Japan is an advanced industrialized country whose GNP/GDP is the second largest in the world. Its population is 127 million, which is the ninth largest in the world. The political system is a parliamentary democracy with the emperor as the state figurehead. The literacy rate is nearly 100 percent, and the per-capita income is about the same as that of other advanced industrialized countries. The income disparity is small for a capitalist economy, leading most people to believe that they belong to the middle class.
The first general election was held in 1890, and the National Diet, Japan’s parliament, opened soon afterwards. However, Japanese democracy from 1890 through 1945 was unstable and had many systemic problems. Due to these problems, the government was taken over by the military around 1937, and what was in effect a military dictatorship continued from then until the end of World War II in 1945. The new constitution, which was drawn up under the guidance of the American occupation forces, removed all those failures inherent in the prewar constitution. The new constitution guarantees complete freedom of expression and prohibits government censorship. The Japanese media system naturally reflects Japan’s history as well as its social and cultural characteristics.
Media Ownership Structure
Most major newspaper companies in Japan hold their shares internally. Japan’s corporate law allows this internal stock holding in order to prevent external editorial influence and acquisition. Partly because of this, no large media conglomerates are owned primarily by non-media corporations, unlike in other industrialized countries. Another reason for the difficulty in “taking over” any Japanese media company is that there exist several media keiretsu or groups that are closely intertwined in terms of both stock holdings and personal relationships. In 1996, Rupert Murdoch attempted to purchase one of the major Japanese television networks but failed because of this complex “cultural barrier.”
The key actors in the keiretsu are the five national newspapers, each of which has close financial and personal ties to one of the five commercial television networks. Regional and local newspapers also own one of the regional and local television stations in their circulation areas. Although this keiretsu structure may sound monopolistic or oligopolistic, there exist a large number of magazines, radio stations, and tabloid newspapers that are independent of this mainstream system.
About 70 million copies are published each day by 108 newspaper companies in Japan, which is second to China (96 million). In terms of per-capita circulation, Japan ranks the highest in the world (633 copies per thousand): more than twice that of the US and six times that of China. General newspapers in Japan can be categorized into three kinds: national, regional (called “block”), and local. There are five nationals (the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Asahi Shimbun, the Mainichi Shimbun, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, and the Sankei Shimbun). Each has a circulation of more than 2 million and is regarded as a quality paper. The Yomiuri publishes 10 million morning and 4 million evening papers. The second largest, the Asahi, publishes a total of 12 million copies a day. The Nihon Keizai (Nikkei), which publishes 4.5 million copies daily, has the largest circulation for an economics paper in the world.
Most newspapers, including blocks and local newspapers, publish morning and evening editions, which is one of the particular characteristics of Japanese newspapers. Another characteristic is a heavy reliance on a home-delivery system. In total, 94 percent of all general newspapers are delivered to homes every day by exclusive distributors.
Four national newspapers (all but Nikkei) and all three block newspapers publish sports newspapers, which are sports and entertainment-oriented and fall into the category of Tabloid Press. Nikkei, in turn, publishes three trade papers. All the nationals have publishing divisions and issue weekly or monthly magazines as well as books. In addition, the Yomiuri and the Asahi own two of the top ten advertising agencies in Japan.
Television service is provided by a dual broadcasting system consisting of the public broadcasting corporation and commercial broadcasters. The public television service Nihon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) is the second largest broadcasting corporation in the world after the BBC. Supported by viewers’ fees, NHK broadcasts two channels nationwide through a network of 54 stations. It also conducts satellite broadcasting with two channels. Although NHK is not state-run, its annual budget and executive personnel proposals must be approved by the Diet, the Japanese parliament.
The five commercial broadcasters based in Tokyo, who are all affiliated with major national newspapers, are Nihon TV (NTV, affiliated with the Yomiuri), TV Asahi (affiliated with the Asahi), Tokyo Broadcasting Systems (TBS, affiliated with the Mainichi), Fuji TV (affiliated with the Sankei), and TV Tokyo (affiliated with the Nikkei). These broadcasters are network stations (key stations) affiliated with regional and local stations. The key stations provide their affiliated stations not only with news, but also with programs that account for 80 to 90 percent of local broadcasting time. Of the 127 commercial stations, only 13 are independent in the strictest sense. Digital satellite broadcasting began in 2000 with 10 channels, two of which are operated by NHK. All analog terrestrial broadcasting is to be completely digitalized by 2011. Another important actor in Japanese broadcasting is Dentsu, the largest advertising agency in the world. Dentsu actively participates in program creation. Its influence in the media system is incomparable with any western advertising firms. It accounted for 40 percent of all television advertising (and 20 percent of newspaper and magazine advertising) in 2005.
