On The Media
October 1, 2004

BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Japan has the world's second-largest economy and a flourishing democracy, thanks in part to the post-war help of the United States. But one thing this democracy lacks, according to a new book, is a responsible press. In fact, it's worse than that. Adam Gamble and Takesato Watanabe offered a detailed account in: A Public Betrayed: An Inside Look at Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West. They describe a two-tiered system. First, there are Japan's newspapers, read by everyone, but dull as dishwater, offering little but government-approved press releases. And then there are the weeklies, called the Shukanshi, also widely-read, with screaming headlines reproduced in subways and on billboards. The Shukanshi offer shocking exposes -- some true, some false -- along with naked pictures and outrageous smears. The newspapers provide no nourishment, while the Shukanshi feed the nation on a rich diet of lies about its own citizens, its own government and even its own history. Adam Gamble and Takesato Watanabe, welcome to the show.

ADAM GAMBLE: Thank you, Brooke.


BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's all very peculiar, because as you note, in Japan, newspapers are widely read. In fact, the leading newspaper has as many readers as, what, our top 10 American newspapers combined? And yet you say the Japanese daily papers are almost stultifyingly boring. What is it in the system that creates a newspaper that is both boring, yet widely read?

TAKESATO WATANABE: I think there are two reasons. The first one is '97 percent of all the newspapers of Japan are home-delivered, and monthly-subscribed, as the custom or daily practice of the people --they are reading the newspapers. Second one is: mostly the political and economic issues are given the information through Kisha Club, so-called "press club."

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the two points you mention are: they don't really have to compete day to day, because virtually everybody who reads the paper subscribes to it, and secondly, the journalists all have to belong to this press club, which as you describe in your book, is kind of embedding in extremis. How do these press clubs work?

ADAM GAMBLE: These are information-delivery institutions, is what they amount to, where if I'm a reporter for, let's say, Asahi Shimbun, and I'm covering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, rather than to go work each day at Asahi Shimbun building, I go to work each day at the press club, within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, directly physically next to the PR department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, being spoon-fed press releases, press conferences and other information directly to them. Really interesting little anecdote. I asked a journalist at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs --what do you do to double-check your sources if a minister gives you information, say, on North Korea? He said well, if one minister gives me information, sometimes I will go to a, a sub-minister to [LAUGHTER] double-check that fact.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: You also cite some gentleman's rules of the press club that struck me as a journalist as, as pretty hilarious. I mean they're really not allowed to scoop each other, are they?

ADAM GAMBLE: That's right. It's bizarre, and you almost think this can't be true, but journalists keep tabs on each other. If I were to put a subject up on the board as the head of my, my press club saying we are not going to write about this issue at North Korea, then no one in my club would be allowed to write about that, and if they were to write about it, they would be removed from the club, thereby no longer being able to do their job and cover the Ministry of Foreign Affairs there.

TAKESATO WATANABE: They are company workers before they are journalists. Once they are hired, they are given the possibility to work until the retirement, so that they want to keep their position stable, and they don't want to have the serious investigative reporting. In addition, you see, there are not so many freelance writers and speakers in Japan. So that they are not given the chance to scoop real important matters of the society.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you have the newspapers who really don't care what's on the front page, because it's all subscription. And you have the Shukanshi which absolutely rely on a day to day grab. they're a little like tabloids, they're a little like literary magazines, they're a little like porn magazines, and sometimes one magazine can be a combination of all of them. But you point out in your book that "the truest truth can appear alongside the most outrageous lie, and there's no attempt, within a single magazine, to distinguish between truth and lies."

ADAM GAMBLE: That's absolutely right, Brooke. Oftentimes, it will be perfectly happy to run really superb investigative journalism that cannot appear in a daily press, because that stuff can sell. However, just as easily it will sell pornographic cartoons, chess games and, and, and golf advice, etc. Really fascinating publications, the Shukanshi.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what are the sorts of absolute falsehoods that you'll find sitting beside the real news, in these weekly newspapers?

