The Japanese Media: A Recap

archive3

Quote from PR agency employee, “Ishikura T.” in Anne Cooper-Chen’s Mass Communications in Japan (bolding mine):

“You CAN be sure of placing materials in small magazines. They willingly accept your news about new products. They like barter: a paid ad in exchange for running editorial copy. But such magazines have little credibility.”

So, here’s the score: We know that the six mainstream Japanese news media sources work together in highly collusive arrangements to standardize news (i.e., the kisha clubs); reporters have allegiance only to their sources (politicans, authority figures) and to their companies rather than with the public; and to top that off, there is absolutely no idea of “journalistic ethics” to the extent that news content is frequently changed to please advertising sponsors and politicians in the ruling party.

With those as the “standards,” the lower media sources — namely, consumer guides and variety television — not only mimic all of the three actions above, but are much worse about it because the editors/producers themselves see their content as frivolous, youth-oriented and unrelated to any political concern.

This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the “symbolic economy” has significant influence on our lives. Since the cultural commodities market and corresponding media determine which items litter and decorate the public sphere, companies are always attempting to directly buy up the visual/sensual real estate as much as possible. Total escape from consumer culture means departing society, so our one possible savior is an independent media fighting back for consumers in the symbolic arena. As we’ve seen, the Japanese media’s sole job is to further promote and ultimately legitimize the agenda of the political-economic hegemony. In other words, if their role is to protect and inform consumers/citizens, they are an abject failure.

The United States, unfortunately, is headed down a similar path of media-concentration, collusion, and unethical commercialism. Hopefully the legal and cultural barriers preventing the commercial world from totally devouring ideas of independent media power will stay intact, but they must resist mounting pressure from those with money and authority, who aim to remove every hurdle towards total commercialization.

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

30 Responses

  1. r. Says:

    david: your comparison leads the reader to imagine that the u.s. enjoys a GREAT deal more REAL media freedom than japan, whereas the actual difference in practical terms may only be slight.

    please read this telling exchange between chomsky and an attendee at a palo alto talk in march, 2002.

  2. marxy Says:

    your comparison leads the reader to imagine that the u.s. enjoys a GREAT deal more REAL media freedom than japan, whereas the actual difference in practical terms may only be slight.

    America:

    Media Companies’ Commercial Motives + Sense of Ethics = Semi-Ethical Profit-Oriented Media

    Japan:

    Media Companies’ Commercial Motives + No Indigenous Idea of Media Ethics = Non-Ethical Profit-Oriented Media

    consumers/citizens in the present state of hypercapitalist japan are happiest when they are consuming, NOT thinking

    No, they are happy to be buying products which they implicitly believe to be supported by an independent, ethical media. There’s a reason why magazines don’t announce that the sell their cover to companies – their power and influence stems from the trust of the consumer.

    What I’m saying is this: if consumption is more critical to Japanese society than politics, then consumers need to have independently-verified information and a media with a product-sorting function that orders goods by subjective/objective ideas of quality.

    (An interesting note: private broadcast stations in Japan work on a media-license system giving out by the bureaucracy every 5 years. The Jpn. government DOES actively threaten stations (and the NHK) that their license will not be renewed unless they follow the government line. I can follow up on this if anyone’s interested, but one example is when a TV-Asahi exec said that his broadcasts helped take down the LDP in the 1993 election. When the LDP came back into power, they brought him to the Diet and questioned him about his comments, threatening a revocation of TV-Asahi’s license.)

  3. nate Says:

    maybe this is a neophyte type question… but presuming we take this unethical commercialism for something we should seek to stop…

    how do we do it? since a top down approach seems unlikely… would information for the consumer change things? Would a perfectly informed consumer really lean away from network television, louis vuitton and mcdonalds?
    Im relatively informed, I like to think, but the real objections I have to the end product (not the marketing schemes) is just that its not to my tastes.

