Here’s the Sankei story about a male “45 year-old Japanese-Canadian journalist who entered Liberia on August 18 to collect material on the Ebola hemorrhagic fever. He stayed in Monrovia, the capital, and left the country on the 18th of this month.” He arrived at Narita on the 27th with a slight fever and was immediately sent to the National Center for Global Health and Medicine (NCGM). An overnight blood test proved that he was free of the Ebola virus. Sankei on the same case here, here, here, here, and here. Now, I don’t know of many male, 45 year-old Japanese-Canadian journalists on the African beat whose connections to Japan are still strong enough to bring here. In fact, I could think of only one, and he’s the Abe-hating, history issues-loving kind of “liberal” that Sankei loves to hate. (I don’t like him either, as anyone who has followed this blog over the years will know. But I digress.) Yet Sankei steadfastly withholds his name, a practice that holds true throughout the mainstream media. This is unlike anything that you are seeing in the US media, where Thomas Eric Duncan and Kaci Hickox have become instant household names, with photos of visages all over the front pages and news programs.
This stark difference is seen across the board. An 18, 19 year-old can be charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to death in Japan—all anonymously. And the protection will continue in principle even after that person comes of age. In the US—well, in Texas at least—a 16, 17 year-old can be charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to death, and his/her face and life story will be plastered all over the mainstream media from the moment that he/she is identified.
This was not always the case in Japan. Many years ago, when I went through the pre-1945.8.15 newspapers to research the media’s behavior before and during the War, I came across stories identifying people by name that would never make it to the mainstream media today, like the wife of a Todai professor running away with another man—okay, adultery was a crime then. Nor is it apparent that it stems from our strong cultural preference for privacy, assuming that such a thing exists. Well into my professional career, there would be at least one book published for each ministry that listed all its bureaucrats by name and position—and gave their personal phone numbers and addresses. (This was very useful for sending New Year’s postcards—and other purposes, I’m sure.) That said, it also well predates the privacy protection legislation that we have seen in recent years. In short, I don’t have a good answer.
I do expect the Japanese media to become more forthcoming over time in the face of competition from the free-for-all that is the internet—where the Japanese-American journalist has been identified by name many times over. (I also believe that we private individuals will become more public, indeed more shameless, as more and more of the intimate details of our lives spill out into cyberspace.) In the meantime, though, we in Japan remain in this information purgatory, where we must turn to the alternative media and, increasingly, the internet to connect the mainstream dots.