Here’s this week’s Media Mix about access journalism in Japan. In the column I try to make the case that most mainstream reporting in Japan is about gaining and maintaining access to people in power, which necessitates a cautious approach to what is actually reported, since any information that compromises that access is discouraged. At the end of the piece I mention the Tokyo Shimbun reporter Isoko Mochizuki, the exception that proves the rule. Mochizuki is a dogged interviewer, and her line of inquiry at a recent cabinet news conference assured that she wouldn’t be invited back to that particular venue again. The point was that she isn’t a member of the cabinet press club, so she had nothing to lose by pissing off Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, which just goes to show that the rest of the press club (or, at least, those who are called upon to ask questions there) falls into line when it comes to the government’s wishes.
Of course, real journalsim means being a relentless asker of questions, regardless of how much it annoys the interlocutor. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mochizuki has suddenly become a star, at least within the media sphere. (A lot of Japanese reporters tweeted photos of her when she unexpectedly showed up at former vice education minister Kihei Maekawa’s news conference on June 23) She’s been interviewed and profiled by various publications and websites since her cabinet news conference “performance” for essentially doing the job she’s supposed to do. By rights, that performance shouldn’t have been extraordinary, but everyone is treating her like some kind of superhero. As mentioned in the column, Mochizuki has been working for Tokyo Shimbun since 2000, mainly as a reporter-at-large, her main beats being the prosecutors office and crime. She’s also written a very well-regarded book on arms exports and did an expose in 2004 of improper political donations made by the Japan Dentists Association. What this wide range of interests shows is that Mochizuki doesn’t get stuck in one area where she could form associations that might compromise her investigations. Her professional attitude proves that the normal mass media protocol of assigning journalists to fixed venues, such as this press club or that one, makes for bad journalism. Beyond that, Mochizuki’s performance also showed how much ground a reporter can cover when she does her homework. She had obviously studied the Kake scandal in detail and her questions to Suga were sincere attempts to fill in the holes in her understanding. They were not the rote queries that most press club reporters pose. They had genuine purpose.