    (a little bit the same as the comment above, gomen)

  4. r. Says:

    david said: if consumption is more critical to Japanese society than politics…

    i say: in japan, consumption IS politics, but it is totalitarian.

    also, do you consider “Ideas of Media Ethics” universally valid?

    if you say that on the one hand japanese have “No Indigenous Idea of Media Ethics”

    “and yet one the other hand that *they are happy to be buying products which they implicitly believe to be supported by an independent, ethical media”

    then something doesn:t add up, right?

    or perhaps this can be brought into perspective by borrowing from one of your previous blogs about やらせ or pakuri? a kind of meta-やらせ, or meta-pakuri?

  5. Chris_B Says:

    marxy: I sometimes think you really look down your nose at the masses here. Its almost like you are saying that people cant/wont evaluate what they are presented on their own. Yes many people believe the media is independant, but simulatniously many people believe they cant be trusted either (at least as far as I can tell from my conversations on the matter).

    r: your “thinking for themselves” line is something I’ve been wrestling with in my head for years. We’ve spoken some about that in terms of the need for wetback IT labor. Lets take this up at the next “meeting”.

  6. marxy Says:

    Its almost like you are saying that people cant/wont evaluate what they are presented on their own.

    Here’s the chicken and egg: without a structure of media criticism, can you have a culture of criticism? or is it without a culture of criticism, can you have a critical media?

    I think people do evaluate without the media’s help, but you can only make choices among products that you know, and if the media is streamlining those products for their own benefit, you’re stuck “evaluating” within a small pool.

    I know Japanese people of all ages who “don’t trust the media,” but what are they going to read/watch? 2-ch? There’s nothing close to even the Village Voice, the New Republic, Consumer Reports, Adbusters, Mother Jones, etc. here in Japan. Even something like “Real Time with Bill Maher” (not a great show) or “Daily Show” doesn’t exist here to even question the idea publicly that maybe all this media reality isn’t the real reality.

    Let’s just say it this way, it’s a lot HARDER to make good decisions about your lifestyle/products/life in a producer-dependent media world.

  7. r. Says:

    david: let me throw this one at you.

    if, as you say…

    Japan=Media Companies’ Commercial Motives + No Indigenous Idea of Media Ethics = Non-Ethical Profit-Oriented Media

    and

    America=Media Companies’ Commercial Motives + Sense of Ethics = Semi-Ethical Profit-Oriented Media

    then shouldn:t the americans who enjoy basking in the “Semi-Ethical Profit-Oriented Media” and who STILL make shitty choices be held that much more accountable?

    or to rephrase; there really is no excuse in america for having bad taste (given the situation), it simply means you, as a human, suck.

  8. dzima Says:

    Oh yeah, where’s the Japanese Michael Moore (the obese hard rock listening four 4WD driving millionaire) and the Japanese Bill Maher (who I have seen on an interview saying that computers and internet are completely irrelevant)? C’mon guys, here we have Tamori and Sanma.

  9. marxy Says:

    There doesn’t need to be a “Japanese Michael Moore” but anything mildly resembling a trustworthy critical media source/figure would be a start.

  10. Chris_B Says:

    I thank the gods that there is not a Japanese Michael Moore

  11. marxy Says:

    A pre-2000 Japanese Ralph Nader would be nice.

  12. Brad Says:

    I think people do evaluate without the media’s help, but you can only make choices among products that you know, and if the media is streamlining those products for their own benefit, you’re stuck “evaluating” within a small pool.

    …and America is different from this how?

    Jumping off from Robert’s comment, people in the U.S. have, you would say, much more info that the Japanese consumer and still choose what you see in the mainstream there. I would call them ‘bad choices’ but that’s all subjective. Americans have much more information that Japanese people have and yet I see little difference in their consumptive patterns. Both groups love their McDonalds and shitty Hollywood movies.

  13. marxy Says:

    Allright everyone. Just do me a favor and stage a simple exercise. Think about your favorite US/UK/French/German/Etc. TV shows, magazines, internet sites that you use for political coverage, critical review of culture, satirical takes on society, alternative views of the world, and news fact-checking. Now make a list of all the Japanese sources that do any of those functions above at the same level of competence and credibility.

