Here’s this week’s Media Mix about TV Asahi’s recent departure from the Japan Federation of Commercial Broadcast Workers Unions. In the column, I distinguish the federation, known as Minpororen, from MIC Union, an umbrella union that represents workers in the media, information, and culture industries. At the moment, the general secretary of MIC is Akira Minami, the leader of the newspaper workers union. Minami is also an employee of the Asahi Shimbun, and though he seems to be taking a sabbatical from reporting, he is one of Japan’s most famous investigative journalists, which is probably why he became personally involved in the plight of the laid-off contract staff of Hodo Station, TV Asahi’s flagship news program and a ground-breaking news shows in the history of Japanese broadcasting. Minami is one of the few Japanese journalists who has reported extensively on the cordial relationship between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and major media outlets and how that relationship has undermined the press’s watchdog responsibilities. Hodo Station also looked at this relationship, perhaps less intensely, and for years, apparently, the management of TV Asahi has been uncomfortable with the reporting since their own executives were said to be complicit in the cordial realtionship, which is centered on wining-and-dining.
This is a particularly fraught issue right now because, according to various freelance journalists making the rounds of the internet discussion shows, talking about the probable ascension of Yoshihide Suga to the premiership in the wake of Shinzo Abe’s resignation, Suga was the architect of the LDP’s scheme to buddy up to the media and, in turn, weaken their confrontational approach to power. It wasn’t just Suga’s post as chief cabinet secretary, with its main task of briefing the press on the matters of the day. He himself actively wined-and-dined journalists and, more importantly, their bosses in a concerted effort to get the press to go easy on the government in terms of both policy and any bumps on the road to their fulfilling Abe’s mission. And by all indications he has been successful. Shigeaki Koga, the former METI bureaucrat and frequent media foil for the Abe bunch, has said that Suga was instrumental in getting him fired as a regular pundit on Hodo Station, so it’s natural to assume that Suga also had something to do, albeit indirectly, with the letting go of the veteran Hodo Station staff, which has annoyed the LDP for years. Getting rid of a pundit here or a producer there wasn’t going to do much to blunt the program’s aggressive thrust, which had been built into its brand since it debuted as News Station in 1985, so the only way for TV Asahi management to turn the show around was to get rid of everyone at the core of the production. It remains to be seen what the results will be.
But in a sense, Hodo Station and Akira Minami are so exceptional to the Japanese press world that it probably doesn’t make much difference what happens to them in the grand scheme of things. After Abe resigned, the press, both domestic and foreign, was generally filled with positive reviews of his long tenure. Two stark departures from this tendency was an op-ed in the New York Times by Sophia Univ. Professor Koichi Nakano and a Daily Beast piece by Jake Adelstein. Both took Abe to task for failing to accomplish much of anything that was beneficial to Japan rather than to the LDP, but, more importantly, the two writers suggested that Abe had probably broken the law. Adelstein’s prickly reporting style was easy for the Japanese media to ignore, but Nakano, a bilingual Japanese national with a long history of anti-establishment writing, can usually get his colleagues’ attention. However, according to a recent installment of the web program Videonews, the only mainstream media outlet that ran a Japanese translation of his New York Times piece was the Japanese language edition of Chosun Ilbo, the South Korean daily.