The former trade ministry bureaucrat who took on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration on one of the country’s most popular TV news programs called out Japan’s pliant media executives on Thursday for increasingly giving in to government pressure.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo, Shigeaki Koga noted a growing sense of fear among reporters at large media organizations. Last month, Koga staged a surprise show of protest during a live broadcast of the news program “Hodo Station,” criticizing the alleged deterioration of press freedoms under the Abe administration.
Koga cited a recent summons from the information and telecommunications strategy panel of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party to officials from NHK and TV Asahi, demanding they attend a meeting on Friday to answer questions about two separate scandals in which the broadcasters have been ensnared.
Experts have labeled the move by Abe’s party an attempt to quell criticism of his administration.
“Because it is the LDP, because it is the ruling party (making this request), the TV stations are reluctant or too fearful to say no,” Koga said.
“Had it been another party that had instructed them to come and talk to them, they might have said no. But because it is the LDP and the LDP is basically the ruling government, the TV stations cannot turn down this request.
“And when they face a barrage of questions, or are given advice, they will not be able to truly fight back or express very strong opinions in opposition to them,” he continued. “What we’re going to be seeing in this meeting is basically a kind of ‘mass lynching.’
“Of course it will not be overt, and on the surface the words and questions will be very polite, but the fundamental impression that the TV stations will receive is that they will feel a great deal of pressure,” Koga said.
Koga said this pressure is often generated internally.
“Top executives in very large mass media companies seem to be getting closer and closer, on a personal basis, to members of the government. They seem to be suriyoru (snuggling up) to people in power,” Koga said.
“Because they have very close ties, they feel very proud that they are at the heart of power, that they are moving things in the country, that they are very influential.”
This affects reporters in the field, Koga said, because it can prompt them to rein in coverage that might upset the government. “The question reporters are forced to ask themselves is: Will my corporate executives protect me or will they come down on me hard?” Koga said.
Amid this environment, Koga said, there has been a sense of self-censorship, with some journalists unaware they may be exercising greater restraint.
“Unfortunately, we’re not seeing the media fight back. We’re seeing the media basically trying to accommodate the pressures. . . . What that means is that reporters pull back, because they want to have a smooth relationship with the government.”
He added: “This goes to the heart of what a journalist is . . . to be aware that there is something wrong, and then to have the courage and ability to follow up and dig deeper and do investigative journalism.
But under Abe, “I think this ability to be aware of (wrongs) and to follow up on them is being lost.” This has translated to a severe lack of awareness among the general public regarding the political pressures facing the media in Japan, he said.
If news companies continue exercising self-restraint, Koga said, the kind of information that the public receives will be limited to that which is convenient for those in power.
“Without knowing it,” Koga said, “the people will be brainwashed . . . as a result, even though we will continue to have democratic elections . . . we may see . . . something close to a dictatorship become a reality in Japan.”