The domestic media’s penchant for focusing on political power games instead of policies is hampering the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s attempts to govern, veteran correspondent and Japan expert Karel van Wolferen said Tuesday.
Van Wolferen, best known for his 1989 work “The Enigma of Japanese Power” and a series of books on Japanese politics, business and society, was at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo to speak about the nation’s political situation, as well as to talk about his latest book, “America’s Tragedy and the Blind Free World,” which explores the global effects of U.S. foreign and economic policies.
“Japanese political reporting essentially has been about rivalry among the ‘habatsu’ (factions),” van Wolferen said.
The media’s infatuation with party politics has at times led to “character assassinations,” he said, noting things reached a fever pitch in spring 2009 and led to the resignation of scandal-tainted Ichiro Ozawa as president of the DPJ, which was then an opposition party. A renewed frenzy led to the resignation last summer of Yukio Hatoyama as prime minister, and Ozawa again, as DPJ secretary general, both over money scandals.
Van Wolferen also raised doubts about statistics presented in frequently conducted media opinion polls, and said he believes these are part of a ploy to discredit certain lawmakers or the government.
The downfall of both Ozawa and Hatoyama could be directly laid to the relentless pressure from the media and unfavorable opinion polls, he said.
“The entire system, the public prosecutors and media have prevented what the DPJ wants to accomplish,” he said.
But van Wolferen said that while many in the public appear to be disappointed and believe nothing has changed since the DPJ took the reins of government, he begs to differ.
One issue that was never at the center of discussion during the long rule of the Liberal Democratic Party was the balance of power between the U.S. and Japan, a topic the DPJ addressed, the scholar said.
In the past, van Wolferen said, the state of U.S.-Japan relations was rarely a topic of discussion and successive LDP-led administrations were expected to conform to established agreements.
“I think this last year was constructive, with a new party in power and a new prime minister who said they wanted to do things differently, to be more equal with the U.S.,” he said.
But van Wolferen claimed the U.S. is “utterly callous” toward Japan, and considers Japan its protectorate instead of an ally on equal footing.