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Conservative magazines set sights on Ikegami

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

“I don’t watch much TV on my own,” writes university lecturer Atsushi Iwata in WiLL magazine (November), “but sometimes I watch together with my wife. I don’t particularly care about what she watches, but there are times when I ask her to change the channel — particularly when it’s a program with Akira Ikegami providing commentary.”

Appearing in a collection of articles labeled “Media suicide,” which also attacked the liberal Asahi Shimbun as “An enemy of the people,” Iwata’s piece in WiLL was titled “What is it about Ikegami that’s impartial, fair and neutral?”

That’s quite an accusation considering that the 68-year-old Ikegami is one of the most familiar faces on TV.

A native of Nagano Prefecture, Ikegami joined NHK in 1973. From 1994 to 2005, he played the role of “Dad” in the half-hour “Weekly News for Kids.” Partly for this reason, Japan’s millenials grew up getting their news and commentary from a non-confrontational father figure, whose presence still resonates into their adulthood.

In numerous popularity surveys, Ikegami has been ranked at or near the top as a critic, journalist and political commentator. In 2010, Ikegami’s trademark expression, “Ii shitsumon desu ne!” (That’s a good question!) ranked second in the year’s list of popular buzzwords. He was also rated first as the “ideal boss” in a 2012 survey by a major life insurance company.

As it turned out, the November issues of two other conservative magazines, Seiron and Hanada, also ran articles critical of Ikegami’s journalistic ethics and credibility. It’s analogous to a slot machine hitting three lemons.

Depending on the media format, Ikegami might be described a journalist, program moderator or commentator, although Japan Times contributor Philip Brasor uses the term “media explainer” to describe Ikegami’s most familiar role. It’s fair to say he’s extremely popular and attacks on him have been rare, up to now.

What had Ikegami allegedly done, then, to warrant virtually simultaneous attacks in three magazines? At first glance, I thought the articles might be objecting to coverage of the late Emperor Taisho in his 253-page book, released on July 20, titled “Tenno to wa Nan Desu ka?” (“What is the Emperor?”). That book is part of a growing genre of printed matter about Japan’s Imperial family being issued in the lead-up to the abdication of Emperor Akihito, which is scheduled for next April.

As reported by J-Cast News (Sept. 10), however, Ikegami appears to be embroiled in a dispute with Kazuo Yawata, a former Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry bureaucrat and currently a professor at Tokushima Bunri University.

A day earlier, Yawata had posted on his Facebook page that a researcher employed by Ikegami had spent “considerable time” interviewing Yawata to obtain information for an upcoming program, but on that program Ikegami appears to have followed guidelines “so as to present the views expressed as his own.”

According to J-Cast, journalist Kaori Arimoto also claimed she’d received similar treatment at Ikegami’s hands. And a large number of visitors went to Yawata’s Facebook page, leaving behind more than 2,500 likes within a few days of the posting.

In the WiLL article, Iwata — not to be confused with Yawata — accuses Ikegami of engaging in kopipe (copying and pasting), that is, using source materials verbatim without giving proper attribution. His article devotes a full page to then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s meal schedule for the entire month of August 2010. Iwata’s intent was to debunk Ikegami’s praise of the prime minister as being a “regular guy” who often enjoyed a steaming bowl of ramen noodles.

In fact, Kan did eat ramen — once, in Hayabusa-cho, near his office, on Aug. 27 of that year. On the other 30 days of that month, however, he dined at high-class specialty restaurants, in major hotels or at official functions.

So, Iwata argues, for Ikegami to inform his viewers that the prime minister’s dietary intake was any more plebian than, say, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso — who is privately wealthy and known for his high-rolling lifestyle — was, in Iwata’s words, an “editorial deception.”

Meanwhile, in the November issue of Hanada — a spinoff founded two years ago by WiLL’s original editor, Kazuyoshi Hanada — an article by the same Kazuo Yawata mentioned in J-Cast News accuses Ikegami of engaging in “preposterous faking” and “ripping off material as common practice.”

Another article by Yawata also appears in the 45th anniversary edition of Seiron, published by the Sankei Shimbun, which featured a special section titled “Media rhapsody” in which the aforementioned Yawata lambasted Ikegami for presenting “fiction” and labeled him with the creative sobriquet “ikega#metoo.”

Without going into the specifics of his perceived injury at the hands of Ikegami, however, Yawata comes across as a bit touchy. While it’s probably no excuse, he surely realizes that in a tightly edited medium such as television, where literally every second of a broadcast counts, use of attribution can be daunting. The guidelines might encourage citing names such as Einstein or Newton, but refrain from mentioning obscure individuals who are unfamiliar to most viewers.

As touched upon in this column two weeks ago concerning the demise of Shincho 45 magazine, Japan’s monthly A5 format periodicals have been struggling to maintain readership, and it may be that iconoclastic attacks on a popular TV persona are further evidence of a trend toward more abrasive reporting — a sign of the times that mirrors the media wars going on in other countries.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.