Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Tabloids Are Divided

Japanese kiosk displays carry banners for the tabloids, which gives you a flavor of what the perceived focus of popular sentiment is on any given day. They got a lot of mileage the Noripi amphetamine incident, but the upcoming election has been a consistent headliner. Today’s headlines to the best of my memory:
LDP Showing Fundamental Strengths (52 districts); Yosano, Shiozaki, Koga Turning The Tide Yūkan Fuji

Tokyo 1 win, 24 losses [for the LDP in the SMD elections] Nikkan Gendai
Note that Yosano is one of the Tokyo candidates that must lose for the score to be 1-24. It helps to understand the gap when you remember that Yūkan Fuji belongs to the conservative Sankei media group while Nikkan Gendai belongs to the Kodansha group, a publisher which had its origins in the middle/low-brow market. Nikkan Gendai in particular takes a strongly anti-establishment approach. Every Prime Minister since I began taking an interest in those headlines has taken a drubbing in its pages, Koizumi coming across as little better than devil’s spawn.

That being said, I laud the tabloids for being the first to begin publishing stories about a 300-150 (more or less) landslide. I’m now convinced that they had access to people who knew the contents of internal polls.

I still mourn the demise of Uwasa no Shinsō, the monthly magazine that published all the news that was not fit to print, and worse.


Janne Morén said...

My assumption has been that the Japanese tabloids are much like the Swedish ones I know - ie. so full of factual inaccuracies and wishful thinking as to be useless. Maybe, being a much larger media market, these are at their core more trustworthy sources of "the public mood"; so far I have assumed they aren't.

Kind of off-topic perhaps, but here's my absolute favourite from Sweden: We had a military man, Bergling by name, get arrested and convicted for spying for the Russians in the early 90's. Some years later he escaped prison and disappeared. The next summer - a period of drought for the tabloid press, when they are particularly desperate for filler - one tabloid writer called up the Russian version of the television program "Wanted", where wanted criminals and missing people are presented and "hunted" on live TV. He gave them the details about the case, pictures and film footage and told them it's thought he may have left for Russia.

An escaped international spy is a juicy nugget for such a TV program of course so the Russian producers ran with it, making it the headline case of the week. At which point the tabloid could throw up war-time sized headlines that "The Russian Police Is Hunting Bergling", with a breathless article by the writer about how the manhunt is on - all picked straight from seeing the "Wanted" episode where he had supplied them all the background info in the first place. They got a week's worth of headlines from their own manufactured story and steadily more ridiculous follow-ups ("Russian Minister of Justice Denies Dragnet - Coverup In Progress?").

Jun Okumura said...

Janne: The person who plotted the Bergling campaign deserves a raise.

In Japan, broadcast TV has been caught manufacturing news from time to time, and so have mainstream dailies. Weekly magazines are also sued, successfully, for libel. Curiously, I don’t recall seeing reports of tabloids being hauled into court, though I’m sure that happens. The reasons for these media misdeeds vary, but there seems to be a pattern. The following is based solely on my casual recollections. I’d appreciate hearing from others as well:

Broadcast TV: Outsourcing to poorly paid production companies. That, and reckless producers and directors. Broadcasting companies are known for their high salaries, but the generosity does not extend to their subcontractors. The “independent” production companies only manage to survive on the backs of their poorly paid, overworked employees, for whom their efforts are little more than a labor of love. They look to other ways to cut corners; skipping research and manufacturing evidence appears to be one of the things that they sometimes resort to. The vicious competition also forces them to go for the sensational, and the broadcasting producers and directors are only too happy to egg them on them.

Mainstream dailies: The actionable cases appear to be manufactured by individual reporters, and not the result of any institutional malice, although I have to say that Yomiuri does a heroic job of making the Yomiuri Giants look good, even in defeat. I also note that I’ve seen the sins Asahi reporters appear more often than any others, but maybe that’s because I subscribe to Yomiuri.

Weekly magazines: If I remember correctly (always an iffy proposition), this is the media outlet most often in the public eye as the target of libel suits. Sensationalism. Plus, I think, as with broadcast TV, outsourcing. If you’re relying on freelance writers, you are bound to be stung once in a while. Magazines published by the mainstream newspapers do not appear to have this problem; I’m guessing that the dailies farm out some of their own reporters to do the work. That, and the need to maintain a sense of probity in the substance and texture of the articles.

Daily tabloids: If there’s a difference between the independent weeklies and the daily tabloids, it may be due to the fact that the dailies carry their own reporters. I remember they did (or Yūkan Fuji, the first general-purpose tabloid did) when I was young. That should help keep individual cheating in check.

Janne Morén said...

This skirting of the truth is endemic everywhere I think. Japan does seem to have more than its fair share of food-related incidents though; sensationalist reporting that eating tofu/natto/bananas/whatever will make you live forever, but backed by no evidence and supported by made-up quotes from reputable sources.

I do know that in one false reporting suit, a trash tabloid in Sweden (now defunct) used as a defence that "our publication is obviously fictional. Nobody can honestly claim to have believed the article and been misled by it." The court doesn't give reasons for their decisions so no idea if that argument actually swayed them. I do find the argument refreshingly hosest, though.

A final rambling thought just before lunch about the Yomiuri Giants treatment - an old joke, transplanted here:

"In the derby between our Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers, the Giants achieved an honourable second place while the Tigers finished next to last."

Jun Okumura said...

Janne: The state of food and health reporting on TV appears to be pretty bad. And it’s not just those infomercial cable channels. In fact, broadcast TV fills its late-night idle hours with more or less the same material. I’m not surprised that some of them get caught for outright falsehood.

My favorite fantasy—all the commercials have to be true. Literally. If you pitch a product, you have to use it yourself. If Tiger Woods wants to pitch Wonda Coffee, he must drink Wonda Coffee. If Yoshino Kimura wants us to take out personal loans at Mitsubishi-Sumitomo, she has to do so too. And that sumo wrestler in that dinky little subcompact must show in that auto. The penalty for failure is death. Oh, yeah, and the product must work too. The penalty is the same. Now, at for those male self-esteem enhancement products…

Incidentally, that’s not a joke; it’s a real story from the pages of Hōchi Shinbun。 ;)