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Media Freedom in Japan Essay


Billones posits, “Japan’s prolific media garner one of the largest print readerships in the world” (par. 13). The Japanese constitution safeguards the freedom of expression through media. Moreover, the government works to ensure that the country upholds and respects the freedom. Nonetheless, in 2010, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly made some amendments in the Youth Healthy Development Ordinance.

Authors and readers of manga (a Japanese comic book) criticized the amendments, claiming that they curtailed their freedom of expression. The initial goal of the Ordinance was to make sure that young people did not access published materials that could compromise their social behavior (Kasza 14).

Nevertheless, the amendments altered the meaning of “harmful publications” giving the government power to proscribe certain publications if it felt that they contravened the country’s cultural norms. Indeed, presently, media freedom in Japan has hit an all time low. This paper will discuss the transitions that media freedom in Japan has undergone since its establishment.

Majority of the newspaper companies in Japan sells over a million copies of newspaper per day. High demand for newspaper leads to the companies issuing two editions per day. Yomiuri Shimbun, Mainchi Shimbun, and Asahi Shimbun are the leading newspaper companies in Japan (McNicol and McNeill 4).

Majority of the newspaper companies exhibits uniformity with respect to news contents. All the media companies get their news from a common source.

Therefore, their news appears somewhat similar. Apart from television and newspapers, internet is gaining popularity as another source of information in Japan. In 2009, income from online sales and advertisement surpassed that of the newspaper advisements. The Japanese government has not imposed sanctions on internet media, unlike on the other media (McNicol and McNeill 7-9).

In 2000, the Japanese criticized media industry for violation of personal privacy when gathering and disseminating news. Besides, the public alleged that reporters did not observe ethics when collecting information. The Council for the Promotion of Civil Liberties went to an extent of requesting for implementation of injunctions, which would limit the freedom of media. Besides, the council claimed that there was an urgent need for the establishment of an organization that would make sure that media do not infringe into human rights.

This prevented the media from collecting and disseminating news independently. Many reporters were afraid of being prosecuted. Hence, they could not broadcast news that seemed to be sensitive but critical to the public. Consequently, the public went without noticing some of the incidences that took place in the country due to their sensitivity or because their coverage would infringe into the rights of the victims.

In Japan, newspapers are the widely sought media with the country having over 72 million dailies. Even though, many people are turning to television news, the newspaper industry continues to enjoy massive support in the country. In 1996, Freedom House, an American research institute alleged that one of the challenges that the Japanese media faced was lack of freedom in reporting political issues.

Besides, the institute claimed that Japanese media experienced immense pressure from the nation’s economy (Freedom House par. 1). Until now, the Japanese media do not enjoy freedom when reporting political news. Besides, political news is always short of diversity.

One of the factors that limit media freedom in reporting economic and political news is Kisha Kurabu (also know as journalist clubs). Media companies establish warm relations with politicians and bureaucrats. Consequently, to maintain the relationship, media outlets refrain from reporting news that might harm these politicians and bureaucrats (Freedom House par. 2).

All political, business, crime, and government news are covered through journalist clubs. Moreover, not all reporters can cover news in these clubs. Only the members of the club can cover the proceedings of the journalist clubs. Consequently, foreign correspondents wishing to cover political news can only rely on designated reporters for such news (Jameson par. 3). This compromises the veracity of political news in the country.

All news reporters that cover the proceedings in journalist clubs are acquaintances of the government, bureaucrats, or politicians. Before releasing their reports, they review them to ensure that they do not compromise their relationship with the government, politicians, or bureaucrats.

Therefore, the public end up getting the news that the government or the politicians want it to get. The use of journalist clubs denies foreign reporters the freedom to cover political and government news in Japan (McQuail 511-517). For instance, an American reporter was barred from reporting incidence that involved stabbing of Ambassador Edwin (Jameson par. 4).

The officer that interrogated the criminal acknowledged that American reporters had the right to attend for the news briefings. Nonetheless, as the briefings took place in the journalist clubs, the American reporters could not attend for the conference. The officer had to look for an American reporter to brief him about what transpired in the conference (Jameson par. 4).

