LDP targeted TV program on ‘Abenomics’ while calling for neutrality

LDP targeted TV program on ‘Abenomics’ while calling for neutrality
The Asahi Shinbun)

The ruling party sent a letter to a TV station complaining about a news program’s report on “Abenomics” after it called for neutrality in reporting during the run-up to the 2014 Lower House election.

“Although I have not gained the total picture about the facts of the case, the document was not intended to apply pressure on a news program,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at an April 10 news conference.

It was revealed that Teru Fukui, director-general of the LDP’s Information Bureau, sent the controversial letter dated Nov. 26, 2014, to TV Asahi Corp.

The letter was sent after the Liberal Democratic Party made a general request to television networks to report neutrally in the run-up to the December Lower House election.

The LDP had issued a statement dated Nov. 20, 2014, that asked the major Tokyo-based broadcasters for fair and neutral reporting with regard to the Lower House election. Opposition parties blasted the document as tantamount to “political pressure.”

“It is unprecedented to have the ruling party submit specific complaints toward a particular program. It can be considered a sort of threat,” said Hiroaki Mizushima, a professor of media studies at Tokyo’s Hosei University.

“There is no ‘correct answer’ for the balance required in reporting on Abenomics. Such an action could lead to reluctance to cover issues that are difficult to handle,” added Mizushima, who has also served as a director for news programs at Nippon Television Network Corp.

After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Lower House, TV Asahi’s “Hodo Station” (News reporting station) program aired the story about Abenomics on Nov. 24.

The letter from Fukui to TV Asahi said, “The contents were such as to conclude that the effects of Abenomics were only limited to major corporations and the wealthy class and had not spread to other parts of the Japanese population.”

It said: “For issues on which there is a difference of opinion, the provision in Article 4, Section 4 of the Broadcast Law calls for clarifying the contentious aspects from different angles. The editing of the news program in question as well as the accompanying studio commentary cannot be said to have taken that provision into sufficient consideration.”

The segment in the TV program ran for about nine minutes and was part of a package shown over a number of days focusing on various issues related to the Lower House election.

In the segment, newscaster Ichiro Furutachi said: “Two years have passed since the start of the Abe administration. Stock prices have more than doubled. That is certainly a good thing.”

A major portion of the segment was devoted to people talking about how they had gained as a result of Abenomices. One said the rise in stock prices was a positive development.

At the same time, a graph was used to show that wages in real terms had not increased.

An expert appeared in the segment and said, “Because younger people do not have much in terms of assets and their incomes have not increased, the actual situation is of continuing to cut back on consumption.”

Hosei’s Mizushima added, “The Abe administration has shown a pronounced stance of monitoring the media and complaining about ‘slanted’ reporting when it does not suit their intentions.”

Mizushima said sound democracy developed in Japan because in the past those in power held the view that the role of journalism was to direct sharp criticism toward the government.

At the same time, he said the mass media’s failure to raise organized protests against the requests from the LDP are a sign that journalism has weakened in Japan.

Mizushima said a division had emerged among media outlets depending on their closeness to the Abe administration. That was a major reason organizations such as the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association and the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association (Nihon Shinbun Kyokai) have been unable to issue a collective protest against the LDP requests, Mizushima said.

(Kotaro Nakajima contributed to this article.)