Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the flack that freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda has received since being released from captivity by a militant group in the Middle East. The column focuses on media criticism that mirrors public resentment towards Yasuda for not being careful enough and getting captured while covering the Syrian civil war. Much of this resentment springs from the notion that the government is obligated to work for his release, actions that are perceived as being inconvenient for the government, as well as unnecessary if Yasuda hadn’t been in that conflict zone in the first place.
The column discusses why he was there using unremarkable logic—he’s a reporter, and that’s what he does, end of story. However, if part of the rationale for condemning Yasuda’s behavior is that he’s making the government’s job more difficult, it’s important to scrutinize just what the government did do to try and secure his release. Not many media outlets did that, but the few who did uncovered some uncomfortable bits of information.
The tabloid Nikkan Gendai, which, temperamentally at least, wouldn’t be expected to take Yasuda’s side, claimed in an Oct. 26 report that the government’s version of events leading up to Yasuda’s release earlier that month were sort of fishy, at least as conveyed to the press by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who said the effort was spearheaded by the prime minister’s office. Gendai characterized Suga’s tone as being “self-congratulatory” because the government had worked with Qatar and Turkey to negotiate with the militants holding Yasuda, a move that Gendai called a no-brainer and the very minimum of what was required of Japan. Another freelance Japanese journalist who knows Yasuda told Gendai that the very fact that it took three-and-a-half-years to secure Yasuda’s release calls the government’s actions into question. It seems they did nothing for the first year, perhaps assuming he was already dead, and were then forced to at least seem to be taking action when the video of Yasuda pleading for his life appeared in March 2016. At that point “private supporters” went to Turkey on their own to discuss the matter with individuals who may have had contact with the militants holding Yasuda. It was these supporters who supplied the foreign ministry with information it could use, including the intelligence that the Turkish president had “some influence” over the militant group. Gendai said it found no evidence that the foreign ministry did anything with this information at the time.
This is, of course, mostly speculation, but what caused Gendai to question Suga’s sincerity was the claim by an anti-Syrian government human rights monitoring group that Yasuda was released four days earlier than the date Suga claimed. Why the time lag? Gendai suggests that the government needed more time to create a link between their actions and the release, and played up talks with Turkey and Qatar, who are desperate for Japanese recognition. Yasuda didn’t address this time lag, perhaps understanding that if he did it might be perceived as criticism of the government. He didn’t need to make a bad situation any worse.