Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Japanese Government Needs Better Public Communications on the Need for Movement on the Remaining Abductees

Once every five years, the Japanese government conducts a public opinion poll on the protection of human rights, and one of the things it tries to find out is what human rights issues the public is interested in. This year, they included the "victims of abduction by North Korea, etc." for the first time. The issue/category came in fifth at 31.5%, behind "the handicapped (44.1%)", "the old (40.5%)", "children (35.0%)", and "human rights abuses using the Internet (32.7%)", but ahead of such issues/categories as "women (25.0%)", "victims of crime, etc. (24.1%)", and "HIV carriers, etc. (18.9%)".

This and other information on the abductees issue is available on this web page that came with the Headquarters for the Abductee Issue that the Abe administration established in September 2006. The web page is full of information on the abductees issue, with new material being added every month. Some of it is intriguing, such as this document, which lays out the Japanese case for all the discrepancies, irregularities, and lack of cooperation on the part of the North Koreans. As I read it, I realize that they must be the unanswered questions that are keeping Japan from pitching in with the fuel oil shipments and acquiescing to the US delisting of North Korea as a terrorist sponsor.

Unfortunately for all you monolingual gaijins, until recently, all this information was available only in Japanese. Somehow, the people who were responsible for this forgot that it was the other parties to the Six-Party Talks who were wondering when Japan would come around to helping out with the quid pro quo for the North Korean nuclear program, and that the Japanese government needed to work on public opinion beyond Japanese borders as well as the Japanese public. Somebody in the Fukuda administration must have notice the omission, and there is now an English-language page as well.

But there are problems. The English page is merely a digest version of the Japanese page. This means that the document I linked to in the second paragraph that argues the Japanese case becomes more of an English-language talking points memo. Perhaps more seriously, the page is poorly designed and lacks a sense of mission and purpose. There is little effort to draw attention to the salient points, to make your case leap out at you even before you start clicking on the links. Technically, intellectually, emotionally, it's a job done on the cheap.

If the objective of this and other PR campaign efforts (among other things, the web site links to Paul Stookey's Song for Megumi) is to show that "the government cares", then this state of affairs is fine. If the intent is to make sure that "the Japanese people care", then the fifth-place finish might be a cause for mild concern. But either way, the government needn't have bothered with the English-language digest version at all. But if it wants to win the hearts and minds of the public beyond its borders and convince them of the need for answers before it moves on, then it has a long way to go in public communications, starting here.


WDSturgeon said...

I could not agree more. Rather than giving simple lip service, the GOJ has a lot to learn about public diplomacy. A half-assed translation effort is simply not enough, just as expecting the general public outside Japan to learn Japanese. It simply leads to more talking out of both sides of their mouths (poor English on one side, Japanese on the other). This in turn leads to more distrust.

Jun Okumura said...

Good to hear from you, Daniel.

I suspect that the unintended subext of that web page is that they think there's not much they can do that actually helps.

Jun Okumura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Durf said...

As someone who translates at a company that sometimes gets such jobs from the government, I heartily support your call for increased spending on me, erm, on these vital foreign-language PR tasks.

Jun Okumura said...

Durf, they need to rethink their entire approach. And a new attitude.