There are 110 commercial radio stations in Japan: 47 AM, 53 FM, one shortwave, and nine satellite (community radio stations are not included). Of the 47 AM stations, 34 are operated by television stations. FM stations are independently operated. Many radio stations, like television stations, are also affiliated with major newspaper companies. NHK provides two AM networks and one FM network for its domestic audience from its 54 stations. It also operates international shortwave broadcasting.
As of 2005, the diffusion rate of the Internet is 67 percent. In terms of broadband diffusion rate, Japan is ranked eleventh in the world, with a diffusion of 17 percent in 2005. It is particularly worth noting that most mobile phones are equipped with Internet access in Japan. Mobile users are able to not only make a phone call and send emails but also access the sea of information on the web. In 2006, television service for mobiles was introduced.
In terms of online news media, Japan’s mainstream media are reluctant to be fully committed to Internet service. Major newspapers and NHK have started and keep developing their own news sites. But the information provided on their websites is very limited, both in terms of amount and in terms of depth, because they are not sure whether they can maintain their existing business scale by switching from “paper” subscription to web subscription. They are also afraid that the web-subscription system will drive thousands of existing newspaper distributors all over Japan out of business.
Conformity And Diversity
Major national newspapers and television networks are relatively homogeneous in agendas, or news items (in straight news), but diverse in opinions (in editorials). The contents of major national newspapers and television networks tend to be similar because of the organizations’ deep commitment to impartiality and neutrality stipulated in their code of ethics. Major newspapers and television networks do not endorse a specific candidate or political party in general elections.
One of the reasons for so much conformity in the news agenda has to do with the kisha (reporters) club system, which is unique to the Japanese news media industry. Kisha clubs are attached to nearly every government office and major organization all over Japan. Large kisha clubs in Tokyo were established more than 100 years ago. As there are many small and informal ones, especially in small cities, it is impossible to count the exact number. A rough estimation is 1,000 nationwide. There are no standard rules, but membership is usually limited to reporters from newspaper companies and television stations that belong to the Nihon Shinbun Kyokai, the Japanese association of newspaper publishers and editors. Until the mid-1990s, foreign-media reporters were not allowed to join most major clubs, and Japanese magazine reporters and freelance journalists are still largely excluded.
Since most Japanese reporters belong to one or more clubs, 80 to 90 percent of news comes from kisha clubs. This fact contributes to conformity in the news agenda because (1) the reporters receive the same official announcements, press releases, and background briefings, and (2) regarding unimportant news, reporters at kisha clubs discuss when and how the news should be published. These practices, especially the second one, comprise a “news cartel” and have been severely criticized by journalism experts. It has often been a point of discussion in how far the contents of the Japanese news media are determined by the government through the kisha club system. It should be noted, however, that kisha club reporters face competition from non-kisha club media such as the foreign media and tabloids, as well as weekly and monthly magazines. When the news is important, especially if it is scandalous, it is impossible for club reporters or the government to control it in any way. To compete with each other, newspaper and television companies mobilize large numbers of reporters not affiliated with any particular club. The small, cozy “club cocoon” thus easily crumbles. As a result, at least three prime ministers (since 1945) have had to resign in disgrace due to revelations of, and a continuous stream of news about, scandalous conduct.
Another stereotype concerns the homogeneity of Japan’s media content. However, although Japan is racially and culturally homogeneous, the same cannot be said with regard to ideological viewpoints. For example, in the National Diet, the Japan Communist Party, the Komei Party (Buddhist party), and the Japan Democratic Socialist Party (renamed from the Japan Socialist Party) are all represented. The Asahi Shimbun is also known for being sympathetic to socialist parties, including the Japan Communist Party, and the Sankei Shimbun often carries articles expressing the views of anti-democratic right-wing intellectuals, especially in its monthly magazine Seiron.
In Japan, there are intellectuals of any standing who overtly question the values of democracy, although the number of these is very small. They claim that democracy, especially “sengo minshushugi,” or postwar democracy, is too “American” and “alien,” and is therefore incompatible with Japanese culture and tradition.
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