Media Mix, June 29, 2014

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Shun Otokita

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, about the local coverage of the foreign coverage of the June 18 heckling incident in the Tokyo assembly. As the column indicates, even the Japanese press has admitted that it wouldn’t have been as interested as it was in the incident if outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post hadn’t found it so compelling, but, of course, the international media had to get the story from somewhere. Most think that the Asahi Shimbun broke it, and while that seems true up to a point, as media explainer Akira Ikegami pointed out in a recent column in that very paper, the Asahi’s initial coverage was only published in the Tokyo edition, thus betraying the editors’ feeling that it wasn’t a story worthy of national exposure. It was basically an “incident,” an isolated happening with no implications beyond the notion that Tokyo politicians could be mean. The Mainichi Shimbun was the only major media outlet to put the story in all its editions.

The Asahi’s parochial response is perhaps understandable if you consider the paper’s own likely source, the blog of Shun Otokita, who, like Ayaka Shiomura, is a Your Party member of the Tokyo assembly. What the Asahi missed or ignored in the post was Otokita’s outrage. His anger may be qualified by his loyalties, but his detailed description of the incident makes it clear that it was the sexist tone of the taunts that upset him and not so much the heckling itself. Some commentators have said that Shiomura was simply subjected to the same sort of trial-by-fire that all Tokyo legislators have to go through, and that if she isn’t up to it then she shouldn’t be a lawmaker. They take Akihiro Suzuki’s specific taunt, that Shiomura herself should get married as soon as possible, as a perhaps rude but nonetheless legitimate rejoinder to her assertion that Tokyo isn’t doing enough to help women have and raise children. There’s nothing sexist about it, they say. Otokita’s blog post destroys that already flimsy argument, since it describes an atmosphere in which a group of men verbally pile on an inexperienced member of the assembly by taking advantage of the fact that she’s a woman. In order to shake her up, they used language that made sport of her gender. The Asahi may or may not have picked up on this aspect of Otokita’s report, but in any case they didn’t think it was worth dispatching nationally. When it was published in the Japanese edition of the Huffington Post (a link is provided in the first paragraph of my column) the international press was exposed to it. I’m not saying that the foreign media is more responsible than the Japanese media is when it comes to gender issues, only that in this case the foreign press saw the heckling for what it really was. Had they not highlighted it the Japanese press would have likely just shrugged it off as, at best, business as usual or, at worst, the shenanigans of bored local politicians.

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