Japanese Press Exposed!
Japanese readers searching for the elusive honne, or truthful, stories about their government are increasingly turning to tabloid-style newsweeklies.
“‘A Public Betrayed’: The Power of Japan’s Scandal-Breaking Weeklies” and “‘A Public Betrayed’: Establishment Press Leaks Tips to Japan’s Weeklies” by Takesato Watanabe and Adam Gamble, in Japan Media Review (Aug. 26, 2004), www.ojr.org.
Many Japanese readers who suspect (correctly) that they’re not getting the full story from their bland daily newspapers turn to a raffish alternative: the shukanshi, 15 weekly newsmagazines that purport to give the real lowdown on people and events. More than 90 percent of shukanshi sales are made by newsstands, so the magazines feature sensational headlines, sometimes bearing little or no relationship to the articles that follow.
In the United States, the market is largely divided between a small audience of relatively highbrow newspaper and magazine consumers and a mass audience. Japan, by contrast, has a large middlebrow market. So along with sleaze and sensation, some shukanshi offer social commentary, book reviews, political news, and fiction.
Bizarre combinations of Newsweek and The National Enquirer, with a dash of Penthouse and a pinch of The New Yorker, the shukanshi are often dismissed as trashy tabloids. That’s a mistake, say Watanabe and Gamble, authors of A Public Betrayed, a recently published book on the Japanese news media. With their middlebrow readership, the shukanshi have an influence that goes far beyond their combined circulation of 500,000.
Shukanshi defenders argue that the mainstream dailies, with their system of press clubs actually embedded in government agencies, provide only the superficial tatemae, or official, view of events, while the weeklies try to get at the honne, or substantive and truthful, version of the story. Though it’s true, say Watanabe and Gamble, that the establishment press serves up tatemae, the shukanshi don’t consistently get at the reality either. They’re supported by the powerful advertising agency Dentsu, which is very much a part of the establishment, and their politics are nationalistic and conservative. “They sometimes present subjects in greater depth. They have even been known to break important political scandals. However, they rarely offer much in the way of genuinely important journalism.”