Thursday, June 13, 2013

All quiet on Abe

Signatories of November 4, 2012 The Facts Ad

Shinzo Abe and the media: Self-censorship

Richard Katz, editor of the Oriental Economist and APP member, published the article below in OE's June 2013 issue (June 7, 2013)

The Japanese media is famous for finding fault with Prime Ministers within a couple months of their taking office. But Shinzo Abe “has been getting an incredible free pass for six months,” said one stunned American political scientist. The media had similarly acted as a cheering squad for Yukio Hatoyama in his first couple months—until his own fecklessness doomed him. In the initial honeymoon, the editor of one journal called the editor of another to complain about an article that, while accurate, made Hatoyama look bad. “Japan needs Hatoyama to succeed to reinforce ‘regime change,’ so we should support him.”

Today, editors and reporters are acting as if Abe’s success is somehow Japan’s last chance to revive. Meanwhile, Abe has carefully cultivated the media, reportedly having dinner with the President of almost every major media organization. Abe and Yomiuri publisher Tsuneo Watanabe reportedly meet frequently. (Click HERE and search for “Prime Minister of Japan’s Schedule” “PMJS” in tags)

The dog that didn’t bark
The media stance is sometimes seen in the news that they fail to report. The most egregious case has occurred around Abe’s comments on whether Japan’s actions during World War II and earlier deserve the label “aggression” used in the 1995 apology by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. Proclaiming in the Diet that this was an issue for academic historians, it was, in fact, a refusal to reaffirm the Murayama statement.

Abe had promised himself not to let such issues arise before the July Upper House elections, but sometimes he just can’t help himself. The problem is that his beloved grandfather, Noboru Kishi, was directly involved as economic overlord of Manchukuo and a Minister in Hideki Tojo’s cabinet. Abe cannot admit to himself that his hero committed aggression. This is a problem that Abe shares with many other LDP leaders who are descendants of World War II-era leaders.

LDP Policy Affairs Council chair Sanae Takaichi went beyond Abe’s evasions, forthrightly claiming that, “It was understood at that time [before and during the war] that our nation had to fight resolutely in self-defense for its own survival.” Other ministers and party leaders have been forced to resign for far less damaging comments.

With the exception of a few outlets like Asahi, most of the media simply offered brief reports on Abe’s and Takaichi’s words. They provided little analysis and failed to explain the damage these comments did to Japan’s interests overseas, including cooperation with Seoul regarding North Korea. Abe’s views focus Asian attention on Japan’s past acts rather than China’s present ones. The US State Department summoned a senior official from the Japanese Embassy to express its distress.

Kyodo did a very good analysis, but few newspapers printed it. Jiji Press reported as if it were fact a statement from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga that the Koreans had "misunderstood" Abe’s words. Think tanks whose leaders tend to be supportive of Abe, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, have tried to convey to Abe in private the impact he has had.

How many ordinary Japanese know that the man who campaigned on restoring US-Japan ties has been losing Washington’s confidence?

Suga tried to put an end to the whole issue by having Abe say that, “I never denied that Japan committed aggression.” Yet, Abe refuses to affirm it either. Nonetheless, the Yomiuri, which one journalist said is “acting like a government newspaper,” reported that Suga had successfully laid the issue to rest. Within Japan perhaps—especially since Toru Hashimoto has diverted attention via his notorious comments on “comfort women.” But not in the nations whose cooperation Japan needs.

Abe, Tamogami, and the “comfort women” ad
Nor has the daily press and TV investigated why so many of Abe’s aides and associates hold revisionist views. Consider Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, the man in charge of Abe’s desire to make the education curriculum “more patriotic.”

In 2012, Shimomura said that Abe “should declare that the Nanking Massacre did not take place and the issue of comfort women does not exist. He should fully negate the Tokyo Trials historical viewpoint, and should also visit Yasukuni Shrine.” The interview was with Toshio Motoya, a real estate magnate and Abe associate whose magazine in 2008 awarded first prize to a notorious essay by Toshio Tamogami [Was Japan an Aggressor Nation? 2008], who was appointed [Japan] Air [Self Defense] Force Chief of Staff during Abe’s first term.

Tamogami claimed that, “Japan was ensnared in a trap that was very carefully laid by the United States in order to draw Japan into a war.” Though Tamogami was forced to resign, Mindy Kotler of the Washington-based Asia Policy Point, has discovered on Tamogami’s website that Abe appeared publicly at least six times at events sponsored by Tamogami’s Nippon Ganbare organization.*

Abe himself signed a November 4, 2012 advertisement in the New Jersey Star-Ledger denying the Japanese government and military’s role in forcing women into prostitution during World War II. So, did LDP Policy Chief Takaichi. Rather than justify the sex slavery, as Hashimoto did, Abe simply denies it. Abe heads the list of signers from the Liberal Democratic Party. According to Kotler, the signers include ten members of Abe’s current cabinet.** The ad was sponsored by the rightwing “Committee For Historical Facts” [Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact].

Why the media protects Abe 
Why does so much of the media protect Abe? The reason seems to be that Abe gives the impression of being the strong leader that many Japanese feel is needed to get Japan out of its economic morass and to stand up to China and South Korea.

People admire Abe’s leadership capacity and personality far more than his individual policies. For example, in a May 28 poll in Sankei, 72% approved of Abe’s personal character and 67% approved of his leadership qualities. Both are significantly above the 54% who approved of Abe’s stimulus measures, the 47% who approved of his security policies, and the 32% who approved of amending Article 96 of the Constitution. Considering that 75% disapproved of Hashimoto’s comments on comfort women, what would happen to Abe’s approval rate if the press delved deeply into Abe’s views?

People yearn for a reason to hope and don’t want any news about Abe that could dampen their hopes. According to an important leader in Japanese journalism, editors and reporters are not merely unwilling to defy the feelings of their viewers and readers. Many of them share those feelings.

Asia Policy Point adds:
*7 (possibly 8 as one has disappeared from the website since ) 
Watch the Videos: 
September 21, 2010, http://youtu.be/nCfWX2--jtw?t=6m59s
February 2, 2010, http://youtu.be/xSMMjYcCl_U?t=15m37s

**See photo heading this article of "assentors/signatories". Separated out below is the list of Abe Cabinet members who signed "The Facts" ad in the November 4, 2012 New Jersey Start Ledger, which was two days before the US national elections and less than a week after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey.
Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister
Seiichi Eto, Special Advisor to Prime Minister on National Issues
Keiji Furuya, Minister in Charge of Abduction Issue and Nation’s Infrastructure Resilience
Tomomi Inada, Minister of State for Regulatory Reform
Yoshitaka Ito, Parliamentary Secretary of Finance
Shigeo Kitamura, Parliamentary Secretary of Cabinet Office
Hiroshige Seko, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary
Hakubun Shimomura, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology
Yoshitake Shindo, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications
Hiroyuki Yoshiie, Parliamentary Secretary of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology

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