  14. Momus Says:

    I consider Japanese consumers better educated and more tasteful than their Western equivalents — just about every music artist I rate highly is better known and more available in Japan than the West, for instance — and the fact that this is so makes a mockery of the idea that we have a more independent media in the West, or one which improves people in some way. I think what Marxy calls independent critical spirit is just a kneejerk habit of post-protestant cultures. That’s what we do, we protest and criticize, for the most part pointlessly. That’s why I keep talking about “a talk radio mentality”, one in which individuals disagree and dissect things endlessly. I think it’s a delusion that this kind of thing is about freedom, or makes life better in some way. It’s just a cultural reflex.

  15. Momus Says:

    I can tell you that there’s nothing more banal than the BBC’s “Hard Talk” show, where journalists give every guest a hard time, pry into delicate and difficult matters, and shake hands at the end like particularly aggressive badminton opponents who admire your spunk. The BBC’s Jeremy Paxman is very rude to British politicians and everyone loves it. The British tabloids mock authority figures like the Royals and celebrities like David Beckham. But is the power of British politicians, the Royals or the Beckhams diminished by this? Not a whit. We just like to be nasty in Britain, that’s all. We love to hate.

  16. dzima Says:

    Marxy is probably just jealous of the way the Japanese are ‘indoctrinated’ to like the best out of all cultures. In America, you have to go through all the rubbish to pick a good thing here and there.

  17. marxy Says:

    and the fact that this is so makes a mockery of the idea that we have a more independent media in the West, or one which improves people in some way.

    Here’s my dissenting view: all that love of crazy music stemmed directly from greater media authority. There was an elitist media who were happy to recommend far-out (Western) stuff, and kids went out and bought it based solely on the editors’ tastes, not their own.

    Now that media authority/centralization is going down, is it no suprise that Japanese mass adoption of elitist tastes are going down?

    So, yes, the authoritarian system works when the dictator has good taste.

  18. Brad Says:

    David, I think you’re preaching to the wrong choir here. Sure, I can come up with a list of whatever media I enjoy and it would probably be difficult to find their Japanese equivalents. But, I am not the typical consumer, neither American nor Japanese. I do look for alternative views and balanced commentary. But I am in the serious minority in the U.S.

    I know people with my same outlook exist here in Japan. I’ve met them. They distrust the media as much as I do and they are not as naive as their brethren. But they are equally in the minority here, if not more so.

    Your argument however is not directed towards me nor my Japanese counterparts. You’re looking at the Japanese mainstream while you’re speaking and I’m saying those folks are no different from the American mainstream. It’s all the same general bunch of crap. So I’m still having a hard time seeing the differences.

  19. marxy Says:

    That’s what we do, we protest and criticize, for the most part pointlessly.

    Sometimes the bickering does matter, and that’s when a freedom to criticize comes into handy. We can all preach about how the Japanese have it so good, but it’s only because we know about the other side.

  20. r. Says:

    momus said: just about every music artist I rate highly is better known and more available in Japan than the West, for instance

    and robert says: sure, better known (japanese trainspotting) and more available (hypercapitalism), but much less UNDERSTOOD (and this very much includes you and most of your lyrics and intellectual oeuvre, mr. nick currie) than in the WEST! long live critical thought, down with thoughtless non-critique!

  21. marxy Says:

    I do look for alternative views and balanced commentary. But I am in the serious minority in the U.S.

    Serious minority? The Daily Show isn’t primetime, but it’s not peanuts either.

  22. Momus Says:

    This morning I responded to an e mail from my US label asking if I wanted to participate in a group ad in The Wire magazine. I said that I was annoyed that the magazine hadn’t reviewed any of my records. At least in Japan I’d know that paying for and placing that ad would guarantee me a review. In Britain I have no such guarantee.

  23. r. Says:

    no comment

  24. Brad Says:

    The Daily Show isn’t primetime, but it’s not peanuts either.

    An average of 1.1 million viewers is awesome for cable but I think you’d agree that that is a serious minority.

    (Yes, I know Nielson ratings are flawed, yadda yadda yadda.)

  25. Chompsky Says:

    I think the analysis in this first paragraph is flawed, making the rest of your argument weak because it’s based on the first paragraph’s premises:

    “the six mainstream Japanese news media sources work together in highly collusive arrangements to standardize news”

    ‘collusive’ isn’t the right word here. collude means act secretly together for a deceitful purpose; there’s nothing secret about the kisha clubs, and the Japanese media’s other modi operandi are fairly well-known too.

