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IV. Tabloid Horror

C. A Litany of Abuse

What are the abuses being flaunted by Japanese tabloids? A recent report by the Tokyo Bar Association and a human rights group cites women, children, suspects and defendants, ex-convicts, the mentally-ill and other minorities as the most likely victims--in short, those who, for financial or cultural reasons, are least able to defend themselves in Japan.

Take Shinchosha Ltd., for example. Japan's second-largest tabloid publisher--which owns periodicals such as Shukan Shincho and Focus, a so-called "photo journal"--has been hit with at least 21 legal protests, lawsuits and court-awarded fines between 1985 to 1995. These included the publishing of photograph of a minor suspected in a crime, detailed information identifying a rape victim and unfounded allegations against a major cosmetics firm executive of budgetary wrongdoing.

"They prey upon the weak but almost never take on the powerful-although the fundamental purpose of journalism is to do precisely the opposite," says Jun Kamei, a former editor at Shukan Shincho who, after trying to reform the system from within for nearly two decades, quit to campaign against tabloid abuse. One of the oldest weapons in Shukan Shincho's arsenal is the "Tokyo Report" column, which first appeared in 1960, by a "foreign journalist" known as "Ian Denman." But it is an open secret that Denman is actually a fictional character made up by the tabloid's Japanese editors in a bid to add a touch of credibility to the shameful charges they level.

A quote by an "American journalist" in Denman's Jan. 25, 1990 column is especially telling: "When it comes to disclosing the assets of politicians, people demand to know even the balance of their bank accounts. But when it comes to criminals and juvenile delinquents, we suddenly start to hear calls for privacy." Obviously, no self-respecting U.S. journalist would utter such nonsense. Complete financial disclosure of public officials is standard operating procedure in America to ensure that their private interests do not conflict with their public responsibilities.

And by equating a politician's right to privacy with that of common citizens' proves that Denman and his puppet masters have no idea that the former must constantly be under the watchful eye of the press as long as he or she is in office or functioning on behalf of that office; concurrently, the news media, and that includes the tabloids, must exert every effort to protect the privacy of ordinary people. The failure to grasp this principle may be the greatest single weakness of the Japanese press in general.

Shukan Shincho's editors do not stop there. In the Dec. 19, 1991 issue, they have Denman sneering at the Japanese government's annual campaign to heighten public awareness of human rights. Another chum, an English journalist this time, is quoted as saying: "If the Japanese government is going to issue advertisements, they ought to be saying 'there are too many human rights.' The misuse of human rights in Japan is insufferable. Right now, the effort to promote human rights prospers at the expense of the country as a whole."

Some of the most viscious attacks are reserved for women, not just in Denman's column--in the Nov. 9, 1995 issue, he declares that women "don't lose employment opportunities because they are women, but because they are inefficient producers in that they need leave for pregnancy and their menstrual periods"--but in Shukan Shincho's feature well, too. In the 1988 general elections, when women candidates performed particularly well, one article questioned whether they could fulfill the responsibilities of public office while taking care of the home:

"One false move and these women are bound to create broken families," it reads. "Three of them have been divorces--three out of 17. The divorce rate among this group looks a lot higher than the national average... Of the 17, one has never been married. As to the lifestyle of Councilor [name given], there are those who suggest that she may set sail on the 'AIDS ark.'" Translation: Being a bachelor and thus likely to be sexually promiscuous, this councilor is a potential victim of the disease.

That tabloids serve the ends of statecraft is evidenced by their coverage of war-related issues. Among the most revisionist is Bungeishunju Ltd., Japan's largest tabloid publisher. As a sequel to its 1995 denial of the Holocaust, Bungeishunju Ltd., Japan's largest tabloid publisher, launched a tirade against any compensation for the so-called "comfort women" in Asia who were forced into becoming sex slaves for Japanese soldiers in World War II. The articles are by two Japanese academics, but since they are not accompanied by rebuttals from other experts, it seems clear that they represent Bungeishunju's official interpretation of events.

Shukan Shincho takes a similar stance, though it claims the entire affair is a plot hatched by Pyongyang as a way to squeeze a larger war indemnity from Tokyo. These two publishers have also issued highly sanitized versions of the Nanking Massacre, in which as many as 300,000 noncombatants, according to Chinese estimates, may have been slaughtered by invading Japanese forces. The main assertion which runs through such articles is that, since the episode was not as tragic as other countries make it out to be, there is no need for the Japanese to flagellate themselves-a view shared, as it happens, by numerous members of the LDP.

Perhaps the real tragedy of the tabloids is that they are not likely to change. Major advertisers like distiller Suntory Ltd. and cosmetic giant Shiseido Co. continue to purchase page upon page of ads, as if oblivious to the outrageous content that fill the editorial pages. And as long as Japan's libel law remains as limp as it is today--the largest settlement on record stands at some $50,000 (against, of course, Shinchosha)--it is incapable of deterring billion-dollar behemoths like Bungeishunju or Shinchosha from future transgressions. As Juichi Saito, creator of Shukan Shincho and currently editorial consultant to the weekly, publicly admitted in 1995: "In the art of [tabloid] writing, there is no such thing as truth or justice."