what was reported by the media. Perhaps everyone had just shifted support to the side which had the bigger voice; in this instance, the left-wing media who were criticizing the prime minister. It is very important that people independently engage with, and are critical of what media is reporting, rather than just following the tide of populist support.
But at the same time I noticed that my point of view towards democracy is based on that “How much freedom of speech you have towards authorities”, and am not sure if, or how much I, and Japanese normal citizens understands what media reports and if it is correct or not. That means, even though if there is “Freedom of speech”, if people do not consider things with their brain and follow somebody who has biggest voice, it would become populism which we exactly had experienced at WW2. Therefore I think it is very important point for Japanese citizens to be able to judge what media reports, and also have their opinion based on their thought.