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Spring Verdure Issue (May)

Trend Eye

What can be seen in the reporting of politics and education.

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

Judgment by citizens

March of 2009 was truly a clamorous season. The chief public secretary of Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, the President of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), was arrested and indicted by Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office. Mr. Ozawa criticized the unfairness of the investigation and resolved firmly to continue his role as President of the DPJ009, but the mass media joined together in a unanimous call for his resignation. Mr. Ozawa fought back tears at a press conference, but even so reporters persisted in saying that he should resign from his role as President if he truly cared about the citizens of Japan. I believe that the mass media was truly concerned with the judgment made by citizens when comparing the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) at the time of election, and cared little whether Mr. Ozawa resigned or not. However, this way of thinking was not present in the newspapers.

However, when the chief public secretary was indicted, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper published a full-page editorial and struck a strong, repeated blow with the title "Nishimatsu Donation Scandal: President Ozawa Should Resign". Similar assertions were made by the Nikkei newspaper and the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, but the force of opinion was not as strong. That type of article is usually written by the chief editorialist, but even if it had been written by another person, it still reflected the thought of the chief editorialist. I was surprised at the vigor of the chief editorialist of the Asahi Shimbun.

The assertion is clear and interesting. Even if Mr. Ozawa's claim that no legal problem exists is accepted, how does the DPJ distance itself from a realm which resembles the form of the outdated LDP? No explanation is given for this question. The acceptance of large amounts of political donations is steeped in construction politics and follows after the past of Mr. Kakuei Tanaka. There is no difference in the world in which Mr. Ozawa was raised. The assertion is that a new type of politics cannot be realized with creating distance from these kinds of issues.

This assertion is absolutely correct. I am of the same opinion, but with one difference. I believe that the very truth of this assertion is a reason for holding an election so that citizens can make a judgment. When I view debates or reports regarding the problems surrounding Mr. Ozawa, I wonder what extent the mass media will go to in order to protect citizens and to guide citizens step-by-step. This observation is not limited to only the Asahi Shimbun. I am very concerned about this attitude of the mass media.

The whole story of Asahi Shimbun and reporting on the postal service

Recently, there is a great amount of clarity in the editorials of the Asahi Shimbun. Although I am not able to go into the details of the incident in this article, Asahi criticized Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto in an editorial entitled "How About Returning Your Lawyer's License?" An enraged Governor Hashimoto responded that "Japan will be lost if there is an increase in people like those working at Asahi Shimbun".

Japan Post Holdings Corporations attempted to transfer its "Kanpo-no-Yado" inns and hotel facilities to Orix Real Estate Corporation. This transaction was stopped by Minister of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Mr. Hatoyama, who possesses authorization rights. An editorial published on January 18th of this year directly criticized this events under the title of "Interruption by the Irrational Minister of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications". My legs shook in fear when I read this editorial.

The editorial stated that the transaction was a batch sale conducted to protect the jobs of employees and that the wielding of authorization rights was unfair government intervention. It related that Mr. Miyauchi had advanced the relaxing of regulations and the privatization of the postal service. The article also said that these changes were made at the request of the ruling government at that time because structural reforms could not be advanced by government officials. I was surprised that the article went as far as to state that private individuals would not past cooperate with the government in the future if the government was to find fault with past records, statements and actions. This kind of writing is inappropriate for a newspaper reporter.

This must have been impossible to stand for the staff writers of the magazine Shukan Kinyobi. "Fusokukei (anemometer)", which is the opening column of Shukan Kinyobi, ran a headline entitled "Superficiality of the Asahi Shimbun Economic Department". Since the article was written by an editorialist originally from the economic department, I interpreted the meaning of this article as being written in consideration of influential economists.

What surprised me was that I was not alone in this opinion. There was a rush of criticism towards the editorial. Then, on January 31st, an editorial was published entitled "Door Opened by a Thorough Survey and Disclosure of the Kanpo-no-Yado Sale". However, both the title and the contents of the article were incoherent to the point where the intention of the article was unclear.

The mass media is creating issues out of the main opposition party and the question of the resignation of Mr. Ozawa. However, can we really permit reporting in which the mass media is guiding the issues to this extent? I am worried that young writers in important areas will become carried away if editorials are written this strongly. In the past, staff writers cast a cold eye on this sort of writing, and the prevailing attitude was "articles written by uninformed editorialists cannot be trusted". However, this attitude seems to no longer exist. Although I used the word "uninformed", reporters in important areas at the time had a proud and arrogant attitude. They considered themselves to understand the minute areas of an issue better than anyone else, and saw themselves as better than editorialists who summarized arguments after listening to the opinions of government officials and scholars. Editorialists have a high status within companies. I once saw a staff writer from the Political Department of Asahi Shimbun on television. The writer, who was an outstanding columnist, described himself by saying "I am just a simple staff writer, not a prominent figure like an editorialist".

What would happen in the case of education?

Despite all of this, the reason that Mr. Ozawa is able to speak like he does regarding issues is because it is talk of the political world. However, what would happen if the topic became education? An acquaintance of mine gathers and reviews only editorials which relate to education. Editorials which relate to education deal with topics other than university entrance examinations. Asahi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun both deal with topics such as how to deal with violence among elementary students, and how measures for creating independence among young people relates to the regional contribution expected from universities. The Mainichi Shimbun also makes proposals regarding these topics, and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun debates whether caution should be given to networks, although I fail to see the interest in such topics.

I have no idea who takes the time to read such editorials. In the case of education, editorials could deal with the way curriculums guidelines are written and the way students are taught regarding areas that Korea insists are part of their country. Guidelines are written to show that these areas have been part of Japan since long ago and students throughout Japan are taught as such. Editorials dealing with these kinds of topics would attract public attention and is interesting to read.

However, in the case of topics such as methods for moving away from relaxed education policy and having the courage to withdraw from surveys of academic ability, most adults are unlikely to have an interest in the topics. This program is not being performed for such adults, and the commentator is anonymous. Therefore, regarding the question of who this program is being performed for, it will be important at a later time to understand the opinions espoused by newspapers of that era regarding education, and to suppress the environment of that era. As opposed to politics, people who supervise education are experiencing this kind of difficulty.

Shunsuke Yamagishi

Graduated in 1958 from the Niigata University Faculty of Humanities Department of Law. Served as a reporter at the Niigata Nippo and the Asahi Shimbun before becoming a Professor at Tama University (teacher-training course). After reaching the mandatory retirement age, served as a Visiting Professor until last year. In 1968, selected as an Honor Student for the First Term of the Oya Soichi Tokyo Mass Communication School. In 1970, received the Kikuchi Award for the series of newspaper articles entitled "The Japanese Sea of Tomorrow". Active as an education journalist. Has authored many works, including "At the Scene of University Reform" (Tamagawa University Publishing Department).