    ‘confirmist’ is probably correct. but the weird thing about the kisha clubs is that even though the various news agencies are all housed in the same dinky offices and seem friendly with each other on the surface, they are in intense competition with each other for scoops. the cardinal sin for a Japanese reporter is to miss a big story that all the other agencies have. That results in the front pages often looking similar, but there are scoops, original reporting and features. (And there’s also an ideological spectrum going from somewhat-left Asahi to right-wing Sankei, among the dailies.)

    “reporters have allegiance only to their sources (politicans, authority figues) and to their companies but never with the public”

    I think very few actual Japanese reporters would agree with this statement. What makes you think this? Japanese reporters I know are generally idealistic people who think their work is benefitting the public, though being pragmatic Japanese, they realize they do need to work with politicians etc. to get real news (no different, really, from reporters anywhere else in the world).

    “there is absolutely no idea of “journalistic ethics” to the extent that news content is frequently changed to please advertising sponsors and politicians in the ruling party”

    no ethics at all? do you have evidence on how often news content is changed? it it does happen, which I’m willing to believe, I’d think it happens only rarely. I mean, you can’t change a newspaper story once it’s published…

  26. marxy Says:

    I see your point on the kisha clubs (ie, conform over collude), but the politicians and other players in the hegemonic system have specific motives in keeping the clubs in place. So, even if the media outlets aren’t “colluding” to make the news, those that control the clubs (the gov’t, etc.) do conspire to keep all information distribution within their reach.

    Those six media outlets, however, do indeed conspire to keep all other media sources out of the kisha clubs by explicitly and implicitly agreeing to sustain the club system. There’s no coincidence that the reformist mayors and governors’ first tasks have been to dismantle their press clubs.

    but there are scoops, original reporting and features

    Yes, but not to the same extent as the medias of other post-industrial nations.

    Japanese reporters I know are generally idealistic people who think their work is benefitting the public

    You’re throwing in the “anecdote card” for evidence here, but there’s just no history in Japan (especially since the collapse of a viable left-wing political base) of a media actively fighting for the rights of the people. It’s not that they are sinisterly working for the government, but they will tow that line if it means more ad dollars. And as the economy flounders and ad budgets go down, the media has become more dependent on pay-for-play type agreements with producers – to the detriment of the consumers.

    I mean, you can’t change a newspaper story once it’s published…

    No, but if you publish “unsatisfactory” material, you will be kicked out of your press club. So they don’t go to press with controversial items to start with.

  27. Chompsky Says:

    I’m a reporter in a foreign news agency, and we’re members of many kisha clubs. I’ve never heard of a news agency getting kicked out of a kisha club for publishing unsatisfactory material — do you have any examples? Open any major Japanese daily, and it has lots of scoops, features, etc. Do you have any study comparing numbers, or is this just your impression?

    The rest of what you say simply sounds like recycling of Marxist theories on media applied to Japan.

  28. marxy Says:

    I’ve never heard of a news agency getting kicked out of a kisha club for publishing unsatisfactory material — do you have any examples?

    My source for most of this is Laurie Anne Freeman’s Closing the Shop, which is an extremely balanced and clear academic work on the kisha clubs. Ivan Hall’s Cartels of the Mind has further info on kisha clubs and like-minded intellectual collusion in Japan. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, read Karel van Wolferen for some real hardcore dissent. Or countless works in Japanese by people like Watanabe Takesato on media “manipulation.”

    (Also, check out international rankings of Press Freedom. Japan is relatively low, around Latvia if I remember right.)

    Foreign firms have only very recently been allowed in the kisha clubs, as you may well know.

    The rest of what you say simply sounds like recycling of Marxist theories on media applied to Japan.

    I’m not so brash as to make this all up out of my head, nor am I a Marxist, but here’s one to think about: who says Marxist theories of media are all-out wrong?

  29. r. Says:

    chompsky sez: I’ve never heard of a news agency getting kicked out of a kisha club for publishing unsatisfactory material — do you have any examples?

    r. says: of course you haven:t…that:s how under total control you boys are.

  30. Chompsky Says:

    r,, very clever. Now, do you have any examples?