Media Mix, Sept. 27, 2020

Isoko Mochizuki

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is mainly about the lack of women’s voices in the Japanese mass media, especially with regard to the press. I understand that some people, aside from the issue of fairness in employment, may be uncomfortable with the idea of a female point-of-view when covering news stories, since journalism should be totally objective, but that professional ideal is unrealistic. In fact, one of the biggest problems with journalism in Japan is that many reporters who work for the major media companies approach their jobs too objectively. If they consider anyone’s feelings in their approach to the story it’s either that of their editors, that of their subjects, or that of the target audience. They rarely bring their own sensibility and experience to bear on their coverage, probably because these aspects weren’t cultivated when they were in school. The most famous mass media reporter right now is probably Isoko Mochizuki because she is seen to be challenging to people in power. However, all she is doing is asking the questions that need to be asked in order to get at the truth in the story she is pursuing. Does the fact that she’s a woman have anything to do with her seeming iconoclasm? Maybe. She doesn’t cover nominally “women’s” issues, and her writing doesn’t necessarily betray a woman’s point of view, but few men who are employed as reporters for major publications and TV stations are as aggressive in their approach to getting a story. By that token, it should also be mentioned that Mochizuki is a wife and a mother, and such responsibilities seem to have no particular effect on her journalistic capabilities. And, of course, they shouldn’t.

One of the reasons male reporters in general may not be as aggressive as Mochizuki is that they are thinking about advancement. If they piss off someone in power and that person complains to their editor or someone even higher up in the media company where they work, it might make it difficult for them to be promoted down the line. As mentioned in the column, there are few women editors at the dailies and TV networks, and I have to wonder what Mochizuki’s chances are of climbing the ladder within even a left-leaning organization like Tokyo Shimbun. From what I’ve read and heard, she gets by with what she does at the company mainly through force of will and the unexpected celebrity that has attended her unusual approach (in Japan, at least) to her job. She is supposedly resented by some of her colleagues and editors, but she’s a star so they aren’t going to do anything about it. Still, I doubt if she is going to be promoted, and, again, that doesn’t necessarily mean she is being held back because she is a woman, but the fact remains that she is a woman and an exceptionally effective reporter. And I don’t think those two attributes are unrelated in a media milieu like Japan’s. In the Asahi Shimbun article I mention in the column, Tomohiko Nezu cites two reporters who hit glass ceilings in their companies because they were women. The late Reiko Masuda was the first woman to be named an editor at the Mainichi Shimbun, but her dream was to head the political affairs department, the most important editorial post at the paper. Men who entered the company after she did ascended to that desk instead. The late Yayori Matsui was a force to be reckoned with at the Asahi Shimbun, but because she wanted to cover the comfort women issue in depth she made her male colleagues uncomfortable and so had to quit the newspaper in order to work on the issues that meant the most to her, in particular gender inequality and sexual violence against women. The question thus becomes: If Isoko Mochizuki became a powerful editor at a major newspaper, would she carry out her responsibilities in a way that was different from other, presumably male, editors? Probably, but then you’d have to wonder whether such actions were due to her experience as a journalist or due to her experience as a woman, and when you think about it carefully, you know you can’t separate the two.

addendum (Sept. 27, 11 p.m.): This afternoon I learned that Mainichi Shimbun employs more women reporters than any of the other national dailies. I discovered this because I am now writing a column about Shiori Ito’s defamation lawsuits and Mainichi’s coverage of Ito’s situation has been thorough since she first came forward with her rape accusation. It turns out that women reporters at the paper have made a point of covering the topic, which essentially proves my point about having more women in editorial and reporting positions. However, I should also mention that Mainichi pays less than any of the other national dailies. The average annual salary, in fact, is about ¥2 million less than that at the Asahi Shimbun, which pays the most. Make of that what you will.

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