The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

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Are we blessed with "information" that is believable?

This section is a serialized section from Shunsuke Yamagishi, who is active as an education journalist, about education problems.

At the end of last year, I learned that I had come down with a fairly serious case of cancer. I had quit smoking for more than 10 years, but this has no effect on previously heavy smokers. I underwent surgery on January 9th and was in the ICU for 10 days. That I was barely saved from lung cancer and didn't lose my life is close to miracle. Because of that I was asked to write new public relations magazines in succession. On one hand, I'm thankful for that, but it is intertwined with uncomfortable feelings towards moving into full-blown cancer treatment in the future. I have no confidence. However, it might be important for me to frankly point out strange things as being strange based on my love of "newspapers" and the level of reliability of the "information" the newspapers convey. I decided to write with that in mind.

Are there two kinds of newspaper reporters?

I think the way I say it might be a little bit rude to the people who read this column, but I want you to doubt the things newspapers write. I'm not saying that what is written is a lie. So, why do I say to doubt it? Let me explain.

The successor for the president of the Bank of Japan looked, no matter how much the importance of the politics was emphasized, only as if he was being blocked by the administration. I think the position "information" is placed in is that important. It was written in the Asahi Shimbun as "Bank of Japan President Successor - Reason for Disagreement Doesn't Sound Right" on March 21st, the day after the vice-president of the Bank of Japan Toshiro Muto was proposed as a successor. They rebuked the fact that the Democratic Party didn't agree.

I thought "are they sane" when the Asahi Shimbun wrote why don't they accept the government's proposal. I found out later that, on that day, every newspaper criticized the Democratic Party's rejection of the president's successor in essentially the same way. The thought made me shutter. I don't have room to get into details. I just thought it was the TV show Mr. Soichiro Tahara appears on. I confirmed whether or not he had the same opinion as Asahi Shimbun columnist Hiroshi Hoshi. Putting aside back and forth comments, Mr. Hoshi's opinion was different. His reply was that a reporter who has been following the Bank of Japan President's successor for a long time and a reporter who hasn't had different viewpoints is obvious.

I think that those who have a viewpoint like Mr. Hiroshi Hoshi's are newspaper reporters. Might specialist reports and newspaper reporters be different races?

"Scoops," Specialist Reporters, and Real Reporters

Don't be deceived by the word specialist reporter. Mr. Akira Ikegami, who long ago was among the broadcast reporters at NHK, had also been a member of the Ministry of Education Press Club, is now active as an entertainer as well, wrote a column on March 17th for the Asahi Shimbun entitled "Akira Ikegami's Newspaper Reading Slant."

According to the article, scoops were published in two newspapers with a date of March 7th. The Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun ran it as a news item called "BOJ Successor 'President Muto' Proposal Today." Other newspapers were not able to print Mr. Muto's name, because the government feared the Democratic Party's reaction if Mr. Muto's name was leaked before the event, so all related parties were tight lipped on the issue. It was written that in the world of reporters it has been said since long ago that "If you can find out someone's affairs (write a scope), you're a full-fledged reporter." That's right; just about any novice reporter knows these words.

When you think "however" though, Mr. Ikegami wrote "Because the competition for scoops is the drive of reporters and the source of power for newspaper companies, the abilities of reporters are refined." However, he also wrote, "I have a very strong feeling that that much time and effort should possibly be spent on something else."

"I wanted an article which told the reader more about what qualities are required in the president of a central bank." "How are the tops of foreign central banks appointed, and what kind of experience do the people selected have?" "What are the criteria for selection? How do you preserve the independence of a central bank? Obtaining that through polite interviews and conveying it to the reader, I think that is what is required of a newspaper."

What is the information organized reporters write?

A specialist reporter is a reporter who can normally write about this kind of thing, but I found that, in the flow of this instance, it was quite impossible. It's just, if that is the case, how do the newspaper companies react to it? Is there no action to deal with this as an organization along with the reflection and self-reproof of each reporter individually?

Now, the consciousness of newspaper reporters is rapidly becoming organized. It is said that, at a meeting to review how to develop education course guidelines in the future, a Ministry of Education employee said that the newspapers are very much in favor of education course guidelines. It's not limited to education course guidelines. In every area, the thought processes of reporters have become no different than those of government officials. Long ago, there was a debate over the pros and cons of reporters participating in government committees. Now, the atmosphere does support that problem. This seems to be proof that the values of government officials and reporters are the same, can the "people" and the "citizens" protect themselves from the "information" conveyed to them by this kind of newspaper reporter?

Shunsuke Yamagishi

He graduated from the Niigata University's Faculty of Humanities law course in 1958. After working as a reporter at the Niigata Nippo and Asahi Shimbun, he was a professor at Tama University (education course). After retirement until last year, he was a visiting professor. In 1968, he was an honor student and member of the inaugural class of the Soichi Oya Tokyo Mass-communication Juku. In 1970, he won the Kikuchi Kan Prize for his newspaper serialization of "Ashita no Nihonkai" or "The Sea of Japan of Tomorrow." He is active as an education journalist and has authored many works including Daigaku Kaikaku no Genba-e (Tamagawa University Press).