ADAM GAMBLE: The case studies that we looked at include a Holocaust denial that ran in a major magazine, and then was advertised nationally. We looked at the smearing of a Buddhist leader who has been standing up for democracy in this country for many years. We also looked at two case studies dealing with World War II war crimes -the Nanjing Massacre where 300,000 people were murdered in a short space of time, as well as the denial in the weekly news magazines of the existence of World War II sex slaves, or so-called "comfort women."

BROOKE GLADSTONE: You point out in your book that the Japanese killed far more Asians than the Nazis killed Europeans, and yet you say that the newspapers, particularly the weekly newspapers, continue to leave certain stories, like those of the Korean comfort women untold.

ADAM GAMBLE: You know, Brooke, the power establishment in Japan is not that different than the power establishment previous to World War II and during World War II. Occupation did make a number of significant changes in various parts of the country, but essentially you're seeing a very continuous stream of power and stream of thought. There's a really strong movement in Japan to keep the realities of World War II and of the Japanese militarists squashed, so that the average, everyday person doesn't realize what its government did during that war. If you interview even well-established Japanese journalists and talk to them about issues such as the Nanjing Massacre or the enslavement of 200,000 comfort women by the Japanese military, many of them will say point blank to you, well you know, these issues are up for historical debate. They haven't been completely established. And this is not dissimilar than if you were to go to Germany today and talk to educated Germans and have them tell you, you know, the issue about whether or not the Holocaust occurred is still up for debate. It wouldn't happen, yet it is going on in Japan today, and one of the key reasons that this is going on is because of a media that is complicit with the established powers. Professor Watanabe often calls it "historical amnesia."

TAKESATO WATANABE: Most of the youngsters, you see, who are not given those information, want to forget the, the things which our ancestors, our fathers and grandfathers have done.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: One thing that seems to sell in the media, especially in the Shukanshi weeklies, is anti-Semitism, and that despite the fact that there are virtually no Jews in Japan.

ADAM GAMBLE: The idea of the Jew in Japan is, first of all, oftentimes it, it plays as a stand-in for the West, so if, if a magazine or a writer does not want to directly attack Americans or the West, they will instead use Jews as a term, and, and sort of use that to cover their tracks, so to speak. And the other part about it that's so interesting, I think, to Japanese people is the idea of a conspiracy theory.

TAKESATO WATANABE: Yes. Jewish people, we, we don't have so many in Japan, so that you see, when we have the economic failure, like the 1992 -- our economy drew back from the prosperity so fast -- and it was said that this was caused by Jewish economic, you see, conspiracy.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: How does the United States figure into all of this. I mean after all, Japan was defeated, occupied and supposedly rebuilt in America's democratic image. Why doesn't the media reflect the American model? Or does it reflect the American model, and we can't see our own media for what it is?

ADAM GAMBLE: You know, leading up to World War II, the Japanese militarists were very specific in their plans to consolidate their news industry, putting out literally thousands of newspapers and thousands of magazines out of business, so that by the time they went into World War II, you had just six companies dominating the entire national news media. After the war, when the occupying forces moved in, they did not disassemble this essential infrastructure, so that today, you still have six major companies dominating the Japanese news media, and one thing which is unfortunately not as widely-known as it should be, is that the U.S. CIA put in millions of dollars to the liberal democratic party through the 1950s and 1960s to keep them in power and to keep them following U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis the Cold War against Russia as well as against China. So, the U.S. has done a lot not to disassemble the fundamental aspects of the Japanese news media that existed pre-World War II, and which was formed by the Japanese militarists in an attempt to control their population's flow of information.

TAKESATO WATANABE: Yes, and we have the globalization process of economy and politics and everything, but we don't have any concrete idea for the globalization of the public's voice, people's voice. This is the reason why, you see, we wrote this book.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, thank you both very much, Takesato Watanabe and Adam Gamble, thank you very much for coming.

TAKESATO WATANABE: Thank you very much.

ADAM GAMBLE: Thank you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: They are the authors of A Public Betrayed: An Inside Look at Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West.

copyright 2004 WNYC Radio


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