Media Mix, Jan. 30, 2011

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about that BBC quiz show which offended a lot of Japanese people. I’m hoping that anyone who reads the column will not automatically connect it to the common generalization that all Japanese people like to see themselves as victims, a view that is often advanced when talking about Japanese anger over the atomic bombings, which many in the West (i.e., former Allies) see as being self-righteous. The victim mindset I talk about in the column has more to do with self-restraint, in that the average person, regardless of what he or she thinks, will be solicitous to victims, and by extension their loved onces, simply because of the pain they experienced.

As I illustrated in the piece, this solicitude can be exploited by people with agenda and get in the way of things like constructive diplomacy. However, it’s also a factor in judicial procedure, as clearly shown by the decision to allow victims and/or families of victims to question suspects during criminal trials. Though I don’t necessarily think Japanese people exhibit the so-called victim mentality more than people from other countries, this particular sort of integration of “victims’ rights” into the judicial process seems unique, or, at least, specially designed to address emotional needs that courts usually don’t. It’s usually the media who address these needs by giving victims a platform from which to vent their grief and anger, and that’s to be expected. What shouldn’t be expected is that these aired emotions will influence due process. For the longest time it was something of a cliche to say that in Japan you were guilty until proven innocent, but the incorporation of victims’ rights into legal procedure has practically turned the cliche into a policy.

And in terms of the abductee issue, while I think the Japanese media is intimidated by right wing elements to a certain extent, the main reason they don’t express any doubts over the family-dictated narrative is lack of aggression. If someone with any sort of authority came out and expressed the opinion that the abductees were dead, they would report it and then start talking about it. When Toru Hasuike, the brother of Kaoru Hasuike, one of the five abductees who did return to Japan, quit his position as the leader of the abductee families group, it raised suspicions that maybe he knew something about the fate of the remaining abductees that he wasn’t revealing. For sure, Toru, as well as the other returned abductees, has never spoken with total frankness about his life in North Korea, and it has been easy for some to assume that he knows something that would greatly disturb the families of abductees who didn’t return to Japan. In any case, Toru is now said to be persona non grata in the abductee family community. The media is too solicitous of the families’ feelings to find out why, but if Toru came out and actually said something, you can be sure the press would be all over it.

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