|

Magazine muckrakes where major media won’t make waves

by Hiroshi Matsubara

The Asahi Shimbun’s April 9, 1999, morning edition featured a front-page story by the monthly magazine Uwasa-no-shinso (The Truth Behind the Rumors) that sparked a scandal leading to the downfall of the then head of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The magazine had disclosed that Mamoru Norisada abused his authority by pressuring a private firm into paying off a former hostess with whom he was having an affair. Norisada resigned four days after the daily carried the story.

It was a day of victory for Yasunori Okadome, the magazine’s 54-year-old chief editor and publisher, who believes reporting about gossip — including that pertaining to sexual liaisons — is an important form of journalism.

“It was quite surprising that a major daily carried a scoop by a magazine like ours as its top news story,” the veteran journalist said. “Reporting on gossip is an essential part of journalism, but newspapers, TV and other media look down on magazines that pursue it.”

He added, however, that between 30 percent and 40 percent of the magazine’s articles come from information leaked by newspaper reporters who feel they cannot write about much of the information they have in their own publications.

Established in 1979 by Okadome, the magazine has often shaken the country’s political, business and entertainment circles with its sensational coverage of the scandalous foibles of public figures and celebrities.

Uwasa-no-shinso’s strength is that it does not need to rely on advertising revenue, so almost anyone is fair game, Okadome said.

Its scoops include allegations that former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, while a university student, was arrested on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute, and that a girlfriend of a member of the pop group SMAP had an abortion.

“Dubious acts committed by people in power and other public figures must be unearthed so the public can judge if they deserve power and fame,” Okadome argued.

“Sex scandals, more than other types of affairs, are a great gauge of someone’s personality,” he said, noting that such coverage in Japan is the realm of magazines, which are widely viewed as second-class media.

The magazine has doggedly pursued rumors swirling around powerful politicians, the Imperial family, police and major companies, which are still hot potatoes for the mainstream media.

“Were any of the scoops that led to political scandals in the past year, such as those involving Muneo Suzuki, Makiko Tanaka and Koichi Kato, dug up by the major papers?” Okadome asked.

His main concern now is the proposed privacy protection law, which would require that people pursuing personal information about individuals clearly indicate why they are doing so and not deviate from that purpose.

The legislation would also require that information be obtained through “fair and legitimate means” and that information-gatherers do their best to ensure accuracy and prevent leaks.

“The law may not affect the mainstream media, which anyway are not the first to report stories that could undermine authority,” he said. “But magazines like ours will have to change their approach (if the law is enacted).”

Although his magazine is widely viewed as a merciless gossip monger, Okadome claimed he sets a clear standard when choosing targets — never dig up dirt on or violate the privacy of ordinary citizens, even if they become criminal suspects.

“We never convey gossip from the person on the street, as we see no public benefit in this,” he said. “When it comes to crime reporting, the mainstream media are much more merciless than us in reporting private matters pertaining to ordinary people.”

The magazine will celebrate its 25th anniversary with its April 2004 edition, which is also when Okadome plans to stop publishing.

“A series of court battles (brought by people the magazine put under the spotlight) and various threats have exhausted me,” he said, adding that none of the magazine’s 10 reporters have agreed to take it over.

“I know Japan will be worse without Uwasa-no-shinso,” Okadome said. “But I hope terminating the magazine will prompt younger journalists to get more involved.”