Nowadays, Japan allows foreign reporters that are invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to attend for the official press conferences. Hence, such reporters get a chance to cover the clubs’ proceedings without relying on local reporters. Cases of media coercion are infrequent in Japan. However, “politically motivated censorship occasionally blocks the dissemination of information.

In November 2010, the KK Kyodo News Agency refused to distribute a press release announcing protests against Japan’s alleged persecution of Unification Church members” (Nester 30). The agencies still dictate on the news to release to both local and international audience, in spite of the news agencies allowing journalists to cover incidences in the country without interference. In return, international audience receives only positive news about Japan with the news agencies withholding majority of the negative reports.

Pharr and Krauss posit, “Journalists in Japan are not seen as independent professionals working in the public interest, instead, they are seen as, first and foremost, employees of a company” (39).

This loyalty prevents the journalists from reporting on critical news and taking responsibility for their news. The Japanese culture prohibits news reporters from reporting incidences that contravene national taboos (Pharr and Krauss 40).

Japanese news media are highly exclusive. Majority of the executives in newspaper companies is government appointees. The appointees are responsible for advising the media companies on political and governmental issues to publish or not to publish.

Consequently, whenever there emerges a conflict of interest between the newspaper companies and the government or politicians, the appointees come in to neutralize the conflict. Hence, the public never know about any negative news involving the government or certain politicians (Nakata par. 2).

The Fukushima nuclear disaster curtailed media freedom in Japan further. The most affected were freelance journalists. The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) prevented freelance journalists from covering the aftermaths of the nuclear disaster.

The government and TEPCO allowed only two freelance journalists to visit the plan. Nevertheless, they were not allowed to capture photographs or record what was going on at the site (Adelstein par. 4). A year after the incident, TEPCO, in collaboration with the government, still monitors the media and dictates on the information to relay to public. Japanese Constitution grants all journalists the right to access and disseminate information indiscriminately.

Nevertheless, the government does not abide by the constitutional provisions. Instead, it discriminates against freelance and foreign journalists (Adelstein par. 7). The government argued that not all journalists could visit the nuclear plant due to logistic challenges. However, by the government preventing freelance journalists from taking photographs of the site, it proved that there was no transparency in coverage of the incidence.

During the subsequent visits to the site, freelance and foreign journalists that took photos or recorded activities taking place at the site could not broadcast them before the government reviews them. Hence, the public could not get authentic information about the damage at the site since TEPCO and Japanese government censored all information released for public consumption (Adelstein par. 12).

In spite of the Japanese constitution safeguarding the freedom of media, news agencies, politicians, and the government always violate these rights. In Japan, journalists use system clubs to gather information. Only authorized members have access to these clubs locking out other journalists.

Besides, the government and politicians coerce journalists making them refrain from broadcasting news that would incriminate the politicians or the government. As politicians and government representatives manage the journalist clubs, they expel any member of the journalists that fails to succumb to their coercion and broadcasts information that taints their image. In addition, news agencies continue making amendments in the constitution thus, curtailing media freedom in Japan.

Works Cited

Adelstein, Jake. . 2012. Web.

Billones, Cherrie. Japan takes significant drop on press freedom list. 2013. Web.

Freedom House. . 2011. Web.

Jameson, Sam. . 2000. Web.

Kasza, Gregory. The State and Mass Media in Japan: 1918-1945. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998. Print.

McNicol, Tony and David McNeill. “Is press freedom being eroded in Japan?” The Asian-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 1.1 (2007): 3-15. Print.

McQuail, Denis. “Accountability of media to society principles and means.” European Journal of Communication 12.2 (1997): 511-529. Print.

Nakata, Hiroko. . 2012. Web.

Nester, William. “Japan’s mainstream press: freedom to conform?” Pacific Affairs 62.1 (2010): 29-39. Print.

Pharr, Susan and Ellis Krauss. Media and Politics in Japan. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1996. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, September 11). Media Freedom in Japan. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/media-freedom-in-japan/

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"Media Freedom in Japan." IvyPanda, 11 Sept. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/media-freedom-in-japan/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Media Freedom in Japan'. 11 September.

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