Media Mix, Nov. 10, 2013

Joji Nishida

Joji Nishida

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about how media coverage of people considered outside the mainstream may contribute to their continuing social marginalization. The headline in the JT says “minorities,” which is technically correct in the context of the column but may be misleading for the average person, who will be reminded of racial or ethnic minorities. I’m mainly talking about people whose status in society is determined by socioeconomic factors—on the one hand, children born out of wedlock, who are the subject of institutional discrimination because of civil registration laws, as well as couples who may not get married because they want to keep their names; and on the other hand people who are receiving or trying to receive public assistance. There is overlap among these different groups, and some may belong to ethnic minorities, but it isn’t the point I’m trying to make. The point is that discrimination is intensified for any group when the media treats the people in that group as being “special” because of the way their minority status impacts their daily lives. For those on welfare, this is probably true as far as it goes because if you’re poor it affects every aspect of your life. If you’re “illegitimate” or cohabiting with a partner for whatever reason, those factors probably play a smaller part in your daily life, so there is that distinction, but in the media scheme of things it all comes under the same heading of “being different.”

As mentioned in the first part of the column, some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party want to maintain these social differences for the purpose of encouraging people to form traditional families, which they’ve never bothered to define but we can assume it means a married couple and offspring that are connected to both spouses biologically. Their logic is of the negative suggestion kind: make illegitimacy and “living in sin” unacceptable phenomena so as to discourage their proliferation, a type of social engineering that ignores not only people’s choices but also the way real life is lived. After the Supreme Court in September ruled unconstitutional the Civil Code stipulation that illegitimate offspring receive half the inheritance of a legitimate heir, this group of lawmakers said they would study the matter, presumably to make a case against the government changing the law accordingly. This is mostly just posing, since there’s enough support to change the law among the remaining LDP Diet members. Moreover, there’s something arcane about the law in the first place: it has no effect on the majority of citizens, who couldn’t care less about illegitimacy. Besides, there is still a legal designation of illegitimacy attached to the birth certificate and the family register, so it’s not as if the stigma will be gone over night.

Still, it was a bit of a shock when I heard that the LDP’s deputy secretary general, Joji Nishida, referred to the “making” of “proper children” (chanto shita kodomo) as being essential to increasing national strength. By “proper children” he was referring explicitly to legitimate children, since, according to journalist Satetsu Takeda in the Huffington Post, he made the remark on the Fuji TV show “Hodo 2001” during a discussion of the Supreme Court decision, which he opposed. Of course, it doesn’t take a big leap of imagination to assume that since legitimate children are “proper,” illegitimate children are “improper.” Many people have a problem with the term “illegitimate” in the first place, which is understandable since it has a negative meaning, but it’s become a more or less standard legal term for children born out of wedlock. There’s no mistaking the purposefully negative cast of “improper,” so there’s also no mistaking Nishida’s position. He clearly believes children born out of wedlock are not full citizens. Maybe he even thinks they’re not full human beings. It’s difficult to tell because the media didn’t pick up on the remark at all. No major newspaper or TV network or even weekly magazine commented on a phrase that would have certainly occasioned outrage if it had been uttered by a politician in the U.S. or Europe. Maybe it’s because “Hodo 2001” is on BS Fuji and no one watches news shows on satellite TV? Or, more likely, maybe the media cares even less they let on.

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