I was with a group of mostly foreign academics engaged in Japan studies (and one fellow blogger), when one of the two elders stated that the media was holding the DPJ up to much higher standards than it did with the LDP when the latter was in power. I wasn’t aware of this, but all the others in the group who had opinions on this matter agreed, so I’m inclined to believe that they were on to something. The LDP would be happy to tell you that the DPJ is merely being hoisted on its own petards—though it’s hard to listen to LDP Diet members without laughing when they preface their questions for the DPJ ministers with qualifiers to the effect that “the LDP may have been guilty of these sins itself, but…”—but I think that there’s also a structural explanation to this, and I said as much at that session. The following is a substantially revised, expanded version of my off-the-cuff comments on this point.
MSM reporters have been covering the LDP at its headquarters—where they have a “reporters’ club*”—since 1955. They have doing likewise with the DPJ only since 1996 (or 1998 depending on your preferred year of DPJ birth). The daily interaction under the reporters’ club system—there was a time when ambitious LDP politicians literally fed and watered the reporters on their beat—inevitably creates a measure of rapport between the reporters and their subjects. Now, the reporters are rotated in and out from their assignments at fairly short intervals—two years on average would be a reasonable guess—so this should be less of a problem theoretically. However, those rotations are likely to include turns at any of a large number of reporters’ clubs at the Prime Minister’s Office and ministries and agencies, where until September 2009 the LDP had with only a brief interruption monopolized or dominated ministerial and subcabinet assignments. Thus, there would have been plenty of time to develop the kind of relationships that could have delivered more favorable press to the LDP administrations than otherwise would have been the case. By contrast, even a large opposition party would be covered by its own reporters’ club and little more**. The devil you know, perhaps?
This also likely provides a good answer to another complaint at the group session: the lack of coverage where LDP policy ideas, such as they are, are concerned. Now, the only reporters’ club covering the LDP regularly is the LDP reporters’ club—which has traditionally focused on the political, not the policy, side of the LDP., since the ministry/agency/BOJ reporters’ club took care of the policy side. I can’t see the LDP reporters’ club changing its coat any time soon. Thus, now with a vastly smaller number of reporters covering the LDP in exile and institutionally inclined to focus on the political game, it stands to reason that the LDP’s policy pronouncements will be shortchanged. This also explains the preponderance, also noted at the group session, of youthful, articulate, telegenic figures in the LDP’s new shadow cabinet. With low expectations for help from the reporters’ club, the LDP is obviously courting the broadcasting networks’ attention, which also provides newspaper fodder for the morning edition the next day.
* In case anyone is wondering, a reporters club is a self-governing organization of mainstream reporters covering an institution who receive office space and access to regular briefing in return for agreeing to respect embargoes and other rules imposed by the club itself. The effect is an information cartel, or trust with the institution at the core. The DPJ regime has gone a long way in eroding the collusive arrangement.
** In fact, any added attention would most likely be unwelcome, since it would near-certainly come from the national beat, which covers crime, scandals and human interest stories. Guess which ones it’ll be coming after when it converges on politicians.