First there was Noah Smith. (Link)
Then there was John Feffer. (Link)
Now we have Jake Adelstein getting in on the action. (Link)
To which I say, "Um....really?"
Perhaps I am under undue influence of the brighter days of incipient spring but Japan under Abe Shinzo 2.0 does not seem to be on the march toward to illiberalism. Sure, the egregious Special Designated Secrets Act passed on Abe's watch, with ridiculous protections (under wraps for 60 years?!?) for certain government actions. It cannot be denied that he preceding Democratic Party of Japan-led government, had it continued in power, would have presented and passed a similar bill. It was after all the government of Kan Naoto which suffered the humiliation of the uploading to YouTube of the Chinese trawler collision videos by an active member of the Coast Guard.
As to assumption of the onset of an era of silence and spreading darkness, I am not convinced. The voters of this blessed land are too wise to the ways of flim-flam artists to give up their credulity to the Abe administration's message massagers. As to keeping the public bereft of news and new thinking, paraphrasing the original Star Wars, the more Abe and his colleagues have tried to tighten their grip on information and information providers, the more information has slipped through their fingers.
The Momii Katsuto appointment is, for example, frequently cited as evidence of the government seizing editorial control of NHK and thus suppress the public's right to know (Link - a wonderful brand new article by Yoshida Reiji). The conventional wisdom is that with Momii as chairman and a host of other eccentrics as board members of the nation's broadcaster(Link) the arms of network executives would be twisted into pretzels, convincing them of the need to soft-pedal Japan's pre-1945 detours through crazyland and the Abe government's attempts to redefine the past.
As one of the earliest to issue warnings about the pernicious influence of Momii and his fellow band of comedians (Link) I have the distinct pleasure to say I was wrong.
NHK itself of course cannot do mocking reports of the clown show of the Governors' meetings have become. That the network has to leave to the commercial networks. Without hesitation, the commercial networks have kept us abreast of the latest nonsense issuing from Momii, Hyakuta, Hasegawa and whole motley crew.
Anyone who watched the 7 p.m. NHK evening news on the 25th, however, would laugh at my concerns about the governors pressuring the news division to accentuate the positive as regards the Abe administration. On the day of the first meeting of Framework for the 21st Century Commission, the committee of worthies Mr. Abe appointed to advise him on what he should say on the 70th anniversary of Japan's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration (I have an essay on the commission coming up on the East Asia Forum tomorrow) Takeda Shin'ichi walked the viewers through the key apologetic phrases, displayed in red and underlined, of the Murayama Statement of 1995 and repeated in the Koizumi Statement of 2005 expressing remorse for the invasion and colonization of Asia. Then he presented a series of video clips of Abe Shinzo showing unable to admit or flat out denying the truths of invasion and colonization.
The effect was devastating. The nation's premier newscast could have had a chyron saying "MORON" on the bottom of the screen during the Abe video appearances. However, such would have been insulting to the viewer's intelligence.
As to the non-news programming, ok, yes, this year we are being treated to a biopic of sorts of Abe's big favorite Yoshida Shoin on the flagship Sunday night Taiga Drama. Happy to say, though, the show's ratings have been abysmal.
By contrast, the morning drama series, the most important 15 minutes on television each day, have featured back-to-back during the past year two biographies with searing anti-war, anti-imperialism and anti-authoritarian messages, with record smashing viewership. The ongoing series "Massan" on the Japanese-Scottish couple that brought whisky making to Japan, and its predecessor "An to Hanako" on the Japanese translator of Anne of Green Gables have been hammer blows to anyone arguing there was anything "beautiful" about the Meiji state.
As for the other evidence of a coming era of fear and repression, I have to be skeptical. The oft-quoted numbers are "61" and "1200" -- the first being the ranking of Japan in the Reporters Without Borders rankings of press freedom, down from 10 a few years ago, and the second being the number of signers to a petition decrying increasing self-censorship in Japan...started by a Japanese living in New York City. (Link)
Forgive for being blunt but both these numbers are silly. They are both based on self-evaluations, which means they cannot be objective, and are not in any corrected for swings in emotions. Frankly speaking, given the laws that were already on the books before the Designated Secrets Act, there is no way Japan's news media should have been ranked as high as 10th in the world in terms of press freedom. The drop to 61st place is equally absurd, demonstrating nothing but the volatility of the human heart.
As for the self-censorship issue, goodness me, where to start...except to ask whether the New York based instigator of the present petition would have spent his time more wisely if he had, instead of lambasting the Japanese government for its attempts -- futile, as it turned out -- to discredit critics of its Mideast and security policy floundering, started a petition against the New York-centered U.S. finance industry's successful suppression of critical thinking about the actions of its members and the continued silence of the nation's business press on the robber barons of 21st century capitalism's waltzing away, their bonuses still pouring into their bank accounts, from the torched the savings and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens all over the globe?
Finally, is there a fundamental contradiction putting one's name on a petition against the evils of self-censorship? Is not not by definition expressing one's opinion, in an open manner?