55 YEARS WORLD WAR'S END, JAPAN'S MEDIA STILL IN DENIAL
by Adam Gamble and Takesato Watanabe
American Reporter Correspondents
TOKYO -- Recently, the Bush administration sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a tour to meet with Asian leaders in an attempt to revitalize ties with Japan. But just like he did with Russia, President George W. Bush must demand a legitimate free-press system in Japan that is not constrained by its government.
Just last month, President Bush strongly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying democracies reflect a country's customs and culture but must have "a rule of law and protection of minorities, a free press and a viable political opposition."
And while President Putin continues to shut-down news organizations that he feels are too opinionated against his agenda and actions, Japan's malfunctioning media market continues to print horrific stories filled with anti-Semitism and personal agendas to oust non-conformists in Japan.
Ten years ago, Japan's Marco Polo magazine ran an Auschwitz 50th anniversary story with the headline "There Were No Nazi Gas Chambers." A firestorm of protests from the US and Europe led to the magazine's closure and helped shift Japanese mainstream media attitudes about anti-Semitism.
But atrocity denial in the Japanese media remains alive and well.
Now, the president of Japan's quasi-public television network, NHK, has resigned amid allegations that powerful Japanese politicians pressured the network to censor a 2001 show about the World War II sexual enslavement of some 200,000 young "comfort women" from occupied lands.
One of World War II's most repugnant, yet least known, crimes against humanity was the so-called Japanese "comfort system," in which some 200,000 mostly teenaged girls were taken from occupied territories and held as sex slaves to the Japanese military.
Yet again, a major movement within today's Japanese mainstream press has been underway to deny the crime and keep today's Japanese public in the dark about their own history. This has extended even to the point of some Japanese press accusing surviving sex slaves, now in their 80s and 90s, of being mere opportunistic prostitutes.
Although some Japanese have worked conscientiously on behalf of surviving comfort women and two prime ministers have offered variously worded condolence statements, the government has never officially apologized nor offered compensation. Indeed, many officials still deny the crime.
Weighing a heavy hand in what is published is Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which was founded by WWII-era military regime members and has a longstanding collusion with the government-embedded "press club" news media.
Japan has been a so-called "single-party democracy" now for half a century, and the country's compliant news industry remains a "lynch-pin" institution responsible for the many failures of self-governance within one of the America's closest allies and trading partners.
But regardless of the incessant, malicious inaccuracies of Japanese media, the U.S government either refuses to recognize this journalistic plague or is so desperate for allies it chooses to ignore it.
While this current Japanese censorship scandal unfolded, President Bush in his latest press conference cited Japan as the great success story of democratic nation building: "It wasn't all that long ago that Japan was a bitter enemy. And today, because Japan is a democracy and a free country, the Japanese are strong allies."
Apparently unknown to President Bush, Japan, like Russia, still struggles with the basic ideals of free press and democracy. Under governmental and corporate pressure, its government-manipulated media market will continue to deny World War II atrocities. And if the U.S. is truly determined to revitalize its alliance with Japan, the Bush administration must demand the same media standards from Japan as it has from other countries.
Adam Gamble and Professor Takesato Watanabe of Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, are co-authors of "A Public Betrayed: Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West" (Washington, D.C., 2004: Regnery Press).