Media Mix, July 22, 2018

Here’s mud in your eye

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about news coverage of the rain disaster that hit western Japan two weeks ago. The column uses the “drinking party” attended by various high level LDP lawmakers as a framing device to show how the central government doesn’t really have any means to deal with such a disaster while it’s going on. In the context of what I was writing, the problem with the LDP’s lack of response was mostly administrative in nature, but that doesn’t mean it lacks a moral dimension. What struck me about writer Satetsu Takeda’s conversation on the Golden Radio show was how angry he was. It’s unusual for a reporter to express such vehement disgust on a mainstream media program, but he was clearly enraged by the way the LDP shunted aside responsibility for the delayed response to the destruction. As he pointed out, the party had been planned months in advance, and the prime minister’s presence was not necessarily guaranteed, though, actually, it turned out to be the launch of his campaign for a third term as LDP president. Abe famously doesn’t drink because of his fragile digestive system, but he apparently partook rather lustily (there was good sake from his home constituency), so, in Takeda’s eyes, the party was very important for everyone involved and they purposely ignored the Meteorological Agency’s warnings earlier that day. Afterwards, the chief cabinet secretary dismissed complaints about the party by saying that the prime minister’s “office” was monitoring the situation in western Japan as they developed so there was nothing wrong with the prime minister attending a party that had been on his schedule for months.

Takeda’s anger would be better spent on complaining about the LDP’s general hypocrisy. Abe has always been touted as a leader whose main aim is to “protect” Japanese people’s lives, which he has failed again and again, or, at least, when it comes to natural disasters. Of course, these crises can’t be sufficiently predicted, but by laying the responsibility on local governments, not to mention individuals themselves (the jiko sekinin, or “personal responsibility” angle), they avoid the toughest questions about their own responsibility. The same can be said on a micro level about the current heat wave, which has killed a dozen people. The media frets about the authorities’ lack of preparedness for such weather, but it seems the public understands that the authorities don’t really have that much skin in the game. The central government could easily scrap a few fighter planes it’s buying from the U.S. and use the money to buy every public school in Japan air conditioners, but that would be wrong, because the average person really must look out for themselves. The only real soul-searching the central government has done with regards to the rain disaster is saying that it hasn’t done enough to guarantee flood-preventing infrastructure. That’s a no-brainer, even if, as pointed out in the column, dams and levees are not the guarantees they’re purported to be. Politicians get a lot of mileage with construction-related donors when they shill for public works projects.

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