Thanks to blanket coverage of the Liberal Democratic Party presidential race last month, the coalition of opposition parties that formed in anticipation of the upcoming Lower House election has so far attracted scant media attention.

This disinterest may have had less to do with professional laziness than with the belief that the opposition has nothing to offer, since there’s little chance of their coming into power. The LDP presidential election, however, was important because the winner would be prime minister, even if only a tiny portion of the general electorate was voting.

One coalition member, the Japanese Communist Party, has received attention on its own, but it has been negative, which is normal. The party could probably solve half its image problems if it changed its name, since over the years it has shed whatever dogma and doctrines it once followed that were associated with international communism. It has even come to accept the emperor system.

This change of tack is also a point of contention, though. While lawyer Hideki Yashiro was discussing the coalition on TBS talk show “Hiruobi!” on Sept. 10, he criticized the JCP because he said it had never renounced its goal of “violent revolution.” Three days later, TBS apologized for the statement, saying that “violent revolution” had never been advocated in the JCP charter. Yashiro later said that his view was based on the Cabinet’s recognition of the party as a subversive organization. Essentially, Yashiro was saying that since the government thinks the JCP is capable of violent revolution, then that means it is.

Later, at a regular news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that regardless of recent statements by the JCP saying it has never supported insurrection, the government’s position toward the party has not changed.

Yashiro’s acknowledgement of the demonization of the JCP took on added significance after Saitama Prefectural Police referred a case involving JCP lawmaker Taku Yamazoe to prosecutors on Sept. 16. The case in question involved an incident that occurred last November when Yamazoe, an avowed railway enthusiast, trespassed briefly on some rural railroad tracks in order to take pictures of a particular locomotive. At the time, Yamazoe was warned by local police and he acknowledged his mistake. The matter seemed closed but,

10 months later, police contacted prosecutors and some media outlets wondered if Yamazoe was the target of a witch hunt. In any event, on Sept. 30, Yamazoe tweeted that prosecutors had decided not to proceed with the case.

By then the mainstream press had already scrutinized the story with an intensity that seemed disproportionate to what the police initially deemed a minor offense. However, there was a marked difference in tone from one media outlet to another.

Tokyo Shimbun sent a reporter to the place where Yamazoe trespassed and confirmed his explanation of the incident, which he related on Twitter, saying he accessed the tracks by crossing a board placed over an adjoining ditch by local residents who used it to reach farmland on the other side. The locals had not asked the railway’s permission to install the board, and they told Tokyo Shimbun that it was too far to walk from that point to the nearest legitimate railway crossing. According to the transport ministry there are some 17,000 improper “pathways” over tracks throughout Japan, and railway companies ignore them. One woman told the newspaper she didn’t know it was illegal to cross the tracks at that point.

The account by the Yomiuri Shimbun was different from Tokyo Shimbun’s. The Yomiuri also went to the scene of the crime and talked to locals, but the newspaper’s conclusion, based on anonymous comments, was that residents were angry because now people will think they are always illegally crossing the tracks thanks to Yamazoe’s blunder. Moreover, the Yomiuri said that the reason it took so long for the police to refer the case to prosecutors was that they tried to contact Yamazoe and the lawmaker kept putting them off.

The suspicion, voiced by Tokyo Shimbun and others, that Yamazoe was being punished for his party affiliation was further heightened by the online magazine Litera. In summarizing the affair, Litera cited reporting done on its own and by the JCP news organ Akahata saying that, contrary to the Yomiuri’s implication, Yamazoe had voluntarily gone to the local police station on the day the trespass happened and filled out a report.

More significantly, Litera points out that, in February, Kazuya Hara, a former aide to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was appointed chief of the Saitama Prefectural Police. Hara was once an official of the Public Security Bureau, whose job is to surveil supposed subversive groups like the JCP, and who was part of a special Cabinet security team when Abe was prime minister. Litera surmises that with Hara’s appointment it became convenient to revive the Yamazoe case just prior to the election in order to embarrass the JCP. The Yomiuri and some other media outlets, according to Litera, were just following the government’s lead.

It should be noted that Yamazoe isn’t some bumbling dynastic placeholder. He’s one of the Diet’s most knowledgeable and articulate lawmakers, capable of holding his own in debate without the need for notes, though the average person could be forgiven for not knowing this because the mainstream media doesn’t take opposition parties seriously and rarely spotlights opposition politicians unless they say something sensational or, as in Yamazoe’s case, are involved in scandal. They totally discount the purpose of an opposition force, which is to keep the government in check.

Yamazoe is young and ambitious, so, of course, he’s someone whose effect, regardless of press apathy, the ruling party would like to diminish. The fact that he belongs to the JCP makes it easy for them to do so, because, as everyone knows, the JCP is out to overthrow the government — or, at least, that’s what the government wants people to believe.

See www.philipbrasor.com for addenda to Media Mix contributions.

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