Massaging the news
Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 9, 2012
IT’S often said in Japan that the nation’s bureaucrats are politicians and the politicians are lobbyists (sometimes for the bureaucrats).
Author, university professor, and advisor to Your Party and the Hashimoto Toru-led One Osaka, Takahashi Yoichi was also a Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Cabinet Councilor, and member of the Takenaka Heizo team that planned the Japan Post privatization during the Koizumi administration. He has seen from both sides of the fence how Japan’s bureaucracy manages the news.
Mr. Takahashi recently wrote a brief article explaining how it is done. Here it is in English.
I once worked at the Finance Ministry, and I was involved with the discovery of young “government-patronized” scholars and formulating measures for the mass media. I’ll use my experiences from those days to explain the methods the bureaucracy uses to tailor the “government-patronized” scholars and to manipulate the major newspapers into printing editorials and other articles with a certain slant.
Whenever the tone of all the national newspapers (on an issue) is the same, the bureaucracy is usually behind it. Here’s something I actually saw during my time in the bureaucracy. When conducting campaigns for the adoption of particular policies, the department heads at the ministry were put in situations in which they competed against each other to work on the newspaper editorial writers and television commentators to get them to write or say something. Seen from the side, it was like a competition among government employees for promotion of the sort that occurs in the private sector. The department heads worked as hard as they could at it.
Recently, all the national newspapers chanted in chorus about the need to “leave behind the politics of indecision”. Perhaps I’m imagining it, but that seems like the result of a (bureaucratic) mass media strategy.
The methods the bureaucracy uses to brainwash the mass media are simple:
1. Visit them in person (Usually the mass media visits others to cover the news. Going to them makes them feel grateful and obligated.)
2. Take internal documents and other data (The mass media will be delighted because they can’t do the research on their own.)
3. Give them an e-mail address or cell phone number (The mass media will be happy because it gives them another information source.)
There are no formal debriefings or conferences of that sort, but before other meetings at the Finance Ministry, senior officials would chat about which of the newspapers wrote the best articles. (In other words, which newspapers said what the ministry wanted them to say). The department heads who were unable to convince the newspapers to write articles with the desired message always looked downcast.
The methods the bureaucracy uses to convert academics into “government-patronized” scholars are simple.
1. Appoint them to deliberative councils or study groups. (Flatter the professors by asking their opinions. The deliberative councils created by law have higher status, and bureau chiefs select the scholars for their personal study groups to use as the gateway to success.)
2. Submit data and memorandums to them. (The bureaucracy supports their research. The academics have a weak understanding of systems and actual facts, so they treasure these.)
3. Pay for their meals and lodging for overseas trips, upgrade their seats on flights, and provide assistance at their destination. The academics will be surprised at how simple customs procedures become.
4. Help find work for their students by recommending them to public research institutes, etc.
5. Give them preference for the allocation of funds for research and outsourced surveys.
This creates a powerful triangle consisting of the bureaucracy and the brainwashed mass media and “government-patronized” scholars, which disseminates a large volume of biased information.
This triangle was fully operational to achieve the consumption tax increase and mold the segment of public opinion that believes a tax increase is unavoidable.
It is not easy to convey the disdain inherent in the original Japanese for “government-patronized” scholars. It is the same word used in the phrase “purveyors to the Imperial Household”.
Having a pipeline makes the job a lot easier.